Act 3 Scene 5 is a pivotal scene in William Shakespeare’s renowned tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. It includes Romeo’s departure to Mantua, where he has been recently banished, Lord and Lady Capulet’s announcement that Juliet is to be married to Paris, and Capulet’s subsequent outburst in hearing that Juliet is not willing to cooperate. The language and dramatic devices used by Shakespeare in this crucial scene need to be effective enough to convey the various obstacles faced by the protagonists. He uses a range of techniques in order to portray the characters in this scene as effectively as he does. The scene focuses on love, death and fate, and the consequences when these forces collide.
The scene starts with Romeo and Juliet waking after their first night together. They are both intoxicated with each other, although Romeo is being relatively sensible, whereas Juliet is being much more stubborn, and refusing to admit what she knows is true; he has to leave. She says ‘Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day: it was the nightingale, and not the lark, That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;’. The lark sings at dawn, this being the time when most birds wake up and sing (hence the ‘dawn chorus’). The nightingale, however, the bird that Juliet insists her husband is hearing, sings even earlier in the morning, before sunrise and the harsh light of day. Birdsong is usually seen as a romantic concept, but in this case it is forcing the couple to part. The wistful, plaintive way in which she tries to persuade him to stay suggests how desperately Juliet needs him, and that, no matter how hopeless, she will do whatever she can to convince Romeo that it is not necessary for him to go.
She is so in love with him she cannot bear for him to leave. In saying this, she is trying to prove to Romeo that he need not leave because the bird he is hearing proves how early it is. This is nonsensical, of course, as Romeo is right and it is in fact the lark singing. Her naivety is apparent, as, rather than looking at their situation in a practical manner, and savouring the last moments she has with her lover, she is point blank refusing to acknowledge that he needs to depart. She continues to behave this way towards Romeo; as a character she is generally very childish in the way that she deals with situations that are not going her way. The involvement of birds, and the lark’s song effectively giving them an ultimatum by confirming that they must separate, denotes to the audience that even nature is against them and their love, not just their families and, ultimately, fate. Juliet later says, after waking fully and realizing that it was in fact the lark who woke the couple, ‘It is the lark that sings so out of tune, straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps,’.
This description is at odds with the traditional image of this songbird, who actually has a beautiful voice, and is also another example of how petulant Juliet can be. She has resorted to insulting the bird, simply because she sees it as being the cause of her unhappiness. Romeo is much more down to earth than Juliet from the beginning of the scene. This is not only because he is older, but it is him who murdered Tybalt and has therefore been banished, so he will almost certainly be killed if he is found with Juliet; it is his neck on the line, which may have forced him to be more practical. He is perfectly aware of his situation, and he says so to Juliet – ‘I must be gone and live, or stay and die,’. This is a paradoxical quote, as the idea of being gone is generally more associated with death, of being gone from the earth, while the opposite is true of the concept of staying.
Romeo is reversing those two notions in this quote, as in this case, unless he leaves Juliet, Romeo is doomed. It is also a prophetic thing to say as we, the audience, know both main characters will die. As we are informed at the beginning of the play ‘A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’. This fact of which the audience is aware but the characters are not creates a sense of dramatic irony. This quote is not the only prophetic line in this section. Juliet later says ‘As one dead in the bottom of a tomb; either my eyesight fails, or thou look’st pale,’. Romeo then replies ‘And trust me, love, in my eye so do you: Dry sorrow drinks our blood.’ Juliet is saying that Romeo looks like a dead person, which is how he ends up, and he is agreeing that she looks dead too, and claiming that the sorrow of their parting is causing their ashen complexions, that are reminiscent of one dead. The language used between Romeo and Juliet says a lot about the two characters in this section, and the way they react to situations; Juliet’s childish obstinacy compared to Romeo’s realistic attitude.
Soon after this sequence, Juliet’s nurse arrives and Romeo is forced to leave. The nurse comes with the news that her mother is coming. This gives the audience a sense of foreboding, as Lady Capulet does not appear very often, and the way in which she is introduced is very urgent. Nurse is in fact warning the couple that Juliet’s mother is coming, which sets an ominous tone for the following conversation. Juliet is upset about Romeo’s departure, and her mother interprets this as sorrow over Tybalt’s death: ‘Evermore weeping for your cousin’s death? What, wilt thou wash him from his grave with tears?’ This is the first in a series of misunderstandings, as the double meanings employed by Juliet put across what she feels whilst deceiving her mother. This shows that, although Lady Capulet thinks that Juliet is crying over the recent death of a family member, she thinks that this is excessive, and had assumed that Juliet would be over it by now. This is a very insensitive thing to say to a daughter who is clearly upset, and she even goes as far as to say how futile she thinks it is to cry; Juliet cannot ‘wash Tybalt from his grave’.
