If it has not become evident by now, this scene makes one thing abundantly clear: the emphasis of the play from the end of 3.3 (when Romeo left for exile) has shifted to Juliet. (As a side remark, this alone justifies the title of “Romeo and Juliet.”) The scene (an all female scene) opens with the scene setting business of Juliet preparing for bed, aided more or less by the Nurse, though not Lady Capulet in her brief appearance. Thereafter, Shakespeare gives Juliet a substantial soliloquy that helps crystalize her character, etc. (Incidentally, it is worth recalling that in Shakespeare’s day, the role would have been played by one of the boy/young male actors, and this soliloquy gives us an idea of his capabilities–Shakespeare knew for whom he was writing, and therefore adjusted his text accordingly. Had the boy been incapable of sustaining the role, the role would have been smaller {though one would have to remark, it is also unlikely an inept boy would have been a part of the company!!})

In addition to its length, Juliet’s soliloquy is notable for the way in which she debates whether she should go through with the plan devised by the Friar. She considers and weighs various aspects, including whether the Friar might in fact be trying to deceive her. As she thinks about these things her mind begins to dwell on the fearful (Gothic?) aspects of lying in the vault awaiting Romeo’s return. Then her imagination, not surprisingly, begins convincingly to enlarge upon her fears. The speech is full of convincing detail, and, significantly, absent of rhetorical devices such as anaphora that might suggest contrivance and theatrical self-awareness. (Note her “back-up plan” of using the dagger if the potion doesn’t work reinforces this point.) The upshot is her final swift determination to take the potion: “Romeo, I come! This do I drink to thee.” Potentially, these could be her final words, and Romeo is all her thought–suitably, though effectively, romantic.

One final staging note. Juliet would fall on to a bed that would be behind curtains covering one of the entrances to the stage.  The curtains would be open for this scene, but quickly closed before the next scene, allowing for the discovery made in 4.4.

Check out The Shakespeare Diaries.

© 2008

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