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Detailed Summary of Act 5, Scene 3

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Enter Paris, and his Page bearing flowers and a torch:
It's night and Paris has come to the place where Juliet is buried.

[This burial place, sometimes referred to as a "monument," sometimes as a "vault," is much more than a hole in the ground. It is apparently a large mound which Paris compares to the canopy of a bed, but the entrance seems to be at least partly below ground, as Romeo brings both a crowbar, for prying, and a mattock, which is a digging tool. Also, this monument is quite large; presumably there are many Capulets buried there, and by time the play ends, it also holds the bodies of Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, and Paris. All of these characteristics of the monument of the Capulets would be familiar to many in Shakespeare's audience who had seen similar places in the yards of churches, but on stage the audience would probably see only two biers, one bearing Juliet and the other the body of Tybalt.]

Paris is accompanied by his Page, who is carrying a torch, for light, and flowers. Having found the way to Juliet's grave, Paris now wants to be alone. He says, "Give me thy torch, boy: hence, and stand aloof [at a distance]: / Yet put it out, for I would not be seen" (5.3.1-2).

[Why doesn't Paris want to be seen at Juliet's grave? It's not that he's doing anything wrong, or even particularly surprising. Perhaps he just wants to be sure he is alone with his thoughts of Juliet. And, for the sake of what happens next, Shakespeare needs him to be alone and the Page to be lurking in the background.]
Paris then tells his Page to "Under yond yew-trees lay thee all along [flat], / Holding thine ear close to the hollow ground" (5.3.3-4). He refers to the ground as "hollow" because it is "loose, unfirm, with digging up of graves" (5.3.6), and because of that, the Page, with his ear to the ground, will be able to hear the footfall of anyone who approaches. If he does hear anyone, the Page is to whistle, as a signal to Paris. Taking the flowers from the Page, Paris sends him away. The Page does as he is told, but says to himself (and us), "I am almost afraid to stand alone / Here in the churchyard; yet I will adventure" (5.3.10-11). The churchyard, with all of the graves, is a spooky place, but the Page will "adventure," take his chances.

Now alone, Paris begins his personal rites, scattering the flowers over Juliet's grave and speaking to her: "Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew,--" (5.3.12). As he does this, it occurs to Paris that if the grave is Juliet's "bridal bed," then "O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones" (5.3.13). This sorrowful thought is followed by his promise to Juliet that he will come every night to sprinkle perfumed water on her grave, "Or, wanting [lacking] that, with tears distill'd by moans" (5.3.15). In other words, if he doesn't sprinkle the water on her grave, he will sprinkle it with his tears, which will be wrung out of him by his moans of grief for Juliet.

As Paris is making his sentimental promise of everlasting grief, he hears his Page whistle, and resentfully asks, "What cursed foot wanders this way to-night, / To cross my obsequies [rites for the dead] and true love's rite?" (5.3.19-20). Then he sees the light of a torch and withdraws into the darkness to observe.

Enter Romeo and Balthasar, with a torch, a mattock, and a crow of iron:
At Juliet's grave, Romeo is in a hurry. He takes the tools from Balthasar as though he is ready to begin work right away, saying "Give me that mattock and the wrenching iron" (5.3.22), then stops himself, remembering that he has something else to take care of before he opens the grave: "Hold, take this letter; early in the morning / See thou deliver it to my lord and father" (5.3.23-24). The letter is not to be delivered until "early in the morning" because Romeo wants to be sure he is dead before his father receives the letter explaining why he died.

Romeo takes the torch from Balthasar, and then realizes that he still has get Balthasar out of the way. He says to Balthasar, "Upon thy life, I charge thee, / Whate'er thou hear'st or seest, stand all aloof [far away], / And do not interrupt me in my course" (5.3.25-27). Apparently Balthasar gives him a questioning look, so Romeo makes up a plausible explanation; he says that he is going into the grave to behold Juliet's face, "But chiefly to take thence from her dead finger / A precious ring -- a ring that I must use / In dear employment [important business] -- therefore hence, be gone" (5.3.30-32). Romeo follows this lie with a threat: "But if thou, jealous [suspicious], dost return to pry / In what I further shall intend to do, / By heaven, I will tear thee joint by joint" (5.3.33-35). And Romeo backs up his threat by declaring that "my intents are savage-wild, / More fierce and more inexorable far / Than empty [hungry] tigers or the roaring sea" (5.3.37-39). Suitably impressed, Balthasar says, "I will be gone, sir, and not trouble you" (5.3.40), whereupon Romeo gives him money, saying, "Take thou that: / Live, and be prosperous: and farewell, good fellow" (5.3.41-42). Romeo is saying goodbye to Balthasar as though he will never see him again (which he won't), and Balthasar, a good servant, says to himself, "For all this same, I'll hide me hereabout: / His looks I fear, and his intents I doubt" (5.3.43-44). In saying "his looks I fear" Bathasar isn't expressing a fear of Romeo, but a fear for him; Balthasar rightly guesses that Romeo is going to do much more than take a ring from Juliet's finger.

