Romeo and Juliet
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
ROMEO AND JULIET
Romeo misinterprets a dream he has had in which Juliet found him dead and revived him with kisses, and he became an emperor. Romeo’s man Balthasar brings the sad news of Juliet’s death. “Is it e’en so? Then I defy you, stars!” (V.i.24). Romeo plans to return to Verona and Juliet’s grave: “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night” (V.i.34). He recalls seeing an apothecary and, oddly, thinking to himself at the time, “if a man did need a poison now, / Whose sale is present death in Mantua, / Here lives a caitiff wretch would sell it him” (V.i.50-52). The figure, also called a “beggar” (V.i.56) though he owns a shop, is identical in function — supplying death — and in some of the wording, with the creepy old figure in Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale.
Famine is in thy cheeks,
Need and oppression starveth in thy eyes;
Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back….
And the entire theme of the scene matches Chaucer’s tale. Romeo convinces the seemingly reluctant apothecary to sell him a poison.
There is thy gold, worse poison to men’s souls,
Doing more murther in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.
“Romeo buys death from Death, and — like the condemned man pardoning his executioner — exonerates him” (Garber 211).
Friar John reports to Friar Lawrence that he could not deliver the letter to Romeo because of plague quarantine. Oxford had letters returned instead of delivered because of imposed quarantines during his 1575 travels (Farina 176). “It is a symbol. Whatever literal epidemic there may have been in the region, it is plain that fear is the real pestilence that pervades the play” (Goddard, I 138). Friar Lawrence will send another letter to Romeo and calls for a crowbar, intending to take off for the Capulet tomb where Juliet is scheduled to awaken: “Poor living corse, clos’d in a dead man’s tomb!” (V.ii.30). She can stay with him until Romeo gets news and arrives.
Paris, accompanied by his page, mourns Juliet in the tomb and strews flowers. When noise indicates that someone approaches, Paris hides. Romeo arrives with Balthasar and gives this servant a letter to be delivered to his parents tomorrow morning. Romeo wants to be alone, so he dismisses Balthasar with threats that if he returns, Romeo will tear him apart: “The time and my intents are savage-wild” (V.iii.37). A worried Balthasar instead remains in hiding. Romeo addresses the tomb’s entrance:
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorg’d with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And in despite I’ll cram thee with more food.
Paris recognizes Romeo and suspects him of having “come to do some villainous shame / To the dead bodies” (V.iii.52-53). He steps forth and challenges Romeo. Romeo begs that he leave, but the two end up fighting, with Romeo killing Paris who asks to be placed beside Juliet. Balthasar goes for help. Romeo recognizes that the slain body is Paris who was scheduled to marry Juliet. He is jealous that Paris gets to be dead with Juliet, but he places the corpse in the tomb and sees Juliet. The elder Ogburns speculate that the moment would have resembled Oxford’s first sight of Anne Vavasour imprisoned in the Tower immediately after giving birth to their illegitimate son (Ogburn and Ogburn 403).
Romeo is overcome by the vision of Juliet: “Death, that hath suck’d the honey of thy breath, / Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty” (V.iii.92-93). He sees Tybalt’s corpse and decides it’s fitting he should die here himself: “Here, will I remain / With worms that are thy chambermaids” (V.iii.108-109). In order to remain beside Juliet forever, Romeo drinks the poison and dies: “O true apothecary! / Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die” (V.iii.119-120).
Friar Lawrence comes: “Saint Francis be my speed! how oft to-night / Have my old feet stumbled at graves!” (V.iii.121-122). In his first scene, he had told Romeo, “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast” (II.iii.94; cf. Goddard, I 137). Leaving Balthasar outside, the Friar enters the tomb. He sees the bodies as Juliet awakens. She sees him and asks where Romeo is. The Friar tries to whisk Juliet away before the watch shows up, saying he’ll “dispose” of her “Among a sisterhood of holy nuns” (V.iii.156-157). He takes off, fearful of discovery. “Why did Shakespeare, after building up so noble a character as Friar Laurence [sic], permit him to abandon Juliet at so fatal a moment? … to show that Juliet, abandoned even by religion, must fall back for courage finally on love alone” (Goddard, I 138).
Juliet realizes what has happened, and tries to drink the dregs of the poison: “O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop / To help me after? (V.iii.163-164). She opts for Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself: “O happy dagger, / This is thy sheath; there rust and let me die” (V.iii.169-170). Juliet dies beside Romeo.
Paris’ boy and the watch arrive on the scene. The Prince, the Capulets, and the Montagues are to be alerted. Members of the watch bring in Balthasar and the Friar and quickly the Prince and the others converge at the scene. The Capulets express their woe. Montague informs all that his wife died earlier, griefstricken because of Romeo’s exile (V.iii.210-211). The Prince calls for the tomb to be shut while they attempt to understand events. Friar Lawrence comes forth and tells the whole story at length, revealing the two young lovers’ secret marriage. Balthasar and Paris’ page confirm the tale. The Prince blames the feuding families and his own tolerance of them: “And I for winking at your discords too / Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punish’d” (V.iii.294-295).
The two family heads seem to patch things up, though in a way “having apparently learned nothing from their losses” (Garber 210): Capulet joins hands with Montague and Montague promises to erect a golden statue to Juliet (V.iii.299f).
Some interpreters have denied the qualified happiness of the play’s ending, finding a hollow materialism in Montague’s promise to raise a statue of Juliet ‘in pure gold’, and aligning this with the Friar’s accusation of Juliet’s father, after she has been found, apparently dead, ‘The most you sought was her promotion’ [IV.v.71]. It is a legitimate interpretation, but one that takes the risk of turning the play into social satire rather than tragedy. (Wells 82-83)
The Prince offers the final words:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings,
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and Romeo.
At the close of the play, at the end of the tragedy, the final tragedy would seem to be that no one left alive onstage has understood the play. The Friar is repentant but unchanged. Old Montague and old Capulet have translated their losses into material terms, into golden statues. And even the Prince is unenlightened…. These witnesses, all remnants of an older world of law, have had the experience and missed the meaning. The task of understanding what has transpired is left to the audience…. The play, not the golden statues, is the real monument to the love and death and tragedy and triumph of two young ‘star-crossed’ lovers who have become for the modern world the very archetypes and words of love. (Garber 212)
The story of RomE.O.’s post-Rosaline passion, the move from a traditional courtly love-wretchedness into an obsessive passion, is the story of Oxford in the late 1570s and early 1580s, having his relationship with Elizabeth stalled by her, and then falling for Anne Vavasour. The poetic, even sonnet, format that Romeo and Juliet generate immediately upon meeting must be a symbolic representation of the scintillating match of wits Oxford enjoyed at court on meeting the young “dark lady.”
That Juliet is specified as being so young may be a slight cover on the playwright’s part, since one is apt to think of Anne Cecil’s youth at the time of her marriage to Oxford.
It seems less strange that Oxford should combine these two Annes in one character when one reflects that the play is addressed to Queen Elizabeth, and rivals to her charms were regarded not as young women in love, with rights of their own, but simply as something opposing her exclusive claims. (Ogburn and Ogburn 399)
This, then, is the story of “fair Rosaline”-Elizabeth’s repudiation of the devotion of Romeo-Oxford, which he had accepted without fully requiting, and of his consolation in the spontaneous love of Juliet-Anne Vavasor — the ardent and wondrous love of youth, such as he has never known before because Rosaline-Elizabeth has held him in thrall. (Ogburn and Ogburn 386)