Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Romeo and Juliet
Act IV



Paris informs Friar Lawrence of the upcoming marriage and Juliet’s supposed excessive grief for Tybalt, which is serving as the reason for the haste towards the wedding. The nervous Friar keeps quiet. Juliet arrives and, showing her increasing maturity, converses politely until Paris leaves. A reference to evening Mass shows Shakespeare’s knowledge: evening Mass was forbidden by the Pope, but Verona did continue it. Juliet wants to die, but the Friar has a plan: consent to marry Paris, take a drug Wednesday night that will “put her into a cataleptic trance” (Asimov 495) — i.e., make her seem dead for 42 hours. He’ll tell Romeo about this plan (through a note sent with another friar); he and Romeo will be in the mausoleum when she wakes; and Romeo can take her away to Mantua. Juliet immediately agrees to this plan.


Asimov says that “For the first time in the play, there is a sizable gap in time. Some thirty-six hours are skipped over and it is Wednesday night” (Asimov 496). But that can’t be right because by the end of the scene the decision has been made to move the ceremony up a day from Thursday to tomorrow. In any case, the Capulets are preparing for the wedding when Juliet arrives and announces her change of heart and repentance for her “disobedient opposition” (IV.ii.18). She begs forgiveness on her knees. She has already seen Paris at Friar Lawrence’s, so he knows the wedding is on. Juliet is able to be duplicitous with all, including the Nurse. But Dad is delighted that “this same wayward girl is so reclaim’d” (IV.ii.47).


The Nurse has been helping Juliet choose clothes, and Juliet’s mother wonders if they need help, but now Juliet wants to be alone to pray, so both the Nurse and Lady Capulet are dismissed from the room. “Juliet knows she is an actress. The language of ‘acting’ in both senses — stage performance and activity — pervades her speeches” (Garber 208). Juliet has wild thoughts about death and wonders about a variety of glitches in the plan: maybe the drug won’t work, maybe the Friar gave her poison to cover his role in the coming bigamy, maybe she’ll awaken but suffocate in the tomb, maybe she’ll run mad and dash her own brains out with the tibia of an ancestor! Nevertheless, she downs the drug.


Early Wednesday morning, the Capulet household is abuzz with preparations. The Capulet parent banter with each other, and Old Capulet is jocular with a servant. He hears Paris arriving and sends the Nurse to wake Juliet.


The discovery of Juliet’s apparent death is met with woe, first by the Nurse, then Lady Capulet, then Juliet’s father:

Out alas, she’s cold,
Her blood is settled, and her joints are stiff;
Life and these lips have long been separated.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
. . .
O son, the night before the wedding day,
Hath Death lain with thy wife. There she lies,
Flower as she was, deflowered by him.
Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir,
My daughter he hath wedded. I will die,
And leave him all; life, living, all is Death’s.

(The “deflowered” notion occurs as a malapropism in the parallel assumed death in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.)
The Friar offers perhaps conciliatory words about the afterlife: “She’s not well married that lives married long, / But she’s best married that dies married young” (IV.v.77-78). The wedding preparations are shifted towards a funeral theme: “And all things change them to the contrary” (IV.v.90).

The Nurse’s servant Peter exchanges contentious would-be wit with the musicians. He requests the song “Heart’s Ease,” but the exchange devolves into Peter threatening, “I will carry no crotchets, I’ll re you, I’ll fa you. Do you note me?” (IV.v.18-19). He also quotes a lyric:

When griping griefs the heart doth wound,
[And doleful dumps the mind oppress,
Then music with her silver sound….

According to the 1576 Paradise of Dainty Devices, this is Richard Edwards’ “In Commendation of Music.” But Oxford is inextricably tied up in these leads.

Romeo and Juliet, Act by Act

Romeo and Juliet Intro

Romeo and Juliet Act I

Romeo and Juliet Act II

Romeo and Juliet Act III

Romeo and Juliet Act IV

Romeo and Juliet Act V