Now alone at the entrance ot the tomb, Romeo hurls defiance at it, saying, "Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death, / Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth, / Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open, / And, in despite, I'll cram thee with more food!" (5.3.45-48). "Maw" is a word for all the eating apparatus -- mouth, jaws, gullet -- of a voracious beast, and "womb" means (in this context) the belly of the beast of death. Juliet is the "dearest morsel of the earth" with which the beast is gorged, and Romeo is clawing his way into the belly of the beast. His "thus I enforce" is accompanied by some vigorous action -- maybe a heave on the crowbar -- to force open the jaws of the beast so that he can cram more "food" (himself) into it.

As Romeo is working, Paris is looking on, and he quickly identifies Romeo as "that banish'd haughty Montague, / That murder'd my love's cousin [Tybalt], with which grief, / It is supposed, the fair creature died" (5.3.51). Paris supposes that Romeo means to continue the feud with the Capulets by doing "some villanous shame / To the dead bodies" (5.3.52-53). Paris decides to make a citizen's arrest; he steps out of the dark, tells Romeo to stop, and says, "Obey, and go with me; for thou must die" (5.3.57).

Romeo answers, "I must indeed; and therefore came I hither" (5.3.58). Paris meant that Romeo must die for returning from banishment, and has no idea that Romeo is Juliet's husband, so he must think that Romeo is lying or raving. Romeo then tries as hard as he can to get Paris to leave peaceably. He says, "Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man; / Fly hence, and leave me: think upon these gone; / Let them affright thee." (5.3.59-61). "These gone" are all of the bodies lying in the churchyard; in Romeo's mind it is clear that Paris has only two choices -- leave or die. But Romeo is not angry at Paris. He doesn't recognize Paris as anyone except a young man who stumbled into the wrong place at the wrong time, and attempts to give him a means of honorable retreat by putting all the fault upon himself. He pleads with Paris not to put "another sin upon my head, / By urging me to fury" (5.3.62-63); he tells Paris that he loves him better than he loves himself, "For I come hither arm'd against myself" (5.3.65), and he calls himself a madman. However, none of this works. Paris says again that Romeo is under arrest, and Romeo, who only wants to be left alone with Juliet, attacks him.

Seeing the fight, Paris' Page runs away to call the watch. Meanwhile, the fight is quickly over and Paris falls. Paris' dying words are a plea to the man who has killed him: "If thou be merciful, / Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet" (5.3.72-73). Then follows a remarkable moment. We might expect that Romeo, Juliet's husband, wouldn't want any other man, even a dead one, lying next to Juliet, but Romeo's immediate response to Paris' request is, "In faith, I will" (5.3.74). Only after making this promise to his dead foe does Romeo take a hard look at him, recognize him, and remember that Balthasar told him, sometime on the journey back to Verona, that Paris was to have married Juliet. Even after this, Romeo shows no jealousy; instead, he seems to regard Paris as a comrade in the adventure of love and death. He says to Paris' body, "O, give me thy hand, / One writ with me in sour misfortune's book!" (5.3.82).

Keeping his promise, Romeo picks up the body of Paris, saying to it, "I'll bury thee in a triumphant grave" (5.3.83), then sees Juliet and says, "A grave? O no! a lantern, slaughter'd youth, / For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light" (5.3.84-86). A "lantern" is a turret room with many windows through which the light can shine, and a "feasting presence" is a reception chamber in which festivals are held. Romeo speaks as though he and the "slaughter'd youth" in his arms are friends going to a wonderful party, made most wonderful by the shining presence of Juliet. Then, laying Paris down, Romeo says, "Death, lie thou there, by a dead man interr'd" (5.3.87). "Death" is the body of Paris; the "dead man" who is interring the body is Romeo himself.

Now moments from his own death, Romeo remembers that he has heard "How oft when men are at the point of death / Have they been merry! which their keepers [caretakers] call / A lightning before death" (5.3.88-90), and then says, "O, how may I / Call this a lightning?" (5.3.90-91). He's asking himself how what he's feeling at the moment, preparing to die and looking at his wife among the corpses of other Capulets, can be called a lightning. Answering his own question, he finds that he can be happy that his Juliet is still beautiful. He says to her, "Thou art not conquer'd; beauty's ensign yet / Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, / And death's pale flag is not advanced there" (5.3.94-96). The color in Juliet's face show that the forces of Beauty, fighting under the crimson flag ("ensign") have defeated the forces of Death, fighting under the "pale flag." That's a reason to feel the "lightning."

