Act Two, Introduction
The Chorus explains that Romeo has traded his old desire for a new affection, and that Juliet has also fallen in love. Though their secret romance puts Romeo and Juliet at risk, their passion drives them to meet, regardless of the danger.
Act Two, Scene One
Out in the street, Romeo escapes from Mercutio and Benvolio. Mercutio calls to him, using lots of obscene wordplay. Benvolio finally gets tired of searching for Romeo, and they leave.
(Please note that some editions of Romeo and Juliet end Scene One here to begin a new one. Others, including the Norton Shakespeare, which this note is based on, continue the scene as follows.)
Meanwhile, Romeo has succeeded in leaping over the Capulets' garden wall and is hiding beneath Juliet's balcony. He wants to determine whether her attraction is equal to his own. She soon appears and delivers her famous soliloquy, asking "Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" (2.1.75). She wishes that Romeo’s name were different, so that they would not be enemies. Romeo overhears her speech, which confirms his own feelings. He interrupts Juliet to confess his own love.
Juliet warns Romeo to speak truthfully, since she has fallen in love with him and does not want to be hurt. Romeo swears his feelings are genuine, and Juliet laments the fact that she cannot fall in love with him again. The Nurse calls to Juliet, who disappears momentarily. She comes back out and insists that if Romeo truly loves her, he should propose marriage and plan a meeting place for them. The Nurse calls Juliet a second time, and she exits. Romeo is about to leave when his love emerges yet a third time, and calls him back for some final words of parting.
Act Two, Scene Two
At the chapel, Friar Laurence is collecting herbs. Romeo arrives and confesses his new love for Juliet. He asks the Friar to marry them. Though the Friar is surprised that Romeo has forgotten Rosaline so quickly, he is nonetheless delighted, because Romeo and Juliet's union presents an opportunity to quell the raging feud between the Montagues and Capulets.
Act Two, Scene Three
Out in the street the next day, Benvolio tells Mercutio that Romeo has not yet returned home. He also reveals that Tybalt has sent Romeo a threatening message. When Romeo joins them, Mercutio mocks him, but Romeo matches his wit. Impressed, Mercutio notes,"Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo" (2.3.77).
Juliet’s Nurse and Peter arrive and ask to speak with Romeo. Mercutio makes sexual jokes about the Nurse, but eventually exits with Benvolio. The Nurse explains that Juliet will meet Romeo and marry him. Romeo proposes they meet that afternoon at Friar Laurence’s chapel.
Act Two, Scene Four
Back in the Capulet orchard, Juliet eagerly awaits news from the Nurse. When the Nurse eventually arrives, she comically refuses to give Juliet any information about Romeo until she has received a back rub. Finally, the Nurse tells Juliet about the plan for her to meet Romeo at Friar Laurence’s chapel.
Act Two, Scene Five
At the chapel, Romeo and Friar Laurence await Juliet’s arrival. The Friar cautions Romeo to "love moderately" (2.5.9). Juliet soon appears, and Friar Laurence brings them into the church to be married.
Act 2 is more focused than Act 1, in that it mostly serves to establish the marriage which will become the root of the play's dramatic conflict. However, within the the streamlined plot, Shakespeare explores the complications of love. The theme of love is central to Act 2 of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet fall in love instantly, and marry one day later, sealing their future. The balcony scene is crucial to understanding their relationship because it allows Romeo and Juliet to test their initial passion and gain the courage to move forward with a marriage plan.
The love that Romeo and Juliet share is the opposite of the selfish love that Shakespeare references in the opening acts of the play. Shakespeare compares Juliet to the sun, and she is one of the most generous characters in the play. She reveals her selflessness when she declares, "My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep. The more I give thee / The more I have, for both are infinite" (2.1.175-177). Rosaline, on the other hand, prefers to keep her beauty to herself. Shakespeare heightens this contrast when Romeo describes Rosaline as a Diana (the goddess of the moon) and tells Juliet, "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon" (2.1.46).
