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Romeo and Juliet: Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)

Act 3, Scene 1
Act 3 opens with Mercutio and Benvolio walking as usual around the town. Benvolio's keen instinct is telling him that a brawl could erupt in the street at any moment, and he warns Mercutio that they should go home at once. Mercutio is not as peace loving as his dear friend and chastises Benvolio for even suggesting that they cower inside. To aggravate Benvolio, Mercutio cites nonsensical examples of fights Benvolio has participated in -- one with a man cracking nuts, another with a man who tied his new shoes with 'old riband'. Benvolio sees the Capulets coming and knows a confrontation is inevitable. Tybalt demands to see Romeo so that he can slay him with his ever-ready rapier. Mercutio confronts Tybalt, but, because Mercutio is not a Capulet, Tybalt brushes him aside and moves straight toward Romeo who has just come upon the scene. Romeo, now related to Tybalt, refuses to fight. He cannot reveal why he does not defend his honour, but suggests that they should stop the bitter feud and embrace each other once and for all:
I do protest, I never injured thee,
But love thee better than thou canst devise
Till thou shalt know the true reason of my love;
And so, good Capulet,-- which name I tender
As dearly as mine own,-- be satisfied (3.1.70-4).
Mercutio cannot stand by and watch Romeo stand down like a common coward. He draws his sword and challenges Tybalt. Romeo tries to stop the fight but to no avail -- Tybalt fatally wounds Mercutio. He dies cursing both families, "a plague on both your houses/They have made worms meat of me" (3.1.91-2), despite the fact that his own intemperance has caused his death. Romeo is crushed by the knowledge that Mercutio has lost his life for him, and he draws his sword, attacking Tybalt with ferocity. Tybalt is no match for the skilled and enraged Romeo, and he falls dead to the ground. Romeo stands over Tybalt and all the consequences of his actions flood his mind. By the Prince's decree, Romeo will be executed for disobeying the peace, thus leaving Juliet a widow. And he has betrayed his new bride by killing her beloved cousin. The Prince, the Capulets, and Montague happen upon the tragic scene and Benvolio tries his best to explain why Romeo was forced to kill Tybalt. Because Romeo has slain the instigator of the violence and the murderer of Mercutio, the Prince decides that Romeo should not be executed but banished from Verona instead. If Romeo ever returns, Prince Escalus cautions, he will certainly be killed.

Act 3, Scene 2
Juliet waits at the Capulet house, unaware of the horror unfolding in the street outside and longing for Romeo to come to her bed. But instead of Romeo, the Nurse enters, crying "He's dead, he's dead!". Juliet fears that the Nurse is referring to Romeo and begs her for more information. When the Nurse tells her that it is Tybalt who is dead at the hand of the banished Romeo, Juliet lashes out at her traitorous husband: "O serpent heart!" But she almost immediately forgives Romeo, realizing that Tybalt would have not spared the life of Romeo if he had won the duel. Her thoughts turn to Romeo's banishment. She knows that she cannot live without her husband and exclaims "'Romeo is banished', to speak that word/Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo ,Juliet/All slain, all dead" (3.2.120-3). The Nurse, realizing that Juliet is about to commit suicide, promises her that she will find Romeo and bring him to comfort her.



Act 3, Scene 3
Romeo, who has taken refuge in Friar Laurence's cell, hears the news that he has not been sentenced to death, but banished from Verona. He expresses his anguish at the knowledge that he will not be reunited with Juliet. Suicidal, he laments: "Banished? O friar, the damned use that word in hell/Howlings attend it" (3.3.46-7). The Nurse arrives at the door, announcing that she comes from Lady Juliet. Romeo anxiously asks if Juliet now hates him for killing Tybalt and if she is coping with his banishment. The Nurse tells Romeo that Juliet weeps and weeps, alternating between cries of Tybalt and Romeo. She also tells him that he must visit Juliet one more time. He agrees, risking execution if anyone sees him. Friar Laurence, after chastising Romeo for his outrageous display of weakness, instructs Romeo that he should flee to Mantua after his final meeting with Juliet, and he will send him regular updates on Juliet and his family. Romeo and the Nurse bid the Friar farewell and head toward the house of Capulet.