Then Romeo notices the body of Tybalt close by and makes his peace with his enemy, saying, "O, what more favour can I do to thee, / Than with that hand that cut thy youth in twain / To sunder his [i.e., Romeo's life] that was thine enemy?" (5.3.98-100). By taking his own life, Romeo will make it up to Tybalt for taking his, and that's another reason to feel the "lightning."

Looking again at Juliet, Romeo asks why she is still so beautiful, and thinks that perhaps Death is in love with her and "the lean abhorred monster keeps [preserves] / Thee here in dark to be his paramour" (5.3.104-105). To prevent Death from being Juliet's lover, Romeo will join her. He promises her, "I still [always] will stay with thee; / And never from this palace of dim night / Depart again" (5.3.106-108). Taking a last look around at the ghastly vault of death, Romeo makes a kind of joke: "Here, here will I remain / With worms that are thy chamber-maids" (5.3.109), but despite the ghastliness, he again promises, "O, here / Will I set up my everlasting rest, / And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh" (5.3.109-112). "Set up . . . my rest" is a phrase used in a card game; a player would "set up his rest" when he was done taking cards and ready to bet on what was in his hand. And "everlasting rest" means what it still means -- death envisioned as eternal peace. Romeo will take his chances on death, where he hopes to be at peace, his body free at last from the doom of the baleful stars.

Laying himself down beside Juliet, Romeo bids farewell to his life as he embraces her and death. He says, "Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you / The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss / A dateless [eternal] bargain to engrossing [all-consuming] death!" (5.3.115). Holding up the cup with the poison in it, Romeo speaks to it. (The apothecary told Romeo to mix the poison in a liquid. Now it's apparently already mixed and in a cup -- stage magic!) He calls the cup of poison a guide, a pilot that will run the ship (himself) on the rocks. Then, proclaiming, "Here's to my love!" (5.3.119), Romeo drinks. Immediately he feels the poison take hold and praises the apothecary, saying, "O true apothecary! / Thy drugs are quick" (5.3.119-120). In the last moment of his life Romeo says, "Thus with a kiss I die" (5.3.120) and he kisses Juliet. Then his head drops on her bosom and he is dead.

Enter Friar Laurence, with a lantern, crow, and spade:
A moment after Romeo dies, Friar Laurence appears in the churchyard, saying "Saint Francis be my speed! how oft to-night / Have my old feet stumbled at graves!" (5.3.121-122). "Saint Francis be my speed" means "May Saint Francis help me," but the use of the word "speed" also emphasizes the dramatic impact of the moment. If Friar Laurence had been just a little more speedy; if his feet hadn't stumbled on graves, he would have been there before Romeo took the poison. But once again the lovers are victims of a quirk of fate.

Friar Laurence hears something, asks who's there, and Balthasar steps out of the dark, identifying himself as a friend. Friar Laurence asks "What torch is yond, that vainly lends his light / To grubs and eyeless skulls? as I discern, / It burneth in the Capel's monument" (5.3.125-127). Balthasar tells him that Romeo is there, and has been there for half an hour. Friar Laurence asks him to go with him to the grave, but Balthasar is afraid to disobey Romeo's command to stay away, so Friar Laurence goes on alone, but with a foreboding of "some ill unthrifty [unlucky] thing" (5.3.136).

As Friar Laurence goes towards the monument of the Capulets, Balthasar says, "As I did sleep under this yew-tree here, / I dreamt my master and another fought, / And that my master slew him" (5.3.137-139). Perhaps Balthasar is lying; he might want to avoid responsibility for doing nothing when he saw the fight between Romeo and Paris. Or perhaps Balthasar actually had that dream and is reminded of it by the Friar's mention of "some ill unthrifty thing." In any case, the Friar doesn't seem to be listening, and Balthasar's speech only serves to remind us of what the Friar is about to discover.

Friar Laurence, as he approaches the monument of the Capulets, calls out for Romeo, then sees blood and the swords of Romeo and Paris. Next, he discovers the bodies of the two men who loved Juliet. Juliet, who is beginning to come out of her sleep, asks, "O comfortable friar, where is my lord? / I do remember well where I should be, / And there I am. Where is my Romeo?" (5.3.148-150). She calls the Friar "comfortable" because he brought her comfort in her distress. He also promised that Romeo would be there when she awoke, which will be the greatest comfort. Now things have happened as the Friar promised -- he said she would awake in the grave, and there she is -- but she wants Romeo. She does not realize that he is already with her, dead.

