how ironic… on a number of different levels…
When we left off yesterday, Juliet had just taken the sleeping death potion from the friar and had collapsed. Act Four, Scene Four of Romeo and Juliet begins with the wedding preparations at “three o’clock” (IV.iv.4) Wednesday morning. Capulet tells the Nurse, “Look to the baked meats, good Angelica; // Spare not for cost” (IV.iv.5-6). And thus we learn the name of the Nurse. Angelica.
The short scene is a merry one, full of teasing and laughter; only we as an audience know that this mood is soon to crash… very soon, as Capulet asks the Nurse to “go waken Juliet” (IV.iv.25).
Act Four, Scene Five takes us back into Juliet’s chamber where the Nurse attempts to wake the girl, first with bawdy teasing (“Sleep for a week; for the next night, I warrant, // The County Paris hath set up his rest, // That you shall rest but little” [IV.v.5-7]) then direct orders (“Madam, madam, madam!” [IV.v.9]), and finally simple realization (“Alas, alas! Help, help! my lady’s dead!” [IV.v.14]).
She calls in the family, and when they find her dead, all rhythm and language break down. Friar Laurence and Paris arrive to find sorrow reigning. Laurence takes charge, reminding them all that they should be grateful and pleased that “she is advanced // Above the clouds” (IV.v.73-74), and ordering them to bear her to the church and then to the Capulet tomb. The family exits, leaving the servants and the wedding musicians to banter. The comedy here hasn’t aged well, and it’s no wonder that this part of the scene is often cut.
Act Five begins in Mantua, where Romeo takes a morning walk, soliloquizing on his dream from the previous night:
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead
(Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave to think!)
And breathed such life with kisses in my lips
That I revived, and was an emperor.
He doesn’t see the foreboding foreshadowing we in the audience do; all is well in his mind. Within lines, however, Balthasar arrives to tell Romeo news of Juliet’s “death.” Romeo curses the “stars” (V.i.24), his fate. Even in his sorrow, he is smart enough to ask Balthasar, “Hast thou no letters to me from the friar?” (V.i.31). He knows that the friar should have sent the news, but he believes what his page has told him. He sends Balthasar to get horses so that he can return to Verona.
Romeo decides to kill himself, reuniting with Juliet in her tomb. He searches out an apothecary (drug maker) to give him the means. He finds one, but learns that “Mantua’s law // Is death to any” (V.i.66-67) who sells such a drug. Romeo convinces him to sell him the drug anyway, ultimately telling the man that he (Romeo) has given him a “worse poison” (V.i.80), gold, than the apothecary has given Romeo. Romeo calls the drug a “cordial” (V.i.85), “a comforting or exhilarating drink” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]), and anticipates drinking it in Juliet’s grave.
In Act Five, Scene Two, Friar Laurence meets with Friar John, the man whom he sent to deliver the news to Romeo. Only Friar John was not able to get the message through; in fact, he never left town, as he was quarantined with another friar who had been in a plague house. By now, it’s evening, and “within this three hours will fair Juliet wake” (V.ii.24), so Laurence must send a new letter to Romeo, retrieve Juliet himself, “and keep her at (his) cell till Romeo comes” (V.ii.28). Of course, we know the letter will never get to Romeo, our only chance for a happy ending is for the friar to get to the tomb before Romeo, and the race is on.
The final scene of the play (and the longest) begins before the Capulet tomb, as Paris comes to pay his respect at night. Paris tells his page to leave him, but the page stays and watches from afar. Paris delivers a poetic speech of mourning vowing to “nightly … strew (her) grave (with flowers) and weep” (V.ii.17). Paris then notices someone else coming and he too retires from center stage.
Romeo enters, and, like Paris before him, attempts to send his page Balthasar away with a letter for his father; but as in the case with Paris, the page only retreat to watch from afar. Romeo begins to pry his way into the Capulet tomb. Paris, the kinsman to the Prince, tries to do the right thing by apprehending Romeo, but Romeo will not go quietly, instead imploring,
Stay not, be gone. Live, and hereafter say,
A madman's mercy bid thee run away.
Romeo just wants to be left alone, but Paris still tries to arrest him. Paris’ page leaves to call the watch. They fight and Romeo kills Paris, who in his last words begs to be put in the tomb with Juliet. It is only then that Romeo realizes whom he has killed (“Mercutio’s kinsman” [V.iii.75] and one who “should have married Juliet” [V.iii.78]).
Romeo opens the tomb and puts Paris down inside it. He then moves on to find Juliet, who looks as beautiful as before:
Death, that hath sucked the honey of thy breath,
Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty.
Thou art not conquered. Beauty's ensign yet
Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,
And death's pale flag is not advanced there.
Romeo remarks that she doesn’t look dead. That would be because… she isn’t. But he doesn’t know that. He hugs and kisses her, and takes the poison. The apothecary’s drugs “are quick” (V.iii.120), and he dies immediately.
At this point, the friar enters comes upon the scene, decrying his “old feet” (V.iii.122), which have repeatedly stumbled on his way here tonight. He meets Balthasar, who tells him that Romeo went into the tomb “half an hour” (V.iii.130) earlier, and that he had fallen asleep and thought he dreamed that Romeo fought another man and killed him. Friar Laurence enters the tomb and finds Paris dead. And Romeo dead. And Juliet waking.
When Juliet asks where Romeo is, the friar–frightened by a noise–points out Romeo to Juliet, and tells her to follow him and that he will “dispose of (her) // Among a sisterhood of holy nuns” (V.iii.156-157). Laurence leaves, but Juliet does not follow; she is ready to die. She deduces Romeo’s death is by poison (she sees the vial), and she attempts to take the poison, only to find that the vial is empty. She tries to kiss any remaining poison off his lips, but there is none there. She, too, hears the sound of the watch: “Yea, noise? Then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger” (V.iii.169).
and like I said about “wherefore” a couple days back … it’s not like it sounds… happy here means “fortunate” as in fortunately found… as in “I sure am happy that I found this dagger, because I want to kill myself”…
She stabs herself and dies. The watch arrives (led by Paris’ page) and they survey the scene and send for the Prince, the Capulets and Montagues.
again, we get the families together after onstage deaths…
When Montague arrives and is told of Romeo’s death, he brings even further bad news: “Alas, my liege, my wife is dead tonight! // Grief of my son’s exile hath stopped her breath” (V.iii.210-211).
The Prince calls for an explanation, and Friar Laurence–having already been captured by the watch–steps forward to explain. He begins by saying that he, too, feels to be at death’s door (“my short date of breath” [V.iii.239]); he finishes his straightforward recounting of the events with a declaration of a willingness to be punished–
if aught in this
Miscarried by my fault, let my old life
Be sacrificed, some hour before his time,
Unto the rigor of severest law.
The guilt he feels is tremendous (though he does intimate that others either knew [“Her nurse is privy” (V.iii.266)] or failed in their actions [“Friar John…returned my letter back” (V.ii.250,252)]). The Prince then interrogates Balthasar and Paris’ page, and the Prince reads the letter Romeo gave to Balthasar. He concludes that what the friar said was true.
The Prince then demands the heads of the households step forward:
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
But the Prince also declares his own culpability:
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punished.
The fathers vow to raise statues of their counterpart’s child, and the new day breaks (though “the sun for sorrow will not show his head” [V.iii.306]).