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Detailed Summary of Act 4, Scene 2

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Enter Capulet, Lady Capulet, Nurse, and Servingmen, two or three:
Capulet is used to having his way, and since he has decided that there will be a wedding, he proceeds to make all the necessary arrangements. Trailed by his wife and the Nurse, he bustles about, giving orders. He hands the guest list to a servant, saying "So many guests invite as here are writ" (4.2.1); as that servant hurries away, Capulet gives an order to another servant: "Sirrah, go hire me twenty cunning cooks" (4.2.2). Capulet seems to be in a good mood, so the servant starts a little joke, saying, "You shall have none ill, sir; for I'll try [i.e., test them by seeing] if they can lick their fingers" (4.2.3-4). A bit puzzled, Capulet asks what kind of test that will be, and the servant finishes off his joke with a truism: "Marry, sir, 'tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers" (4.2.6-7), which means that a bad cook won't eat his own cooking. The servant only means to have a little fun with his small joke, but when you think about it, the joke could be taken as a commentary on what Capulet is doing. He's cooking up a gala wedding reception for Juliet, who is supposed to do as she'd told and like it, but he certainly wouldn't like it if he were treated the way he's treating Juliet.

As the second servant leaves to go on his errand, Capulet fusses, "We shall be much unfurnished for this time" (4.2.10). "Unfurnished" means "unprepared" and more; twenty cooks is a lot, but Capulet would like to have more of everything, enough to put on a big show for this wedding. And--come to think of it--there's the matter of the bride. He asks, "What, is my daughter gone to Friar Laurence?" (4.2.11). The Nurse answers that she has, and Capulet grumbles, "Well, he may chance to do some good on her: / A peevish self-will'd harlotry it is" (4.2.13-14). A "harlotry" is a good-for-nothing wench, and "it" is a word used for an infant; Capulet thinks Juliet is a spoiled brat who wants to have everything her own way.

Now Juliet shows up, with her happy face pasted on. The Nurse exclaims, "See where she comes from shrift [confession] with merry look" (4.2.15). It seems that Juliet's "merry look" has an immediate effect on her father; he asks her, "How now, my headstrong! where have you been gadding?" (4.2.16), which appears to be a teasing question, rather than an angry one. Juliet lies. She says that she has been where she has learned to repent for being disobedient to her father. She also says that Friar Laurence has told her to abase herself and beg her father's pardon, which is only true in a deceptive way. In order to sell her lies she kneels and says exactly what her father wants to hear: "Pardon, I beseech you! / Henceforward I am ever ruled by you" (4.2.20-21).

Juliet's new attitude makes Capulet so happy that he decides to get things rolling right away. He says--to no one in particular--"Send for the County; go tell him of this: / I'll have this knot knit up to-morrow morning" (4.2.23-24). To us, this is an alarming change of plans. Friar Laurence had planned on having more than 60 hours to get Romeo back to Verona; now suddenly 24 of those hours are gone because Capulet has suddenly moved up the wedding date from Thursday to Wednesday.

Juliet, however, either doesn't see the significance of what has just happened or keeps her composure wonderfully well. Still on her knees, she continues to mislead her father by saying of Paris, "I met the youthful lord at Laurence' cell; / And gave him what becomed love I might, / Not stepping o'er the bounds of modesty" (4.2.25-27). "Becomed" means "befitting"; Juliet is saying that she flirted with Paris as was befitting for a woman who is engaged to him. This, too, is mostly a lie. But Capulet is taken in. He says he is glad and gets her up off her knees, then resumes giving orders, saying, "Let me see the county; / Ay, marry, go, I say, and fetch him hither" (4.2.29-30). There's no servant present to carry out Capulet's order, but Capulet doesn't notice that. He goes on to praise Friar Laurence, and then Juliet--showing what an obedient girl she is--says, "Nurse, will you go with me into my closet, / To help me sort [pick out] such needful ornaments / As you think fit to furnish me to-morrow?" (4.2.33-35). The key word in this little request is "tomorrow"; Juliet is demonstrating to her father that she understands and fully accepts her father's new plan to have the wedding the next day, and not Thursday.

Lady Capulet, on the other hand, hasn't quite caught up to the new plan, so she says, "No, not till Thursday; there is time enough" (4.2.36). Capulet answers her by speaking to the Nurse: "Go, nurse, go with her: we'll to church to-morrow" (4.2.37). As Juliet and the Nurse are leaving, Lady Capulet protests to her husband, "We shall be short in our provision, / 'Tis now near night" (4.2.38-39), but Capulet--as always--is quite sure of himself. He says, "Tush, I will stir about, / And all things shall be well, I warrant [promise] thee, wife" (4.2.39-40). Then he tells her to go help Juliet get ready for the wedding, and says "let me alone; / I'll play the housewife for this once" (4.2.42-43). "Let me alone" means "I can take care of everything by myself"; as though to demonstrate what he can do, Capulet calls for a servant, but discovers that they are all gone. No matter. He'll take his message to Paris himself. Nothing can bother him now because, as he says, "My heart is wondrous light, / Since this same wayward girl is so reclaim'd" (4.2.47).

With this, Capulet and his wife leave, and we are left wondering whether Friar Laurence's plan can beat the new deadline.

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