The watchmen are now coming, and somewhere in the dark they are making noise. The noise frightens Friar Laurence and he urges Juliet to "come from that nest / Of death, contagion, and unnatural sleep" (5.3.151-152). There is no reason to stay any longer because, he says, "A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents" (5.3.153-154). Then he says the only thing that matters to Juliet: "Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead" (5.3.155). The Friar continues to urge her to come away and tells her that he'll find a place for her to live among a sisterhood of nuns, but she's not interested in living, and she dismisses the Friar: "Go, get thee hence, for I will not away" (5.3.160).

As the Friar has been talking, Juliet has been looking at Romeo. Now alone with him, she discovers the cup in his hand and immediately understands that he has poisoned himself. When Romeo heard that Juliet was dead he instantly made his decision to join her in death. Juliet does the same. Speaking to her dead husband, she lovingly chides him for leaving no poison for her: "O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop / To help me after?" (5.3.163-164). "To help me after" means "to help me follow you"; Juliet's only desire is to be with Romeo, and now she embraces him and kisses him, saying, "I will kiss thy lips; / Haply [perhaps] some poison yet doth hang on them, / To make me die with a restorative" (5.3.164-166). The poison is a "restorative" because by killing her it would restore her to him.

Kissing Romeo, Juliet finds that his lips are still warm, and perhaps she would kiss him again, but she hears a watchman saying, "Lead, boy: which way?" (5.3.168), so she says, "Then I'll be brief" (5.3.169) and draws Romeo's dagger. [As is indicated a bit later in the scene, Romeo wears the scabbard for his dagger at his back, so Juliet's hand must have fallen upon it as she embraced him for the kiss.] Juliet's last words are, "O happy dagger! / This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die" (5.3.170). The dagger is "happy" both in the sense that she found it by good hap (good luck) and in the sense that it will make her happy by sending her to Romeo. The "This" in "This is thy sheath" is Juliet's breast. The dagger will rust in her breast because it will remain there forever, as she will be forever with Romeo. She thrusts the dagger into her breast and is dead less than two minutes after the Friar awoke her from apparent death.

Enter Paris' Page and Watch:
After Juliet is dead we hear, then see, Paris' Page lead the watchmen to the scene of carnage. Paris's Page says "This is the place; there, where the torch doth burn" (5.3.171). The First Watchman, who is in charge, sees that the ground is bloody and sends some of the others off to search the churchyard and put in custody anyone they find. Then he surveys the bodies, notes that Juliet is "bleeding, warm, and newly dead, / Who here hath lain these two days buried" (5.3.176). For the First Watchman, this is amazing, and he orders some of his men to notify Prince Escalus, the Capulets, and the Montagues, then says, "We see the ground whereon these woes do lie; / But the true ground of all these piteous woes / We cannot without circumstance descry" (5.3.181). This means, "We can see the ground on which these woeful creatures lie, but real grounds for these woeful events we cannot see without knowing the circumstances."

Thus begins a look back at the story of Romeo and Juliet from the time of their marriage. Balthasar and Friar Laurence are quickly found. The Prince arrives, followed by Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Montague, whose wife has died of grief at Romeo's exile. This death is barely mentioned, and the focus stays on Romeo and Juliet. Friar Laurence tells his story, then Balthasar, then Paris' Page. Finally, Prince Escalus reads over the letter that Romeo intended for his father, and the letter fills in the details about the apothecary. All of the facts are told in straightforward language, and this part of the play is not very interesting to read, but on stage it serves as a kind of funeral procession for the lovers.

At the very end, out of the disaster comes some good. The Prince reproves the heads of the feuding families, saying, "Capulet! Montague! / See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate, / That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love" (5.3.291-293). Heeding him, Capulet offers his hand to Montague, saying, "O brother Montague, give me thy hand: / This is my daughter's jointure, for no more / Can I demand" (5.3.297-298). Normally, a rich man such as Capulet would give away with his daughter a jointure (money, goods, and an inheritance); now all he can offer is his hand in friendship, and it's all he can ask of Montague in return. Montague takes Capulet's hand and promises that he will have a golden statue of Juliet built so that as long as Verona is Verona, "There shall no figure at such rate [value] be set / As that of true and faithful Juliet" (5.3.301-302). Capulet answers, "As rich shall Romeo's by his lady's lie; / Poor sacrifices of our enmity!" (5.3.303-304).

After the two men have promised to raise statues to each other's children, the Prince brings the play to a close by noting that the morning sky is dark, fitting the mood of occasion: "A glooming peace this morning with it brings; / The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head" (5.3.306). He tells everyone to leave the churchyard and promises that at another place everything will be discussed and "Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished" (5.3.308), although that seems to matter little, "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo" (5.3.309-310).