How does Shakespeare make Act 3 Scene 5 of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ especially dramatic? Explain and comment on the varying thoughts and feelings of the characters in this scene. What techniques do you think are particularly successful in creating dramatic tension?
‘Romeo and Juliet’, is a story of two young lovers, whose love was destined for destruction. They did not imagine that their love would lead to the tragedies that it did but with the constant pressures from their feuding families it soon ended in their tragic demise. Act 3 Scene 5 is of great importance since it reveals the anxious feelings and emotions of many characters. Events occur here, which have long-term consequences for the rest of the plays events; hence the scene can be viewed as a turning point.
Act 3 Scene 5 starts off in Juliet’s bedroom. The atmosphere is calm and quiet and shows intimacy between the two. Juliet awakes to the sound of a bird singing which she thinks is the nightingale symbolically the night bird. She is desperate to keep Romeo with her, almost convincing him to stay, but he is more reluctant. Romeo appears more edgy and alert and is certain, that it is the day bird the lark, as he can now see the light. He uses the metaphor ‘The night’s candles are burnt out’, meaning the stars have been burnt from the night sky. Light normally represents hope but this time is symbolising danger for him. Juliet is making excuses for Romeo to stay, she says the light he can see is a meteor and when he does eventually depart it will act as a guide for him. Romeo decides to stay; he is willing to put his life at risk and will accept death to be with Juliet. The audience reaction is now edgy and nervous in fear of them getting caught.
Fear and understanding finally set in and Juliet tells Romeo to go: ‘It is, it is! Hie hence, be gone, away! It is the lark that sings so out of tune, Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps. Some say the lark makes sweet division; This doth not so, for she divideth us’. Word play is used here as she refers to the lark normally making beautiful sounds with the song it creates as it divide, up note (sweet division) in its chest here, though the song causes them to separate. In the comment ‘Some say the lark and loathed toad change eyes, O; now I would they had changed voices too! Hunting thee hence with hunt’s-up to the day’. Juliet is referring to a popular belief that the toad and lark could change eyes. If they changed bodies too, she would be very happy, as the song wouldn’t be a signal for Romeo to depart. If the toad was outside they could stay together but the lark is parting them. The hunting reference is referring to the increasing danger Romeo is in. The lighter it gets the darker they feel and more unhappy. The darkness here is symbolising fears and problems: ‘More light and light it grows, more dark and dark our woes’.
The intensity builds up when the Nurse informs Juliet of her mother coming to her chamber. The illusion of safety created by Juliet is suddenly brought to a halt when the fear of getting caught is almost inevitable. Juliet knows that Romeo must go but in doing this she knows she is letting her husband out never to see him again: ‘Then, window, let day in, and let life out’. This again uses the light/dark symbolism with these contrasting words. When she opens the window she is letting the dangerous light in and her hopes for the future, Romeo out, as he is the danger of getting caught. Juliet is in absolute desperation and tells Romeo how much he means to her, she looks at him as her love, lord, husband and friend.
She describes every minute apart from him as being like an eternity looking at hours as whole days and minutes as hours: ‘I must hear from thee every day in the hour, for in a minute there are many days: O, by this count I shall be much in years Ere I again behold my Romeo!’ Juliet observes Romeo from the top of the balcony, describing it as looking down on him in a tomb almost foreseeing the future without realising it ‘Methinks I see thee, now out thou below, as one dead in the bottom of the tomb’. She feels something isn’t right, however Romeo believes they will be together in time and that they will have to suffer to be happy. Juliet is more realistic and down to earth, whilst Romeo is optimistic at this stage.
Juliet is using the ‘Wheel of fortune’ image to describe destiny, when the wheel is at a high point the lovers meet and when it is down they separate. The audience members would be fearful and anxious, with Juliet’s worries for the future and her foresight about death. It seems as though the relationship is doomed, and they need to continue viewing to see if this is indeed the case.