Act 3, Scene 4
In this brief scene, Capulet, his Lady, and Paris discuss Juliet's great distress over the death of her kinsman, Tybalt. Capulet decides that the best remedy for her grief is to wed Paris the following Thursday.

Act 3, Scene 5
Dawn approaches, and in Juliet's chamber the lovers share their final moments together. Juliet cannot bear the thought of Romeo leaving, and she tries to convince him that the night is not yet over: "it is not yet near day. It was the nightingale, and not the lark/That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear" (3.5.1-3). But Romeo knows that it was no nightingale singing, but the lark, "the herald of the morn" (3.5.6). He insists that he must go but Juliet persists, and Romeo gives into his darling, agreeing that it is not morning because Juliet wills it so. He will stay and die to make Juliet happy a little longer. Realizing that they have no choice but to part, Juliet tells Romeo that he should go "O, now be gone; more light and light it grows" (3.5.35).

The Nurse comes to warn the lovers that Lady Capulet is coming and Romeo climbs out the window to the orchard below, reassuring Juliet that they will be reunited. Juliet's mother rushes in, elated with what she believes to be wonderful news of the upcoming marriage of Juliet to Paris. When Juliet refuses to marry Paris, Lady Capulet is dumbfounded. Capulet, hearing the refusal as he comes to congratulate his daughter, is outraged and insulted. Not only is Juliet flagrantly disobeying him, but she is also rejecting a man whom he has personally chosen above all others. Juliet pleads with Capulet, but he is deaf with rage. He storms out of Juliet's chamber and Juliet turns to her mother, making a final plea for help. Lady Capulet, while not as furious as her husband, refuses to hear another word. "Talk not to me ... for I have done with thee" (3.5.204-5). She exits the room and Juliet is alone with her Nurse. She begs for comfort but the Nurse will give her none, telling her instead to forget Romeo who is forever banished, and marry the noble Paris as Capulet commands. Juliet pretends to come to her senses and tells Nurse to go and inform her mother that she has gone to Friar Laurence to confess her sin of disobedience to her father. The Nurse happily agrees and runs off with the news. Juliet is disgusted with the Nurse's hypocrisy:
Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!
Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn,
Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue
Which she hath prais'd him with above compare
So mant thousand times? (3.5.237-9)
She decides to place her last hope in Friar Laurence. If he cannot help her, she will surely commit suicide.

Act 4, Scene 1
Act 4 opens with Friar Laurence and Paris discussing his upcoming marriage to Juliet. The Friar expresses his disapproval of the wedding plans, telling Paris that he does not know Juliet well enough to marry her. He is careful not to be any more specific in his criticism. Juliet arrives and is friendly but cool to her would-be husband. Paris leaves, assuming that Juliet is about to confess her sins to the Friar. Once alone, Juliet and the Friar discuss what can be done to save Juliet from the fate of becoming the wife of two men. Friar Laurence, a man skilled in the art of herb preparation, proposes a dangerous plan to Juliet. He has a potion that will make her appear dead when she drinks it, and it will keep her the lifeless state for forty-two hours. She will be interred in the Capulet family crypt, as custom dictates, and Friar Laurence will send word to Romeo. Romeo will then return to Verona and collect Juliet and they will live together in Mantua, free from Prince Escalus and their feuding families. Juliet excitedly approves of the plan and goes home to drink the potion.

Act 4, Scene 2
Capulet and his Lady are busy making wedding arrangements. They are indeed planning a huge event -- Capulet orders 'twenty cunning cooks'. Juliet comes into the main hall to speak with her father. He is cheerful and his spirits are further uplifted when Juliet apologizes and assures him that henceforward, until Paris becomes her master, she will be ruled only by her father. Capulet moves the wedding up a day to the next morning, and tells his wife "My heart is wonderous light/Since this same wayward girl is so reclaim'd" (4.2.45-7).

Act 4, Scene 3
Juliet, alone in her chamber, holds her vial of poison. The full gravity of the situation weighs heavy on her mind, and she expresses her fears in a moving soliloquy. What if the potion fails to work? What if the Friar has betrayed her and has given her real poison, so that no one finds out he disgracefully married her to Romeo in secret? Juliet quickly rules out these scenarios as impossible , but she still fears awaking in the stifling and gruesome vault next to the corpse of Tybalt, bloody and festering in his shroud. The horrors of her imagination overtake Juliet and she sees the ghost of Tybalt ready to seek out and kill Romeo. With a final cry to Romeo, Juliet drinks the potion and falls lifeless upon her bed.

