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In Capulet’s house, Juliet longs for night to fall so that Romeo will come to her “untalked of and unseen” (3.2.7). Suddenly the Nurse rushes in with news of the fight between Romeo and Tybalt. But the Nurse is so distraught, she stumbles over the words, making it sound as if Romeo is dead. Juliet assumes Romeo has killed himself, and she resigns to die herself. The Nurse then begins to moan about Tybalt’s death, and Juliet briefly fears that both Romeo and Tybalt are dead. When the story is at last straight and Juliet understands that Romeo has killed Tybalt and been sentenced to exile, she curses nature that it should put “the spirit of a fiend” in Romeo’s “sweet flesh” (3.2.81–82). The Nurse echoes Juliet and curses Romeo’s name, but Juliet denounces her for criticizing her husband, and adds that she regrets faulting him herself. Juliet claims that Romeo’s banishment is worse than ten thousand slain Tybalts. She laments that she will die without a wedding night, a maiden-widow. The Nurse assures her, however, that she knows where Romeo is hiding, and will see to it that Romeo comes to her for their wedding night. Juliet gives the Nurse a ring to give to Romeo as a token of her love.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 2 →
In Friar Lawrence’s cell, Romeo is overcome with grief, and wonders what sentence the Prince has decreed. Friar Lawrence tells him he is lucky: the Prince has only banished him. Romeo claims that banishment is a penalty far worse than death, since he will have to live, but without Juliet. The friar tries to counsel Romeo but the youth is so unhappy that he will have none of it. Romeo falls to the floor. The Nurse arrives, and Romeo desperately asks her for news of Juliet. He assumes that Juliet now thinks of him as a murderer and threatens to stab himself. Friar Lawrence stops him and scolds him for being unmanly. He explains that Romeo has much to be grateful for: he and Juliet are both alive, and after matters have calmed down, Prince Escalus might change his mind. The friar sets forth a plan: Romeo will visit Juliet that night, but make sure to leave her chamber, and Verona, before the morning. He will then reside in Mantua until news of their marriage can be spread. The Nurse hands Romeo the ring from Juliet, and this physical symbol of their love revives his spirits. The Nurse departs, and Romeo bids Friar Lawrence farewell. He must prepare to visit Juliet and then flee to Mantua.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 3 →
Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Paris walk together. Capulet says that because of the terrible recent events, he has had no time to ask his daughter about her feelings for Paris. Lady Capulet states that she will know her daughter’s thoughts by the morning. Paris is about to leave when Capulet calls him back and makes what he calls “a desperate tender of my child’s love” (3.4.12–13). Capulet says he thinks his daughter will listen to him, then corrects himself and states that he is sure Juliet will abide by his decision. He promises Paris that the wedding will be held on Wednesday, then stops suddenly and asks what day it is. Paris responds that it is Monday; Capulet decides that Wednesday is too soon, and that the wedding should instead be held on Thursday.Read a translation of Act 3, scene 4 →
The love between Romeo and Juliet, blissful in Act 2, is tested under dire circumstances as the conflict between their families takes a turn more disastrous than either could have imagined. The respective manners in which the young lovers respond to their imminent separation helps define the essential qualities of their respective characters. After hearing that he is to be exiled, Romeo acts with customary drama: he is grief-stricken and overcome by his passion. He collapses on the floor. Romeo refuses to listen to reason and threatens to kill himself. Juliet, on the other hand, displays significant progress in her development from the simple, innocent girl of the first act to the brave, mature, and loyal woman of the play’s conclusion. After criticizing Romeo for his role in Tybalt’s death, and hearing the Nurse malign Romeo’s name, Juliet regains control of herself and realizes that her loyalty must be to her husband rather than to Tybalt, her cousin.
Shakespeare creates an interesting psychological tension in Romeo and Juliet by consistently linking the intensity of young love with a suicidal impulse. Though love is generally the opposite of hatred, violence, and death, Shakespeare portrays self-annihilation as seemingly the only response to the overwhelming emotional experience that being young and in love constitutes. Romeo and Juliet seem to flirt with the idea of death throughout much of the play, and the possibility of suicide recurs often, foreshadowing the eventual deaths of the lovers in Act 5. When Juliet misunderstands the Nurse and thinks that Romeo is dead, she does not think that he was killed, but that he killed himself. And thinking that Romeo is dead, Juliet quickly decides that she too must die. Her love for Romeo will allow no other course of action.
Romeo’s actual threat of suicide in Friar Lawrence’s cell, in which he desires to “sack / The hateful mansion” (3.3.106–107) that is his body so that he may eradicate his name, recalls the balcony scene, in which Romeo scorns his Montague name in front of Juliet by saying, “Had I it written, I would tear the word” (2.1.99). In the balcony scene, a name seemed to be a simple thing that he could hold up in front of him and tear. Once torn, he could easily live without it. Now, with a better understanding of how difficult it is to escape the responsibilities and claims of family loyalty, of being a Montague, Romeo modifies his metaphor. No longer does he conceive of himself as able to tear his name. Instead, now he must rip it from his body, and, in the process, die.