In saying this, Shakespeare is making the relationship between mother and daughter clear, and the indifference bordering on animosity Lady Capulet seems to feel towards her daughter as she says this is apparent. Juliet later says ‘Indeed, I never shall be satisfied with Romeo, till I behold him-dead-is my poor heart for a kinsman vex’d’. Lady Capulet interprets this as Juliet stating that her hate for the man who killed her cousin is so strong that she will not rest until she can see him dead. What this could also mean is that she is so besotted with Romeo that until she sees him her heart will remain lifeless and empty. This is a clever use of language, as Juliet is saying what she means, and the audience can see this, but Lady Capulet cannot, which is another example of dramatic irony. Juliet then says to her mother ‘Madam, if you could find out but a man to bear a poison, I would temper it; that Romeo should, upon receipt thereof, soon sleep in quiet,’ which sounds like Juliet is saying that she is so determined that Romeo is killed, she would strengthen the poison to ensure that he dies as soon as possible. This is a misunderstanding, however, as Juliet is saying she would make sure that her lover’s death was as quick as possible, and cause him minimal pain.
This is quite a mature thing to say, wanting her husband to avoid suffering, as opposed to a lingering death, which is out of character for Juliet. Lady Capulet later informs Juliet of her intended marriage to Paris, saying her father ‘Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy,’ meaning her wedding. This says a lot about what Lady Capulet thinks of love and marriage. She knows that her daughter almost definitely does not love Paris, but from her point of view that is irrelevant; she was married to Juliet’s father because of his wealth and status, it was essentially an arranged marriage, and this ‘day of joy’ is how she views Juliet’s arranged wedding. This is a very different view to the one held by Romeo and Juliet, who see love as very important, and got married days after meeting each other. Lady Capulet’s view was the convention in the time in which this play is set; Romeo and Juliet’s views were unusual.
When he first enters, Capulet talks of Tybalt’s death, and reacts in a similar surprised manner to Juliet’s mother when he realises (or assumes) that Juliet is still crying over her cousin’s murder. He says ‘…the bark thy body is, sailing in this salt flood…’ Shakespeare uses a couple of metaphors here. By bark, he means ship; he has referred to a ship as bark several times before, not just in Romeo and Juliet. Capulet is saying here that Juliet, as a ship, is governed by her tears, or the sea, that she is being controlled by her emotions. The sea can change quickly, like emotions, but on the other hand there is something timeless and everlasting about the ocean, something relentless.
One cannot tame the sea; Shakespeare could be implying that Juliet cannot control her emotions, or her situation. The fact that the sea is so enormous compared to a ship, much larger than tears, so small compared to a person, or indeed a ship or ocean, represents the enormity of the circumstances Juliet has found herself in, and also the idea that she is being governed by forces outside her control; forces like fate. Once Juliet’s father is informed of Juliet’s feelings about the marriage he has worked so hard to organise, he turns from a character that was seen as comical and slightly foolish, to a much more foreboding one.
He gets very angry very quickly, and soon descends into the use of aggressive language and cursing. At first he is disbelieving and angry – ‘How! will she none? doth she not give us thanks? Is she not proud? ‘. All the questioning highlights how confused he is at hearing that Juliet is not willing to cooperate. He simply does not understand how she can even think to defy him. Romeo and Juliet is set in Elizabethan times, when everyone lived in a patriarchal society; men came first, whether it was your father, husband or brother. Women were generally seen as wives and mothers, and were never allowed to make their own decisions, free will did not come into it so Juliet’s father is completely unaccustomed to people refusing to do his bidding. Whether Juliet wanted to marry Paris or not was insignificant, Capulet does not think love is important. Calling Juliet ‘she’ so many times emphasises the distance between father and daughter, again demonstrating how he does not see her as a real person, and is not really sure how to deal with his daughter directly.