Act 4, Scene 4
Downstairs the next morning, the wedding plans are moving ahead as scheduled. Capulet sends the Nurse to fetch Juliet while he visits with his future son-in-law.

Act 4, Scene 5
The Nurse rushes to Juliet's chamber and finds her dead. Her screams attract Lady Capulet, who, upon seeing her dead daughter, cries "O me, O me! My child, my only life/Revive, look up, or I will die with thee!" (4.5.14-5). Capulet comes in to find out what delays Juliet and he laments "Death, that hath ta'en her hence to make me wail/Ties up my tongue, and will not let me speak" (4.5.29-30). Paris and Friar Laurence enter and Paris grieves for the love he will never know. The musicians, gathered for the wedding festivities, now play a song in memory of Juliet for her sorrowful Nurse.

Act 5, Scene 1
Act V opens in Mantua, where Romeo is waiting anxiously for news of Juliet and his family. He greets his servant, Balthasar with excitement:
Dost thou not bring me letters from the friar?
How doth my lady? Is mt father well?
How fairs mt Juliet? that I ask again;
For nothing can be ill, if she be well. (5.1.13-6)
With deep regret, Balthasar tells him that Juliet has died and that her body rests in the Capulet tomb. Romeo puts on a brave face for his faithful servant, but when Balthasar departs, he reveals with despair that the only thing left to do is return to Verona and join Juliet in death. Romeo calls for the apothecary and demands a vial of poison. The apothecary reluctantly gives him a potion and Romeo thanks him greatly for the gift. Indeed, to Romeo, it is a most wonderful gift: "Come, cordial and not poison, go with me/To Juliet's grave; for there I must use thee" (5.1.85-6).

Act 5, Scene 2
Back at Friar Laurence's cell, Friar John reports that he has been unable to deliver the vital letter to Romeo. A plague had broken out and Friar John was quarantined for fear he was infected. Friar Laurence sends John to find an iron bar with which they can pry open the tomb, for it is only three hours until Juliet will awake afraid and alone amongst the corpses. Friar Laurence, knowing he can trust no one but himself, plans to keep Juliet safe in his own cell until Romeo can be reached.

Act 5, Scene 3
Paris and his page enter the churchyard and stand before the Capulet tomb. Paris orders the page to stand watch so that he can be alone in his grief. He strews the vault with flowers and speaks to Juliet:
O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones--
Which with sweet water nightly I will dew,
Or, wanting that, with tears distill'd by moans. (5.2.13-5)
He is interrupted by his page's whistle, warning him that someone approaches. He hides in the darkness and sees Romeo and Balthasar enter with a torch, a mattock, and a wrenching iron. Romeo hands Balthasar a letter and asks him to deliver it to Lord Montague in the morning. He next cracks open the tomb and tells Balthasar that he must not interfere with the actions that he will now take. Balthasar agrees to leave, but he instead hides in the shadows to observe his master. Paris, who still believes Romeo to be the murderous villain who has slain Tybalt and, indirectly, Juliet, steps out of the dark to challenge Romeo to a duel. Romeo warns Paris to leave him be: "Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man" (5.3.59).

Romeo does not want another to die at his hands and he implores Paris to put away his sword. But Paris attacks and Romeo is forced to fight. Skilled at the art of combat, Romeo has no trouble defeating Paris. As Paris lay dying he requests that Romeo place his body beside Juliet's and Romeo, knowing Paris' anguish far too well, gladly agrees. He carries Paris inside the crypt, where he sees his beloved Juliet, as beautiful as ever in her best clothes. Standing above her, Romeo begins his farewell to his young bride, "O my love! my wife!" (5.3.91). He drinks the poison, and with one last kiss he falls dead to the earthen floor of the tomb. Friar Laurence arrives and Balthasar comes out of hiding to tell him that Romeo has been in the vault for at least half an hour. Friar Laurence rushes in to find Romeo dead and Juliet awakening from her death-like slumber. Confused, Juliet asks Friar Laurence where her Romeo is, and he can do nothing but tell her the horrible truth.

