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-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Romeo and Juliet Navigator:

Detailed Summary of Act 3, Scene 2

Page Index:

Enter Juliet alone:
Juliet appears, probably at the window where she pledged her love to Romeo. (Juliet knows that the Nurse is going to bring the "cords," the rope ladder she will let down to Romeo so that he may climb up to her.) The sun is still in the sky, but Juliet wants it gone. She is longing for the coming of night and her Romeo.

Her first words are "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, / Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner / As Phaëthon would whip you to the west, / And bring in cloudy night immediately" (3.2.1-4). The "steeds" are the horses that pull the chariot of the sun-god Phoebus, whose "lodging" is in the west, below the horizon. Phaëthon is the sun-god's son, who in myth could not control the steeds of the sun. In the myth, the sun-chariot, with Phaëthon at the reins, races wildly across the sky. Juliet's blood is racing just as wildly, and she wants night and Romeo to come to her now.

In her imagination, night will bring the consummation of her love. She says, "Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night, / That runaways' eyes may wink and Romeo / Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen" (3.2.5-7). In English, the word "curtain" was first used of a bed-curtain; Juliet is seeing things as though she is on a bed, seeing the curtains close about her, bringing the dark in which the acts of love are performed. "Wink" meant simply "close quickly," not close and open again, as it does now; when the curtain of the night closes about Juliet, the eyes of those runaway steeds of the sun will wink out and Romeo will suddenly be in her arms, "untalked of and unseen" -- as in a dream.

Juliet believes that when night and Romeo come, the love-making will be magical, because "Lovers can see to do their amorous rites / By their own beauties" (3.2.8-9). (This idea, that beauty creates its own light, is the same one that Romeo talked about when he saw Juliet on her balcony and described her as an angel shining in the night.) And even if she can't see Romeo that will be as it should be, because "if love be blind, / It best agrees with night" (3.2.9-10).

Again Juliet asks the night to come, this time with metaphors which intensify her eroticism with a taste of the forbidden: "Come, civil night, / Thou sober-suited matron, all in black, / And learn [teach] me how to lose a winning match, / Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods" (3.2.10-13). A matron, a dignified mother, especially one who is somber ("civil"), would warn a girl against losing her virginity ("maidenhood"), but now that Juliet is married, losing is winning. What was forbidden is now not only allowed, but the right thing to do, especially because Juliet and Romeo will both give the purity of their bodies to each other.

In the same vein, Juliet, who can feel herself blushing with desire, asks the night to cover her so that her desire can be fulfilled. She says, "Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks, / With thy black mantle, till strange [bashful] love, grown bold, / Think true love acted simple modesty [chastity]" (3.2.14-16). The words "hood," "unmanned," and "bating" are all borrowed from falconry. An "unmanned" falcon is untamed; it will try to escape from its keeper by "bating," beating its wings wildly; and it is controlled by having a hood placed over its head, so that it can't see. Juliet's blood, wildly beating in her blushing cheeks, is "unmanned" because it is unmanned -- without Romeo. But with Romeo, in the dark, her desire could be set free, so that she could do the acts of love as though they were chastity itself.

Yet again she asks night to come to her, and she asks Romeo to come with it: "come, Romeo, come, thou day in night; / For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow on a raven's back" (3.2.17-19). This beautiful metaphor contrasts Romeo's shining whiteness and the deep black of the night, and the same contrast is repeated in the climax of Juliet's reverie:

Give me my Romeo; and, when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.        (3.2.21-25)
Some editors print "when he shall die" instead of "when I shall die," but "I" makes perfectly good sense. Juliet believes that when Romeo comes to her in the night he will be with her forever, even after her death, shining like stars in the night.

After this, Juliet begins to come down to earth a little. She complains that although she and Romeo now belong to one another, neither really has the other one: "O, I have bought the mansion of a love, / But not possess'd it, and, though I am sold, / Not yet enjoy'd" (3.2.26-28). And she complains that this day is as tedious to her as to a child who has new clothes she is forbidden to wear until a night-time party. Then the Nurse appears, carrying the rope ladder.

Enter Nurse, with cords:
When Juliet sees the Nurse coming, carrying the rope ladder (the "cords"), she is sure that the Nurse has some news of Romeo. This makes Juliet happy, because "every tongue that speaks / But Romeo's name speaks heavenly eloquence" (3.2.32-33), but in a minute her happiness will turn to anguish.

Eagerly, Juliet asks what news the Nurse has, and if those are the cords that Romeo asked her to bring. But the Nurse mutters, "Ay, ay, the cords" (3.2.35), drops them, and wrings her hands. The Nurse, who has seen Tybalt's body and heard how he died, is so disturbed by it all that she delivers exclamations rather than explanations. She exclaims, "Ah, well-a-day! he's dead, he's dead, he's dead! / We are undone, lady, we are undone! / Alack the day! he's gone, he's kill'd, he's dead!" (3.2.37-39). Juliet immediately assumes that she's talking about Romeo and asks bitterly, "Can heaven be so envious [malicious]?" (3.2.40). The Nurse answers that heaven can't but Romeo can, and starts saying Romeo's name over and over. This is cruelly confusing to Juliet, who thinks that maybe the Nurse means Romeo has killed himself. She accuses the Nurse of torturing her as a devil tortures a soul in hell, then asks, "Hath Romeo slain himself?" (3.2.45). But she is mortally afraid of the answer; she says,

                          Say thou but "ay,"
And that bare vowel I shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice:
I am not I, if there be such an "ay";
Or those eyes shut, that make thee answer "ay."        (3.2.45-49)
In short, if the Nurse says "ay" ("yes"), Juliet will die on the spot, as though she had seen the mythical cockatrice, which could kill with a glance. But Juliet doesn't say it in short; she uses four meanings of the sound that says "yes": "ay," the vowel I, the personal pronoun "I," and the word "eye." In giving Juliet these words to express her horror at the thought of Romeo's death, perhaps Shakespeare got carried away with his own ingenuity.

