In his cell, Friar Lawrence speaks with Paris about the latter’s impending marriage to Juliet. Paris says that Juliet’s grief about Tybalt’s death has made her unbalanced, and that Capulet, in his wisdom, has determined they should marry soon so that Juliet can stop crying and put an end to her period of mourning. The friar remarks to himself that he wishes he were unaware of the reason that Paris’s marriage to Juliet should be delayed.
Juliet enters, and Paris speaks to her lovingly, if somewhat arrogantly. Juliet responds indifferently, showing neither affection nor dislike. She remarks that she has not married him yet. On the pretense that he must hear Juliet’s confession, Friar Lawrence ushers Paris away, though not before Paris kisses Juliet once. After Paris leaves, Juliet asks Friar Lawrence for help, brandishing a knife and saying that she will kill herself rather than marry Paris. The friar proposes a plan: Juliet must consent to marry Paris; then, on the night before the wedding, she must drink a sleeping potion that will make her appear to be dead; she will be laid to rest in the Capulet tomb, and the friar will send word to Romeo in Mantua to help him retrieve her when she wakes up. She will then return to Mantua with Romeo, and be free to live with him away from their parents’ hatred. Juliet consents to the plan wholeheartedly. Friar Lawrence gives her the sleeping potion.Read a translation of Act 4, scene 1 →
Juliet returns home, where she finds Capulet and Lady Capulet preparing for the wedding. She surprises her parents by repenting her disobedience and cheerfully agreeing to marry Paris. Capulet is so pleased that he insists on moving the marriage up a day, to Wednesday—tomorrow. Juliet heads to her chambers to, ostensibly, prepare for her wedding. Capulet heads off to tell Paris the news.Read a translation of Act 4, scene 2 →
Friar Lawrence is the wiliest and most scheming character in Romeo and Juliet: he secretly marries the two lovers, spirits Romeo to Mantua, and stages Juliet’s death. The friar’s machinations seem also to be tools of fate. Yet despite the role Friar Lawrence plays in bringing about the lovers’ deaths, Shakespeare never presents him in a negative, or even ambiguous, light. He is always treated as a benign, wise presence. The tragic failure of his plans is treated as a disastrous accident for which Friar Lawrence bears no responsibility.
In contrast, it is a challenge to situate Paris along the play’s moral continuum. He is not exactly an adversary to Romeo and Juliet, since he never acts consciously to harm them or go against their wishes. Like almost everyone else, he knows nothing of their relationship. Paris’s feelings for Juliet are also a subject of some ambiguity, since the audience is never allowed access to his thoughts. Later textual evidence does indicate that Paris harbors a legitimate love for Juliet, and though he arrogantly assumes Juliet will want to marry him, Paris never treats her unkindly. Nevertheless, because she does not love him, he represents a real and frightening potentiality for Juliet.