Hearing the Watchmen in the distance and fearing they will be caught, Friar Laurence begs Juliet to hurry. Juliet refuses to go and the Friar, desperately afraid for his own life and reputation, runs outside, leaving Juliet behind. She sees the vial of poison still enclosed in Romeo's hand, and she drinks from it, but there is no poison left. Then she kisses her love with the hopes that there is enough poison on his lips to kill her, but she lives on. She hears the Watchmen draw closer and she knows she must act quickly. She grabs Romeo's dagger and stabs herself, falling dead upon Romeo's body. The Watchmen rush in and are shocked at the bloody scene. They capture Balthasar and Friar Laurence as Prince Escalus arrives, along with the Capulets and Lord Montague. The Friar recounts the whole tragic story to the Prince and the feuding families, and they realize that their hate is the reason why their children lay dead. Capulet and Montague vow to end their war and they decide to erect golden statues of the star-crossed lovers as a beautiful yet painful reminder of their lives and extraordinary love. The play comes to a close with the mournful words of Prince Escalus:
A glooming peace this morning with it
brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk on these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punish'd:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. (5.3.304-10)


Back to Act 1 Summary

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Romeo and Juliet Plot Summary. Shakespeare Online. 18 Sept. 2008. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/romeoandjuliet/romeops2.html >.

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Points for Discussion

microsoft images "The Italian Romeo, when he is in the tomb of the Capulets, says nothing of the charms of death; he fails to note that Juliet is still beautiful even in death, so much has the idea of death veiled from his eyes the beauties of his beloved. All the thoughts of the English Romeo centre upon the corpse before him, upon Juliet, whom he loves to contemplate even in her grave, still lovely, although without life; the thoughts of the Italian Romeo fly back to Juliet as she was while she lived, beautiful and beloved; and the Italian Romeo and the English Romeo have each the thoughts and sentiments that their climate bestows upon them." Saint-Marc Girardin. Read on...

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Thoughts on Act 5, scene 2... "The flaw in the carrying out of the Friar's plan is explained. Again accident has proved the enemy of the lovers, for just as the messenger was about to depart for Mantua, the doors of the house at which he stayed were sealed because of the pestilence. As Friar Laurence hastens to the tomb to be present when Juliet awakes, there is a hope that he may arrive in time to meet Romeo and stay his death." Henry Norman Hudson. Read on...

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Notes on Shakespeare

Ale (beer made with a top fermenting yeast) was the drink of choice in Shakespeare's day. Everyone from the poorest farmer to the Queen herself drank the brew made from malt, and a mini brewery was an essential part of every household. Shakespeare's own father was an official ale taster in Stratford – an important and respected job which involved monitoring the ingredients used by professional brewers and ensuring they sold their ale at Crown regulated prices. Beer, however, eventually became more popular than ale. Read on...
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Henry Bolingbroke, the eldest son of John of Gaunt and the grandson of King Edward III, was born on April 3, 1367. Henry usurped the throne from the ineffectual King Richard II in 1399, and thus became King Henry IV, the first of the three kings of the House of Lancaster. Read on...
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An atomy is the smallest particle of matter (an atom). The most famous use of the word atomy in the plays is found in Mercutio's Queen Mab speech in Romeo and Juliet (1.4)
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Shakespeare acquired substantial wealth thanks to his acting and writing abilities, and his shares in London theatres. The going rate was £10 per play at the turn of the sixteenth century. So how much money did Shakespeare make? Read on...




Twenty-four of Shakespeare's sonnets are addressed to a woman. We have little information about this woman, except for a description the poet gives of her over the course of the poems. Shakespeare describes her as 'a woman color'd ill', with black eyes and coarse black hair. Thus, she has come to be known as the "dark lady." Find out...
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Known to the Elizabethans as ague, Malaria was a common malady spread by the mosquitoes in the marshy Thames. The swampy theatre district of Southwark was always at risk. King James I had it; so too did Shakespeare’s friend, Michael Drayton. Read on...
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Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the most captivating and complex figures in history. In 1152, Eleanor married Henry Plantagenet (later to become Henry II). Their son, John, was born in 1167 and is the title character of Shakespeare's history play. Take a Shakespeare history quiz...


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