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Detailed Summary of Act 3, Scene 3
Enter Friar Laurence:
Learning from the Friar that he is to be banished, Romeo declares that the Friar is torturing him to death, then throws himself on the floor, moaning and weeping.
The Nurse brings news that Juliet is in just as bad shape as Romeo. Romeo, wild with guilt at the pain he has caused Juliet, tries to stab himself. Friar Laurence lectures Romeo and tells him what to do -- go to Juliet, then to Mantua until the Prince can be persuaded to pardon him. The Nurse gives Romeo the ring that Juliet asked her to take to him. These things put Romeo into a better frame of mind and he leaves Friar Laurence's cell to go to Juliet.
Enter Friar Laurence:
This scene is a companion to the previous one, in which Juliet extravagently bemoaned the news that Romeo had been banished. Romeo's lamentations over his banishment are extravagant to the point of childishness.
Romeo has been hiding in Friar Laurence's cell, and the scene opens as the Friar comes home to tell Romeo his fate. Apparently Romeo is concealed somewhere in the cell, so that the Friar has to call him out: "Romeo, come forth; come forth, thou fearful [frightened] man: / Affliction is enamour'd of thy parts, / And thou art wedded to calamity" (3.3.1-3). A person's "parts" are his qualities, such as honor, courage, etc.; the Friar is expressing sympathy for poor Romeo because he seems to be married to bad luck.
Romeo, when he comes out from behind the curtain (or wherever he has been hiding), seems to be sure that any news has to be bad news. He says, "Father, what news? what is the prince's doom [judgment]? / What sorrow craves acquaintance at my hand, / That I yet know not? (3.3.4-6). "Craves acquaintance at my hand" probably means "wants to shake hands with me"; with sad irony, Romeo is asking "What next?" The Friar, feeling sorry for Romeo, says that Romeo is already too well acquainted with sorrow and then says, "I bring thee tidings of the prince's doom" (3.3.8). By "doom" the Friar just means "judgment" or "sentence," and he actually has some good news, but Romeo is full of forebodings. He asks the Friar, "What less than dooms-day is the prince's doom?" (3.3.9). He expects nothing less than death ("dooms-day"), but the Friar replies, "A gentler judgment vanish'd [issued] from his lips, / Not body's death, but body's banishment" (3.3.10-11).
The Friar is expecting relief and joy from Romeo, but Romeo gives him the opposite, exclaiming, "Ha, banishment! be merciful, say "death"; / For exile hath more terror in his look, / Much more than death: do not say 'banishment'"(3.3.12-14). Being reasonable, the Friar points out that there's a whole world beyond the walls of Verona, but Romeo -- in no mood to be reasonable -- declares that there is nothing outside of Verona's walls except hell and torture. According to Romeo, banishment is just a nice name for death, and he complains, "Thou cutt'st my head off with a golden axe, / And smilest upon the stroke that murders me" (3.3.22-23).
The Friar is shocked at Romeo's attitude. He accuses Romeo of the sin of ingratitude and points out that the law demands Romeo's life for his crime, but the Prince has kindly reduced the sentence. He says, "This is dear [precious] mercy, and thou seest it not" (3.3.28). Romeo answers that it's not mercy but torture because heaven is in Verona where Juliet lives, "and every cat and dog / And little mouse, every unworthy thing, / Live here in heaven and may look on her; / But Romeo may not" (3.3.30-33). Even the flies of Verona, says Romeo, can touch Juliet's hand and kiss her blushing lips, but he cannot. With bitter irony he asks the Friar, "Hadst thou no poison mix'd, no sharp-ground knife, / No sudden mean of death, though ne'er so mean [insignificant], / But "banished" to kill me?" (3.3.44-46). "Romeo is saying that the Friar could have used the usual ("mean") methods of killing him, rather than torturing him to death with the word "banished." He even accuses the Friar of being cruel to him. He asks Friar how he, Romeo's spiritual father and friend, has the heart to "mangle" him "with that word 'banished'" (3.3.51).
Trying to get a word in edgewise, the Friar says, "Thou fond [silly] mad man, hear me but speak a word" (3.3.52), but Romeo is afraid that the Friar will say that bad word again. He says, "O, thou wilt speak again of banishment" (3.3.53). The Friar replies, "I'll give thee armour to keep off that word: / Adversity's sweet milk, philosophy, / To comfort thee, though thou art banished" (3.3.54-56). Philosophy is "adversity's sweet milk" because when you have problems, philosophy nurtures you by enabling you to put those problems in perspective. The Friar wants to talk some sense into Romeo, but Romeo doesn't want to listen, and besides, the Friar said that "b" word again. Romeo exclaims, "Yet 'banished'? Hang up philosophy! / Unless philosophy can make a Juliet, / Displant [transplant] a town, reverse a prince's doom, / It helps not, it prevails not: talk no more" (3.3.57-60).