In the balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet recognize this selfish brand of love and then transcend it. The garden setting is more than just a secretive meeting place – it invokes images of a pastoral Eden, which symbolizes both purity and virginity. Romeo and Juliet's connection is simultaneously rooted in pure love and unbridled passion. At the beginning of the balcony scene, Romeo invades Juliet's privacy without her invitation, which becomes doubly apparent when he overhears her soliloquy. Here, Shakespeare breaks the convention of the soliloquy, which is traditionally a speech where a character shares his or her inner thoughts only with the audience. That Romeo overhears Juliet's soliloquy is an invasion, on one hand, but also serves as a reminder of the cost of intimacy. That Juliet both allows and cherishes Romeo's interruption reminds the audience that true love requires two people to open their hearts to one another.
Shakespeare underscores the idea that lovers must abandon their selfishness by having Romeo and Juliet swear to themselves, rather than to other bodies. For instance, when Romeo tries to swear by the moon, Juliet remarks that the moon waxes and wanes, and is too variable. Instead, she says, "Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self" (2.1.155). Shakespeare often has characters encourage one another to be true to themselves first, and only then can they be true to others. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, the characters must accept their unique identities (and transcend their family names) in order to experience the purest kind of love.
Shakespeare also implies that when people fall in love, they can grow. Juliet's behavior changes after she meets Romeo. She is used to obeying the Nurse's authority, and during the balcony scene, she disappears twice. However, she also defies authority twice in order to reappear and continue her conversation with Romeo. This is a sure sign of her emerging independence, which explains her quick decision to marry Romeo and defy her parents. Juliet also reveals her practical intelligence by understanding the need for a plan for them to meet and by insisting on marriage, which is a reversal of Elizabethan gender roles. Romeo, while less active than Juliet, also becomes more confident after their meeting, eschewing his juvenile melancholy for a more gregarious personality that impresses Mercutio.
Shakespeare introduces the theme of identity in Act 2. In her soliloquy, Juliet wishes that Romeo could transcend his name. Her famous declaration – "What's in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" – expresses the idea that people can be more than their societal roles. Juliet understands that if she and Romeo are to be together, they must defy the limitations of society and follow their individual passions.
In this act, Shakespeare also introduces Friar Laurence a multifaceted character who understands the need for personal autonomy. Because of his underlying motivations, however, the Friar is an imperfect religious figure. He is willing to compromise the religious sanctity of marriage for the sake of a political goal. He clearly finds Romeo’s new passion suspect, but agrees to perform the marriage ceremony so that he can end the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. Friar Laurence's actions represent the dichotomy between societal convention and individual desire.
Finally, Shakespeare continues to explore the contrasts that he introduced in Act I, particularly the disparity between night and day (or darkness and light). Benvolio states, "Blind is his love, and best befits the dark," in reference to Romeo's newfound passion (2.1.32). When Romeo finally sees Juliet at her balcony, he wonders, "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. / Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon" (2.1.44-46). Romeo then invokes the darkness as a form of protection from harm: "I have night's cloak to hide me from their eyes" (2.1.117). Unfortunately, the disorder of the day eventually overcomes the passionate and protective night - destroying both lovers in the process.
Shakespeare also underlines the contrast between youth and old age. Friar Laurence acts as Romeo's confidante, and the Nurse advises Juliet. However, both these adults offer advice that seems strangely out of place given the circumstances of the play. For instance, Friar Laurence says to Romeo, "Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast" (2.2.94). He also advises Romeo to "Therefore love moderately" (2.5.9). The Friar's advice for Romeo to love "moderately", however, comes too late. In fact, by the end of the play we even see Friar Laurence rejecting his own advice and stumbling to reach Juliet's grave before Romeo can find her. "How oft tonight have my old feet stumbled at graves?" (5.3.123).
Finally, Shakespeare introduces the contrast between silver and gold in this act through his use of imagery. Romeo says, "How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night" and "Lady, by yonder blessed moon I vow, / That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops" (2.1.210, 149-50). Shakespeare often employs silver as a symbol of love and beauty. On the other hand, he uses gold as a sign of greed or desire. Rosaline is immune to showers of gold, an image that evokes the selfishness of bribery. Later, when Romeo is banished, he comments that banishment is a "golden axe," meaning that his punishment is merely a glossed- over equivalent of death. And finally, the erection of the golden statues at the end a sign of the fact that neither Capulet nor Montague has really learned anything from Romeo and Juliet's deaths.