Juliet then asks for a yes-or-no answer, but doesn't get it. The Nurse is so wrapped up in what she saw -- the wound, the pallor of death, the corpse -- that she talks about those without saying who it is that's dead. This makes Juliet sure that it's Romeo who is dead. She tells her heart to break, her eyes to go blind, and her body ("vile earth") to give itself up to death: "Vile earth, to earth resign [surrender]; end motion here; / And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier! (3.2.59-60). A bier is a platform on which a corpse is laid; "press" means "to weigh down," and "heavy" means "sad" or "melancholy." Juliet is telling her body to lie beside Romeo's corpse in death. Eventually, this will happen, but now the Nurse, still wrapped up in her experience, exclaims, "O Tybalt, Tybalt, the best friend I had! / O courteous Tybalt! honest gentleman! / That ever I should live to see thee dead!" (3.2.61-63).

This makes Juliet think that both Romeo and Tybalt are dead. She asks if this is true, then says that if it is, doomsday is come, "For who is living, if those two are gone?" (3.2.68). Finally, the Nurse makes everything clear: "Tybalt is gone, and Romeo banished; / Romeo that kill'd him, he is banished" (3.2.70). At this, it seems that Juliet's heart turns against Romeo. She exclaims, "O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!" (3.2.73). A "flowering face" is beautiful, like that of the evil serpent in the Garden of Eden. Juliet follows this metaphor with a dozen more, all of which express shock and amazement that Romeo could look so good and be so bad. But this mood doesn't last long. When Juliet exclaims "O that deceit should dwell / In such a gorgeous palace!" (3.2.84-85), the Nurse replies that all men are like that, declares that she's ready for a good stiff drink, and says, "Shame come to Romeo!" But if the Nurse is ready to write off Romeo, Juliet certainly is not; she hotly replies, "Blister'd be thy tongue / For such a wish! he was not born to shame" (3.2.90-91). Shame, she says, would be shamed to sit on Romeo's brow, which is a fit throne for honor. Then she blames herself saying bad things about him, saying, "O, what a beast was I to chide at him!" (3.2.95).

Now it's the Nurse's turn to be amazed. She asks, "Will you speak well of him that kill'd your cousin?" (3.2.96), to which Juliet answers, "Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?" (3.2.97). She feels sorry for Romeo because of what she has said; she asks who will speak well of him if even she speaks ill of him. Then she takes Romeo's side, asking, "But, wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?" and answering, "That villain cousin would have kill'd my husband" (3.2.101). Having said that, Juliet feels herself beginning to cry, and asks the reason why. She says, "Back, foolish tears, back to your native spring; / Your tributary drops belong to woe, / Which you, mistaking, offer up to joy" (3.2.102-104). She means that she should hold her tears back because tears naturally spring from woe, not joy, but it's joy she's feeling, joy that Romeo lives, rather than woe that Tybalt is dead.

Yet Juliet still feels the tears coming and again asks herself the reason: "My husband lives, that Tybalt would have slain; / And Tybalt's dead, that would have slain my husband: / All this is comfort; wherefore weep I then?" (3.2.105-107). Then it comes to her: "O, it presses to my memory, / Like damned guilty deeds to sinners' minds: / 'Tybalt is dead, and Romeo--banished.'" (3.2.111-113). That's why she's crying, and her woe at Romeo's banishment may seem shocking. She says the single word "banished" is worse than the death of ten thousand Tybalts. She asks -- if woes must come with other woes -- "Why follow'd not, when she [the Nurse] said 'Tybalt's dead,' / Thy father, or thy mother, nay, or both, / Which modern [ordinary] lamentations might have moved [caused] ?" (3.2.118-120). If Tybalt, her father, and her mother had all died she could grieve as other people grieve, but "There is no end, no limit, measure, bound, / In that word's death; no words can that woe sound." (3.2.125-126). In the phrase "that word's death" the "word" is "banished," and the "death" is the death brought by that word to everything in Juliet's world.

At the beginning of the scene Juliet was extravagantly excited by the idea of Romeo coming to her in the night; now she is just as extravagantly agonized by the idea that she won't see him again. After saying that the banishment of Romeo is worse than the death of her mother and father, she asks the Nurse where her mother and father are. The Nurse tells her they are mourning for Tybalt, and asks Juliet if she wants to join them. Juliet does not. She says that after they are done weeping for Tybalt, she'll still be weeping for Romeo's banishment. Then she asks the Nurse to pick up the "cords," and talks to them, telling them that they won't be Romeo's highway to her bed after all. She starts to leave, saying, "I'll to my wedding-bed; / And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!" (3.2.136-137).

Apparently feeling very sorry for Juliet, the Nurse comes to her rescue. She knows Romeo is hiding in Friar Laurence's cell, and tells Juliet to wait for him in her room. She says, "Hark ye, your Romeo will be here at night" (3.2.140). "Hark ye" means "listen," as in "listen, I'll tell you something"; the Nurse is guaranteeing that Romeo will come to Juliet. At this, Juliet gives the Nurse a ring and eagerly says, "O, find him! give this ring to my true knight, / And bid him come to take his last farewell" (3.2.142-143). Thus this scene, which began with Juliet's joy and brought her to sorrow, ends with her looking forward to a moment in which joy and sorrow will mingle -- a wedding-night which is also a farewell.