Act Two, Scene Three of Romeo and Juliet begins in the cell of Romeo’s “ghostly sire” (II.ii.189), Friar Laurence. As the sun rises, the friar is out picking plants and herbs. It seems he is more than just a man of the cloth, but an amateur botanist and potions-maker as well. He presents a great soliloquy on the dualities in plants as well as life:
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs -- grace and rude will
Romeo arrives to have the friar automatically jump to the conclusion that not only was Romeo out all night, but out “with Rosaline” (II.iii.44). Romeo had once told the friar of his love for Rosaline (and “what a deal of brine // Hath washed (his) sallow cheeks for Rosaline” [II.iii.69-70]). When Romeo tells Laurence of his plan to marry Juliet, the friar is shocked and fears the consequence of rushed decisions and changeable affections: “Women may fall when there’s no strength in men” (II.iii.80). Though Laurence fears the worst, he agrees to perform the marriage in hopes for the best: “For this alliance may so happy prove // To turn your households’ rancor to true love” (II.iii.91-92).
Act Two, Scene Four finds us on the streets of Verona with Benvolio and Mercutio, discussing Romeo’s absence from his home. Tybalt has sent Romeo a “challenge” (II.iv.8), and Mercutio goes to some measure to sarcastically describe the hothead Capulet’s reputation with a sword. When Romeo arrives on the scene, Mercutio is relentless in giving him grief, but unlike Romeo’s “leaden” responses in Act One, Scene Four, here Romeo bawdily gives as good as he gets, so much so that Mercutio himself has to break off, announcing,
Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature
Romeo, before the play, it seems, was as a witty a conversationalist as Mercutio, but this is the first we’ve seen of it (despite flashes that did appear at the party and the balcony in Capulet’s orchard).
it must be nine in the morning, or roughly twenty-four hours since the events that opened the play…
Into this jesting campaign arrive Juliet’s Nurse and Peter. Romeo is playful when answering the Nurse’s requests to speak to Romeo, but Mercutio–no surprise–is filled with bawdy intent and teases for the Nurse, right up to his and Benvolio’s exit, leaving Romeo with his love’s confidante.
The Nurse is initially suspicious of Romeo’s intentions (“if ye should lead her into a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behavior” [II.iv.162-163]), but once Romeo tells her of his plan to meet Juliet “at Friar Laurence’s cell // (and there) Be shrived and married” (II.iv.177-178), her only concern is whether or not Romeo’s man can keep a “secret” (II.iv.191).
Act Two, Scene Five finds Juliet at home waiting for the Nurse to return with word from Romeo. She is impatient, noting that “Love’s heralds should be thoughts, // Which ten times faster glide than the sun’s beams” (II.v.4-5); the Nurse, on the other hand, is “Unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead” (II.v.17). When the Nurse finally does arrive, she toys with the girl, feigning breathlessness; Juliet, however, is too smart:
How art thou out of breath, when thou hast breath
To say to me that thou art out of breath?
The excuse that thou dost make in this delay
Is longer than the tale thou dost excuse.
This forces the Nurse to take a different tack, misdirection:
Your love says, like an honest gentleman, and a courteous, and a kind, and a handsome, and, I warrant, a virtuous,--Where is your mother?
She builds suspense, describing Romeo, then abruptly changes subjects. When Juliet objects, the Nurse further toys with her, threatening her with forcing her to deliver her own messages in the future.
Juliet apologizes, and the Nurse delivers the news of the impending marriage, and sends Juliet off to the friar’s cell (though not before a bawdy aside: “you shall bear the burden soon at night” [II.v.76]).
Act Two, Scene Six takes place in Friar Laurence’s cell where Juliet arrives to meet Romeo and the friar in anticipation of the wedding. We don’t actually see the wedding on stage (much like Petruchio and Kate in Taming), though.
Act Three, Scene One takes us back to the streets of Verona: it’s later this afternoon, and it’s hot; Benvolio fears they “shall not scape a brawl” (III.i.3). Benvolio’s fears are well-founded, as Mercutio seems to already be ready to fight, even with Benvolio. And with the arrival of Tybalt, the situation goes from bad to worse quickly.
When Tybalt asks for a word with them, Mercutio lashes out, “And but one word with one of us? // Couple it with something; make it a word and a blow” (III.i.38-39). Benvolio attempts (as he did in the opening scene) to be the voice of reason, but to no avail (in this case, it’s Mercutio, and not Tybalt, who is relentless). Romeo arrives and–when Tybalt insults him–he, too, attempts to defuse the situation:
I do protest, I never injured thee,
But love thee better than thou canst devise
Till thou shalt know the reason of my love:
And so, good Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as my own, be satisfied.
Romeo gives veiled statements of familial bonding (“love… good Capulet, which name I tender // As dearly as my own”), but his own friend sees it as appeasement. Mercutio draws on Tybalt and the fight is on.
Again, Romeo tries to get between them, but he only succeeds in allowing Tybalt to get a sword thrust in under his own arm. Tybalt runs off, and Mercutio tries to make light of the injury (“a scratch” [III.i.92]), but even he realizes that he is “peppered” (III.i.98), and in frustration curses both his friend and his enemy, “A plague a both your houses!” (III.i.98-99).
When Mercutio dies, Romeo can see where this is going: “This day’s black fate on more days doth depend, // This but begins the woe others must end” (III.i.118-119), and it isn’t going to be good. When Tybalt re-enters, we can see where this is going, too.
And we’ll hit that tomorrow.