Lady Capulet calls to see if Juliet is awake. Juliet doesn’t understand why her mother is coming to see her at this time, was she late to bed or an early riser? What brings her to Juliet: ‘Who is’t that calls? It is my lady mother! Is she not down so late or up so early? What unnacustom’d cause procures her hither?’ The audience is shocked by this and anxious about what is going to happen next. Lady Capulet enters thinking that Juliet is distressed about Tybalt’s death, she is confused about her grief being at such a late stage and uses metaphors to exaggerate Juliet’s excessive crying: ‘What, wilt thou wash him from his grave with tears? And if thou couldst, thou couldst not make him live; Therefore have done. Some grief shows much of love; But much of grief shows still some want of wit.’ Lady Capulet is stating here that crying won’t bring Tybalt back to life by washing him away from his tomb, some tears show love, but too many of them is foolish.
Ambiguous language is shown with the word ‘friend’ which could be seen as Tybalt to Lady Capulet but instead is referring to Romeo for Juliet ‘Feeling so the loss, I cannot choose but ever weep the friend’. This shows the lack of intimacy between the mother and the daughter because if they had a bond Lady Capulet would fully understand what Juliet means. Instead Lady Capulet misunderstands and gives out advice regarding Tybalt. ‘So shall you feel the loss, but not the friend you weep for’. Lady Capulet refers to Romeo as a villain the audience is worried about how Juliet will react but she remains calm and supports him. She says how she forgives him even though he has hurt her heart, meaning she is upset about being separated from him, not over what he’s done: ‘Villain and he be many miles asunder. —
God Pardon him! I do, with all my heart; And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart’. Constantly theatre viewers are on edge here because they wonder whether Juliet’s double meanings will gave away her true feelings about her supposed enemy in front of her mother. In lines 78 – 80 the lack of intimacy between Lady Capulet and Juliet is shown again as they refer to each other in conversation as ‘madam’ and ‘girl’. This coldness hints that Lady Capulet will not support her daughter when she really needs her to do so.
The lack of intimacy between Juliet and her parents is shown again when Lady Capulet informs Juliet that her father has a way to cheer her up, by suggesting marriage plans to Paris. Juliet lived in the time of the patriarchal society so she had no choice in this matter. Husbands were chosen to bring families together, not to be a love match. This news is unexpected by Juliet and she is initially unaware of it and the audience wonders when she will find out, this builds up the suspense of the scene, as you don’t know how Juliet will react or what she will do to prevent it. Lady Capulet describes Paris as a very well to do gentleman and as he is part of the patriarchal society he will have control over the wedding: ‘Marry, my child, early next Thursday morn, The gallant, young and noble gentleman, The County Paris, at Saint Peter’s Church, Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride.’
Juliet is taken aback by this news and in her anger gives Lady Capulet a hint of her love for Romeo: ‘He shall not make me there a joyful bride. I wonder at this haste; that I must wed ere he, that should be husband, comes to woo. I will not marry yet; and, when I do, I swear, it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, Rather than Paris’. The audience is drawn in by Juliet’s anger as she protests to her mother about having to marry someone she does not love. She also manages to tack on a negative comment about Romeo at the end of her speech here, to smooth over her outburst. Lady Capulet can relate to Juliet but believes this arrangement is best for her and she will have no other choice, she tells her to speak to her Father, as she no longer wants to be involved. This appears threatening to Juliet and she is surprised by her Mother’s harsh tone.
The intensity of the scene builds up when Capulet enters, he is unaware of Juliet’s plans not to marry Paris and seems concerned with her ‘mourning’ over Tybalt. When talking to her he harshly describes how she is feeling with metaphorical images ‘In one little body Thou counterfeit’st a bark, a sea, a wind; For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea, Do ebb and flow with tears; the bark thy body is, Sailing in this salt flood; the winds, thy sighs; Who, raging with thy tears, and they with them, Without a sudden calm, will overset Thy tempest-tossed body. How now, wife! Have you deliver’d to her our decree?’ Capulet here is over exaggerating the upset of his daughter; he describes Juliet as a boat floating in her own sea of salty tears. The tides are representing her hysterical and calm moods and if she carries on to excess she will create a ‘storm’.
