Meanwhile, over in Mantua, there’s Romeo, whom we may have begun to forget. Obviously by this juncture, Shakespeare has to begin to wrap things up, to fulfil his audience’s expectations, and to move on to the play’s climax. Notable here is the role of coincidence and/or fate, and it is significant that this element is again associated with Romeo who throughout the play has invoked “fate” in one form or another. His opening speech in this scene recalls his recent dream: “I dreamt my lady came and found me dead / (Strange dream that gives a dead man leave to think!).” Of course, people do dream; however, it is rather convenient that Romeo should dream an inversion of what is about to happen in the play, i.e. Romeo finding Juliet “dead.” In the second part of the above quotation, it might be possible to detect Shakespeare commenting wryly on his own creaky dramaturgy, i.e. a dead man in a dream being able to think. This is followed swiftly by more plot manipulation; Balthasar arrives with news of Juliet’s death (so he thinks), which, naturally, induces an immediate, impulsive reaction from Romeo. Note too the convenient reference to the lack of any letters from Friar Lawrence–“Hast thou no letters to me from the friar?” This provides a ready answer to those who might remember that part of the plot. The more cynical might ask how this came about–a knot in the plot which the next scene answers.

Equally convenient and contrived is the second part of this scene. “I do remember an apothecary, / And hereabouts ’a [he] dwells.” Not only that, but said apothecary is poor and hungry and generally in need. And lo and behold “As I remember, this should be the house” where the apothecary lives. Although the apothecary is more than wary of Romeo’s intentions and even cites the laws of Mantua that forbid selling poisons, “My poverty but not my will consents” to sell said drugs. (Note Romeo’s epigrammatic reply: “I pay thy poverty and not thy will.”) And so, poison in hand, off goes our hero. All rather too convenient? The cynical might say so, and if true, then that would decrease the effect of the tragedy. For the more we are made aware of the elementary construction of the drama, the less is the realism achieved; and surely a strong sense of realism is needed to bring about the final emotional effect–otherwise everything is simply play-acting.

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© 2008

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