But the Friar does talk, and even gets a bit sarcastic, saying, "O, then I see that madmen have no ears" (3.3.61), to which Romeo replies, "How should they, when that wise men have no eyes?" (3.3.62). The wise man that Romeo is thinking of is Friar Laurence, who could see, if only he would really look at Romeo, that talking will do not good. Nevertheless, the Friar tries again, saying, "Let me dispute with thee of thy estate" (3.3.63). The Friar only wants to discuss ("dispute") Romeo's situation ("estate"), but Romeo gets downright petulant. He tells the Friar that he can't talk about what he doesn't feel, and that he can't possibly feel what Romeo feels because he isn't young, isn't newly married to Juliet, hasn't just killed Tybalt, isn't in love, and isn't banished. A modern teenager would yell, "YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND!" Then, to prove just how terrible he feels, Romeo throws himself on the floor, as though he's jumping into his own grave.
At this moment, there's a knock on the door and the scene gets almost comical. The Friar, who is afraid someone will discover that Romeo is still in Verona, tells him to get up and hide himself, but Romeo won't budge. He says he won't hide "unless the breath of heartsick groans, / Mist-like, infold me from the search of eyes" (3.3.72-73). The idea of Romeo hiding in the mist of his own groans is a little droll, and suggests that Romeo wants to make sure that everyone and anyone can see how miserable he is. The knock at the door is heard again, and the Friar goes back and forth between the door and Romeo four times, trying to get Romeo to move, and trying to get the unknown person to wait a minute. Finally the Friar asks the person what she wants, and the Nurse (who is the one who has been doing the knocking) answers that she comes from Juliet. So the Friar opens the door, even though Romeo is still lying there, groaning and weeping.
As the Nurse comes in she asks where Romeo is; the Frair points to the floor and says, "There on the ground, with his own tears made drunk" (3.3.83). There may be a bit of scorn in the Friar's words, but the Nurse is all sympathy. She says, "O, he is even in my mistress' case, / Just in her case! O woful sympathy! / Piteous predicament!" (3.3.84-86). "Sympathy" means similarity of feeling; to the Nurse, it's touching to see Romeo "Blubbering and weeping, weeping and blubbering" (3.3.87), just as Juliet was doing when she last saw her.
The Nurse urges Romeo, for Juliet's sake, to stand up and be a man, and offers her own little bit of philosophy: "Ah sir! ah sir! Death's the end of all" (3.3.92). She means that it won't do any good for Romeo to just lie there and die. It's the simple truth, but such a simple truth that it might get a chuckle from the audience.
In all that the Nurse says, the only thing Romeo hears is "Juliet," and he asks, "Spakest thou of Juliet? how is it with her? / Doth she not think me an old murderer, / Now I have stain'd the childhood of our joy / With blood removed but little from her own?" (3.3.93-96). The "childhood of our joy" is the first few hours of their marriage, and the "blood removed but little from her own" is the blood of Tybalt, her cousin. He is afraid that because he has killed Tybalt, Juliet will hate him. That same fear is clear in his next questions: "Where is she? and how doth she? and what says / My conceal'd lady to our cancell'd love?" (3.3.97-98). Romeo doesn't really want to hear that their love is "cancell'd," but he thinks he hears it in the Nurse's answer. She says, "O, she says nothing, sir, but weeps and weeps; / And now falls on her bed; and then starts up, / And Tybalt calls; and then on Romeo cries, / And then down falls again." (3.3.99-102). We know what the Nurse means, but Romeo thinks it's "As if that name ["Romeo"], / Shot from the deadly level of a gun, / Did murder her" (3.3.102-104). Then Romeo draws a sword or knife and asks the Friar where in his body his name lives, because he wants to cut it out.
The Friar stops Romeo from killing himself, then gives him a tongue-lashing. He tells him he looks like a man, but he's crying like a woman and acting like a beast.
[Note: Editors often put in a stage direction indicating that Romeo rises from the floor soon after the Nurse enters, but they're probably wrong. The Friar's comment about Romeo acting like a beast has a sharper point if Romeo is still writhing about on the floor.]The Friar exclaims, "Unseemly woman in a seeming man! / Or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both / Thou hast amazed me!" (3.3.112-114). As the Friar uses the words, both "Unseemly" or "ill-beseeming" mean something stronger than "inappropriate" or "offensive" -- something more like "grotesque." He is telling Romeo that he is acting worse than the worst woman, and worse than the worst beast, and appears to be some grotesque combination of both. The Friar goes on to argue against Romeo's frantic idea that he should kill himself because he has killed Juliet by killing Tybalt. He says, "Hast thou slain Tybalt? wilt thou slay thyself? / And slay thy lady that in thy life lives, / By doing damned hate upon thyself?" (3.3.116-118). In other words, Romeo can't make up for killing Tybalt by killing himself; that would only kill Juliet, too. And because Romeo has said that it is his name that has done all the damage, the Friar asks, "Why rail'st thou on thy birth, the heaven and earth? / Since birth, and heaven, and earth, all three do meet / In thee at once; which thou at once wouldst lose" (3.3.119-121). A person's "birth" is his family, hence for Romeo his name ("Montague") that he hates so much. But a person's "birth" is also his being, "the heaven and earth" (body and soul) of his existence. Romeo has been complaining about his existence, but his family, heaven, and earth have given him his existence, and he has been trying to throw it away.