In rebellion Juliet says she would rather die than marry Paris as if she is foreseeing the future again. This outrages Capulet who is disgusted by her attitude towards what he feels as a good opportunity for his daughter, the lack of intimacy is shown again with the names and insults he says to Juliet. ‘Mistress Minion’ labels her as a devious minx, whilst ‘green sickness carrion’ describes her as a rotting piece of meat. ‘Baggage follows next, whilst ‘tallow face’ says she has an unattractive white complexion.
Lady Capulet has a weak attempt at trying to defend Juliet but she is also scared to stand up to Capulet. ‘Fie, fie! What are you mad?’ Juliet pleads to her father to make him listen to her, this only outrages him even more as he threatens to hit her, Capulet disowns Juliet and claims she was a curse to him and Lady Capulet. ‘Get thee to church o’ Thursday, or never after look me in the face’ Wife, we scarce thought us blest That God had lent us but this only child; But now I see this one is one too much, And that we have a curse in having her’. Juliet’s reactions to being told she was unwanted would be extreme she is likely to be horrified at her father’s harsh words. The Nurse’s bond with Juliet is shown when she quickly comes to Juliet’s defence, blaming Capulet for bullying his daughter and turning her against him: ‘God in heaven bless her! You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.’ Capulet mocks the Nurse, as he has no respect for someone lower in social status. ‘And why, my lady wisdom? hold your tongue, Good prudence; smatter with your gossips, go.’ Capulet mocks Juliet and treats her as in object to pass on, he refuses to break his words to Paris about marriage arrangement. This shows the patriarchal society at work again. ‘An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend’.
Capulet exits in disgust so Juliet turns to her Mother, pleading with her to delay the marriage or she will have to die. Delay this marriage for a month, a week; Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed. In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.’ With her mother’s cold dismissal of her, this is the closing down of parental relationships for Juliet, who has no other choice but to turn to the Nurse. Viewers would be riveted by this dramatic scene, as they would be fearful of Capulet’s wild threats and temper. They would also fear Juliet’s threats of suicide, as she is desperately states she would rather die than accept Paris to her mother. The small, cramped bedroom would also add intensity to the drama here. As tempers rise as the actors move around, a sense of claustrophobia for Juliet is built up.
Juliet is distraught and desperate for guidance; she looks for older authority for help. She feels as if Romeo is dead as she can’t be with him: ‘My husband is on earth, my faith in heaven; How shall that faith return again to earth, Unless that husband send it me from heaven By leaving earth? The audience is tense and is relying on the Nurse’s response but it is not what they or Juliet expected. ‘I think it best you married with the county. O, he’s a lovely gentleman! Romeo’s a dishclout to him: an eagle, madam, Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye As Paris hath’. The Nurse is being pragmatic here, saying Juliet needs to make the best of a bad situation. Romeo is banished, probably never to return, so the better choice is Paris in these circumstances’
Juliet is shocked and appalled by what she sees as the Nurse’s fickle attitude and feels that everyone is against her, she now turns on her former companion, the one person she felt would be with her. ‘Go, counsellor; Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain. I’ll to the friar, to know his remedy: If all else fail, myself have power to die.’ Juliet decides to go Friar Laurence for help, as her relationship with the Nurse is now torn apart, before they were like Mother and daughter but now the intimacy has gone. Juliet here even goes so far as to label the Nurse as devil-like, cursing her dramatically so the viewers would be shocked. Again, the threat of suicide if there is no way of Friar Lawrence resolving her dilemma gives a fearful feeling to the scene’s end, making viewers want to continue watching the rest of the play.
Act 3 Scene 5 is a highly dramatic section of the play. The characters and their wild emotions make this so, along with the intense, cramped setting and the range of effective language techniques, such as ambiguous language and metaphors, used my Shakespeare throughout it.