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Detailed Summary of Act 4, Scene 3

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Enter Juliet and Nurse:
For this scene there has to be a bed on stage, probably the curtained kind. Juliet will take the sleeping potion while lying on the bed and--in the scene after next--be discovered upon it as if dead.

Juliet has been pretending to take an interest in the selection of her wedding clothes, but now she needs to be alone. She says, "Ay, those attires [clothes] are best, but, gentle nurse, / I pray thee, leave me to myself to-night" (4.3.1-2), and explains, "For I have need of many orisons [prayers]/ To move the heavens to smile upon my state, / Which, well thou know'st, is cross, and full of sin" (4.3.3-5). In using the word "cross" of herself, Juliet may be making a rueful joke to herself. Earlier, before she pretended to agree with his every word, Juliet's father considered her cross in every way--cranky, willful, ungrateful, and sniveling. Now she has to pretend that she needs to pray for all that.

Lady Capulet enters to ask if Juliet needs any help. Juliet replies, "No, madam; we have cull'd [picked out] such necessaries / As are behoveful [needful] for our state to-morrow" (4.3.7-8). Then she respectfully requests some time by herself, and, to make sure that she is entirely alone, says to her mother, "And let the nurse this night sit up with you; / For, I am sure, you have your hands full all, / In this so sudden business"(4.3.10-12)

Juliet's mother doesn't need any more persuading; she says good night to her daughter, advises her to get some sleep, and leaves, taking the Nurse with her. As the two women leave, Juliet says--though not so they can hear--"Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again" (4.3.14). This is heartbreaking. Because of the abundant foreshadowing in the play, we sense that Juliet will never again see her mother or the Nurse, who has been like a mother to her. Juliet herself feels the dread of death. She says, "I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins, / That almost freezes up the heat of life" (4.3.15-16). "Thrill" means "pierce" and also "shiver"; Juliet feels as though she's freezing from the inside. She has an implulse to call back her mother and the Nurse, and she actually does call for the Nurse, but then reminds herself that "My dismal scene I needs must act alone" (4.3.19).

Without her mother, without her Nurse, Juliet has only her vial and her knife. Looking at the vial, she asks herself what will happen if it does not work. Will she then be married to Paris in the morning? Answering her own question and looking at the knife, she says, "No, no, this shall forbid it" (4.3.23). The thought that she can kill herself is a kind of comfort to her, and she puts the knife down, saying "Lie thou there," as though she needs to remember just where she put it in case she needs it.

Now the only thing Juliet has left to do is to drink. Yet she has much fear to overcome. She asks herself if it's possible that the vial actually contains poison which the Friar has given to kill her, "Lest in this marriage he should be dishonour'd, / Because he married me before to Romeo?" (4.3.26-27). She quickly answers that question by reminding herself that Friar Laurence "hath still been tried a holy man" (4.3.29), that is, "has often had his holiness tried and found true."

Just as quickly as Juliet overcomes one fear, another comes to her. She asks what will happen if she awakens in the burial vault before Romeo arrives: "Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault, / To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in / And there die strangled [suffocated] ere my Romeo comes?" (4.3.33-35). Then, without answering that question, her mind jumps to another possibility: "Or, if I live, is it not very like, / The horrible conceit of death and night, / Together with the terror of the place--" (4.3.36-38). "Conceit" means "idea," especially one that appeals strongly to the imagination and emotions; the idea of awaking at night among the dead so overcomes Juliet that she does not finish the sentence. Her imagination wanders through that terrible place, seeing it packed with the bones of ancestors who have lain there for hundreds of years, seeing ghosts, seeing "Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth, / Lies festering in his shroud" (4.3.42-43). In her imagination, her senses are assaulted "with loathsome smells, / And shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth, / That living mortals, hearing them, run mad--" (4.3.46-48). The mandrake is something like the carrot, but with a forked root, so that it was thought to look like a man, and folklore said that when a person pulled a mandrake from the earth its terrible shreik would drive the person mad. Juliet fears that all of these horrible sights and sounds will make her go mad, so that she will play with dead men's fingers, pull Tybalt from his shroud, and use a dead kinsman's bone to beat her brains out.

Juliet's imagination working ever more strongly, she believes she can actually see Tybalt rise from the dead: "O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost / Seeking out Romeo, that did spit [skewer] his body / Upon a rapier's point." (4.3.55-57). This picture of Tybalt's ghost coming to kill Romeo is the final horror, and she tries to stop it, crying out, "Stay [stop], Tybalt, stay!", and calling upon her love, "Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Here's drink--I drink to thee" (4.3.58).

Then she falls upon her bed as if dead.







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