Once he has started to recover from the shock of being challenged like this, he starts getting really livid. He simply lets out a stream of insults: ‘Out, you green-sickness carrion! out, you baggage! You tallow-face!’. This is a complete change in tone from the romantic language used earlier in the scene. Capulet has been offended by his daughter and is venting his anger in very graphic language. He also says that he wishes Juliet had never been born, not in so many words: ‘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,’ meaning that Capulet and his wife always considered themselves not particularly fortunate since they only had one daughter, but he is now saying that he would rather be childless. He once thought Juliet a blessing from God, which is what children were thought of in the Christian society Romeo and Juliet lived in. Juliet’s father is now saying that she is a curse rather than a blessing. The language used by Capulet is very strong, and puts across his emotions clearly as he does not seem to hold anything in. Shakespeare makes it clear when he is angry or confused.
The scene ends with Juliet and the Nurse talking about the course of action that should be taken. Juliet feels very unlucky, she says ‘Alack, alack, that heaven should practice stratagems upon so soft a subject as myself!’. When she talks of heaven , Juliet is talking about fate. She considers herself to be a victim of fate, as if the heavens are conspiring against her, because her situation, caught between love and her family, is so awful. When she says how ‘soft a subject’ she is, Juliet is making her youth very apparent. This again shows how helpless she feels, how she thinks that it is not fair for her to have to deal with this, which is a childish reaction to her circumstances. She asks the nurse for help and advice, as Juliet does not know what to do for the best. The Nurse replies ‘Romeo is banish’d; and all the world to nothing,’.
This suggests that the Nurse does not think love is important, or even believes in love as Juliet and Romeo do. She sees Juliet’s first marriage as a lost cause, since Romeo will not be able to return, as he has been banished, and there are many people who would like to see him dead, so it would be too risky to attempt to come back. This is a very practical view, because the Nurse’s vision does not seem to be clouded with romantic ideals; she is seeing the situation as it really is. She says of Paris ‘Romeo’s a dishclout to him,’ meaning that Juliet’s second marriage would be an advantageous one, and a better match that the first. The imagery that she uses is very blunt, she dismisses the man that Juliet loves in order to convince her to marry again. This also shows that, if the nurse really believes what she is saying (which she later claims), that she genuinely wants to see Juliet happy with whom she considers to be a superior man. The Nurse has been involved from the beginning with the two lovers, and knows more about their situation than anyone else, so the fact that she thinks that Juliet should move on means that it would be hard to dismiss the Nurse’s opinion completely.
Once the Nurse has given her judgment, Juliet says ‘Well, thou hast comforted me marvellous much.’. She is in fact being sarcastic, because, as her confidante, the Nurse was the only person she thought would be able to support her, but she has now turned her back on Juliet, and is telling her to give up. The Nurse does not seem to realise that Juliet is being sarcastic, or if she does, thinks that it would be better to ignore her. The Nurse clearly loves Juliet, but at this stage would rather she did what her family tells her to do, to avoid any more pain and heartbreak. This again proves her low opinion of love, how she thinks it may be nice for some, but you have to be practical. The Nurse then leaves Juliet, and there is a dramatic change in tone here as Juliet becomes angry at her situation.
Throughout the rest of the scene, she was pleading with her father, talking to her mother or speaking romantically to Romeo. Here, however, the way she curses is reminiscent of Capulet, you can imagine his reaction would be similar. ‘Go, counsellor; thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain,’ shows how hurt she is by her Nurse’s opinion, and that she is too angry to forgive her. Although she hid it whilst the Nurse was in the room, she has no intention of doing what the Nurse recommended. Juliet is saying that her ‘counsellor’, her confidante, and her friend, has betrayed her and will not be forgiven. This shows how much she was counting on the Nurse’s support, and how much she relies on her for advice. Now, however, she has lost that trust, as the Nurse has essentially told her that Romeo does not matter, despite how deeply in love with him Juliet is.
There are various ingenious dramatic devices and uses of language in this scene, and Shakespeare puts across all the characters and their opinions to allow the audience to follow the motivation behind all the arguments, as well as the beauty of the morning after Romeo and Juliet’s bridal night. He uses a broad range of language to do this, and dramatic devices, like dramatic irony, and the misunderstandings between Juliet and her mother. This is a very important scene, and includes the culmination of issues up until this point, but also the introduction of new ones that the protagonists have to deal with. Romeo and Juliet remains to this day one of the most famous tragedies of all time and, thanks to Shakespeare’s skilful portrayal, one that will endure for many years to come.