Not only is Romeo being beastly and absurd, says the Friar, he's also betraying himself and all he should be. He says, "Fie, fie, thou shamest thy shape, thy love, thy wit; / Which, like a usurer, abound'st in all, / And usest none in that true use indeed / Which should bedeck thy shape, thy love, thy wit" (3.3.122-125). According to the Friar, Romeo is doing shame to his "shape" (his appearance as a handsome man), his "love" (for Juliet), and his "wit" (his intelligence and wisdom). He's like a usurer (a moneylender and miser) who has plenty, but doesn't put that plenty to good use. Romeo's shape, love, and wit should all enhance one another; each good quality, rightly used, should make the other good qualities better. But Romeo isn't making good use of any of his good qualities, and the Friar proves it by going into detail about each quality. His shape is like a waxworks figure; it looks good, but doesn't show any real courage. His love is a lie because in trying to kill himself he would kill Juliet. His wit is self-destructive stupidity, like the gunpowder in an inept soldier's powderhorn, which explodes because of his own ignorance, blowing him to bits.
After this thorough analysis of Romeo's self-centered silliness, the Friar urges him to think about how lucky he is and how happy he should be. He says, "What, rouse thee, man! thy Juliet is alive, / For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead; / There art thou happy" (3.3.135-137). "Happy" means "lucky," and "thou wast but lately dead" means that just moments ago Romeo wanted to kill himself for Juliet's sake. Romeo should "rouse" himself (he may still be slumped on the floor) because his good luck should make him happy. The Friar goes on to point out that Romeo should be happy because he killed Tybalt, who would have killed him. And he should be happy because he could have been executed and was only exiled. But instead of being happy, says the Friar, "like a misbehaved and sullen wench, / Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love" (3.3.143-144). Then the Friar warns him that this is no way to live: "Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable" (3.3.145).
It seems unlikely that any of this good advices rouses Romeo out of his pout, but what the Friar says next seems to do the trick: "Go, get thee to thy love, as was decreed [planned], / Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her" (3.3.146-147). The Friar adds that Romeo should leave again before the night-watchmen go on duty, because he must go to Mantua and wait until a time can be found to make his marriage known, get a pardon from the Prince, and call him back to Verona "With twenty hundred thousand times more joy / Than thou went'st forth in lamentation" (3.3.153-154). The Friar also gives the Nurse a job, telling her to tell Juliet to make sure that all of her household goes to bed early, which they are likely to do because of their sorrow for Tybalt. It appears these plans finally get Romeo on his feet because the Friar concludes his long speech with the announcement that "Romeo is coming" (3.3.158).
At this point the Nurse unintentionally adds a little humor by exclaiming, "O Lord, I could have stay'd here all the night / To hear good counsel [advice, wisdom]: O, what learning is!" (3.3.159-160). She just admires how the Friar can talk! And he's so smart! The Nurse turns to leave, saying that she will tell Juliet that Romeo is coming, and Romeo answers, "Do so, and bid my sweet prepare to chide" (3.3.162). He's thinking that Juliet will have some harsh words to say about the death of Tybalt, and he's ready to endure them, but then the Nurse remembers the ring that Juliet gave her to give to Romeo. She gives it to him and urges him to make haste, because it's getting late. Romeo takes the ring, saying, "How well my comfort is revived by this!" (3.3.165). Since Juliet sent the ring, she probably won't do much chiding, and so Romeo feels much better.
The Nurse hurries away, and the Friar tells Romeo that he ought to hurry, too, and then offers one last bit of advice, saying, "here stands all your state: / Either be gone before the watch be set, / Or by the break of day disguised from hence" (3.3.166-168). "Here stands all your state" means "Everything depends on what I'm about to say," and what he says is that Romeo must not be caught in Verona. He must get out very soon, before the watchmen go on duty, or he must leave at the break of day, in disguise. (The Friar's plan has changed a little. A minute before he told Romeo not to stay "till the watch be set," but apparently he's decided that Romeo deserves or will take a night with Juliet, despite any danger.) The Friar adds that Romeo must stay in Mantua and that he'll engage Romeo's servant as a messenger to deliver any good news from Verona. Then the Friar shakes hands with Romeo, tells him it's late, and says farewell. Romeo answers, "But that a joy past joy calls out on me, / It were a grief, so brief to part with thee. / Farewell" (3.3.173-175). Romeo means that it would give him grief to leave the Friar so hurriedly, if he weren't answering the call of inexpressible joy. And so Romeo runs off to find that joy.