Act Five, Scene One
Romeo wanders the streets of Mantua, mulling over a dream he had the night before where Juliet was dead. Then, Balthasar arrives from Verona with the news of Juliet's apparent suicide.
Romeo immediately orders Balthasar to prepare a horse so he can rush to Verona and see Juliet's body. Meanwhile, he writes a letter for Balthasar to give to Lord Montague, explaining the situation. Finally, before he leaves Mantua, Romeo buys some poison from a poor Apothecary.
Act Five, Scene Two
Back in Verona, Friar John, who was supposed to deliver the letter to Romeo telling him about the plan, apologizes to Friar Laurence for his inability to complete the task. Apparently, during his journey, some people believed that Friar John carried the pestilence (the plague) and locked him in a house.
Friar Laurence realizes that this new wrinkle derails his plan, so he immediately orders a crowbar so that he can rescue Juliet from the Capulet tomb.
Act Five, Scene Three
Mournful Paris and his Page stand guard at Juliet’s tomb so that no one will rob the vault. Romeo and Balthasar arrive, and Paris tries to restrain Romeo, who is focused on breaking into the tomb. Paris recognizes Romeo as the man who killed Tybalt, and believes that he has come to desecrate Juliet's corpse. Their argument escalates into a sword fight, and Romeo kills Paris. Paris' Page rushes away to fetch the City Watchmen.
Romeo opens the tomb and finds Juliet's body. Understandably devastated, he sits next to his beloved and drinks the Apothecary’s poison, kisses Juliet, and then dies. Meanwhile, Friar Laurence arrives at the Capulet tomb to find Paris’s body outside the door.
As planned, the potion wears off and Juliet awakens in the tomb, finding Romeo's dead body beside her. When she sees the poison, she realizes what has happened. She kisses Romeo in hopes that the poison will kill her as well, but it doesn't work. From outside the tomb, Friar Laurence begs Juliet to exit the vault and flee, but she chooses to kill herself with Romeo’s dagger.
Soon thereafter, Prince Escalus arrives, accompanied by the City Watchmen and the patriarchs of the feuding families. Lord Montague announces that Lady Montague has died from a broken heart as a result of Romeo's banishment. Friar Laurence then explains what has happened to Romeo and Juliet, and Balthasar gives the Prince the letter from Romeo, which confirms the Friar's tale.
To make amends for Juliet's death, Lord Montague promises to erect a golden statue of her for all of Verona to admire. Not to be outdone, Capulet promises to do the same for Romeo. The Prince ends the play by celebrating the end of the feud, but lamenting the deaths of the young lovers, claiming, "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo" (5.3.308-9).
As the plot of Romeo and Juliet spirals to its mournful end, it is easy to forget that the story takes place over a few days. Regardless, Romeo and Juliet are so certain of their love that they choose to accept death rather than being separated. As noted in the Analysis for Act 3, Romeo and Juliet mature considerably over the course of the play, and learn to accept the tragic edge of life more fully than their parents can.
Death is the most prominent theme in Act 5, although Shakespeare has foreshadowed the tragic turn of events throughout the play. However, Shakespeare ultimately frames death as a heroic choice. For example, Romeo’s eventually commits suicide because of his unwavering devotion to Juliet, which is a contrast to the cowardly motivations for his suicide attempt in Act 3. When Romeo hears of Juliet's death, he makes an active choice, ordering Balthasar to prepare a horse immediately. Despite the desperate circumstances, Romeo shows that he has learned from Juliet's forward planning by purchasing the poison before going to Verona. He wants to embrace death as Juliet has, and plans to take his life in a show of solidarity with his beloved.
When Romeo buys his poison, Shakespeare describes the scene as if Romeo were purchasing the poison from Death himself - most notably in his description of the Apothecary: "Meagre were his looks. / Sharp misery had worn him to the bones" (5.1.40-1). Symbolically, Romeo is actively seeking out death. Shakespeare shows that death will not come upon Romeo unawares, but is willing to work in service of the heartbroken young man. In this way, Shakespeare aligns Romeo with the classical archetype of the tragic hero who accepts his terrible fate head on. Much in the way that the characters in Richard III dream about their fates in the final act of that play, Romeo also has a dream which foretells his fate. He says, "I dreamt my lady came and found me dead" (5.1.6). The dream both foreshadows the ending and suggests that greater forces – perhaps the “plague” that Mercutio tried to bring forth – have come together to ensure a tragic ending.
The events of Act 5 do not provide a clear answer to the question of whether Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of fate. Instead, one could continue to argue that the tragic ending is the result of individual decisions - most notably, Friar Laurence's complicated plan. The success of this plan is highly contingent on timing and circumstance. What if Friar John had not been waylaid? What if Romeo had arrived at the Capulet tomb two hours later, or if Friar Laurence had arrived one hour earlier? Fate is not typically so contingent on human actions, which suggests that the most powerful force at work in Romeo and Juliet is actually the psychology of the characters. The uncertainty in these final scenes makes the play less classically tragic and yet more unique for not being fully aligned any one form.
Friar Laurence continues to advocate for moderation in the final scenes of Romeo and Juliet. Many scholars believe that Shakespeare meant for his audience to take away the message that a lack of moderation is the reason for Romeo and Juliet's demise. Some believe that Romeo and Juliet acted too quickly and intensely on their youthful passion, and allowed it to consume them. However, this moral reading feels like an oversimplification, and ignores the complexities of their love. Instead, the idea of caution is arguably more applicable to Romeo and Juliet's families, who have allowed their feud to get out of control.
Shakespeare also uses the recurring motif of gold and silver to criticize the childishness of the feuding adults. Gold continues to represent wealth and jealousy, the vices that keep Romeo and Juliet apart. When Romeo pays the Apothecary in gold, he remarks, "There is thy gold - worse poison to men's souls" (5.1.79). Gold, as a symbol, underlies the family feuding. Even after Romeo and Juliet are dead and their families supposedly agree to peace, they still try to outdo one another by creating commemorative gold statues. Romeo recognizes the power of gold and yet repudiates it, allowing Shakespeare to create a distinction between the kinds of people who value money and those who value true love.
Though death is paramount in Act 5, love is still a major theme as well. In particular, Shakespeare employs erotic symbolism, especially in the death scene. Romeo drinks from a chalice, a cup shaped like a woman’s torso. Meanwhile Juliet says, "O happy dagger, / This is thy sheath! There rust, and let me die" (5.3.169). The dagger she speaks of is Romeo's, thus highlighting the sexual overtones of her proclamation. Additionally, Shakespeare uses the word "die" ambiguously. In Shakespeare's time, "To die" could either refer to real death or sexual intercourse. Thus, even at the very end of the play, the audience could interpret Juliet's final statement as her intention to commit suicide or her desire to engage with Romeo sexually. The sexual nature of their relationship stands in stark contrast to Juliet's arranged marriage to Paris, which is based on politics and greed, not love.
It is important to note that in Romeo and Juliet, the moral conventions of marriage, religion, and family are all stained by human folly. The purity of Romeo and Juliet's love has no place in a world filled with moral corruption. Shakespeare frames Romeo and Juliet's 'tale of woe' as a tragic lesson to their their families, which makes an impact on the audience as well. The Montagues and Capulets reconcile over a shared sense of loss, rather than moral or societal pressure. The audience comes away from the play hoping that these families have learned from the tragic events.
However, one analysis of Friar Laurence suggests the issue is a bit more complicated. As noted previously, the Friar is more of a shrewd politician than a pious clergyman. He manipulates a love-and-death situation for the sake of political peace. He does this by creating a potion that has remarkable powers - as if he is playing God. By giving Juliet the potion, Friar Laurence puts her in a Christ-like position (since they both ‘died’ and then were resurrected from a tomb). Friar Laurence's failure could be read as a criticism of hubris, as well as punishment for an earthly man trying to enact divine power - thus reinforcing the secular nature of the play.