Summary

In the churchyard that night, Paris enters with a torch-bearing servant. He orders the page to withdraw, then begins scattering flowers on Juliet’s grave. He hears a whistle—the servant’s warning that someone is approaching. He withdraws into the darkness. Romeo, carrying a crowbar, enters with Balthasar. He tells Balthasar that he has come to open the Capulet tomb in order to take back a valuable ring he had given to Juliet. Then he orders Balthasar to leave, and, in the morning, to deliver to Montague the letter Romeo had given him. Balthasar withdraws, but, mistrusting his master’s intentions, lingers to watch.

From his hiding place, Paris recognizes Romeo as the man who murdered Tybalt, and thus as the man who indirectly murdered Juliet, since it is her grief for her cousin that is supposed to have killed her. As Romeo has been exiled from the city on penalty of death, Paris thinks that Romeo must hate the Capulets so much that he has returned to the tomb to do some dishonor to the corpse of either Tybalt or Juliet. In a rage, Paris accosts Romeo. Romeo pleads with him to leave, but Paris refuses. They draw their swords and fight. Paris’s page runs off to get the civil watch. Romeo kills Paris. As he dies, Paris asks to be laid near Juliet in the tomb, and Romeo consents.

Romeo descends into the tomb carrying Paris’s body. He finds Juliet lying peacefully, and wonders how she can still look so beautiful—as if she were not dead at all. Romeo speaks to Juliet of his intention to spend eternity with her, describing himself as shaking “the yoke of inauspicious stars / From this world-wearied flesh” (5.3.111–112). He kisses Juliet, drinks the poison, kisses Juliet again, and dies.

Just then, Friar Lawrence enters the churchyard. He encounters Balthasar, who tells him that Romeo is in the tomb. Balthasar says that he fell asleep and dreamed that Romeo fought with and killed someone. Troubled, the friar enters the tomb, where he finds Paris’s body and then Romeo’s. As the friar takes in the bloody scene, Juliet wakes.

Juliet asks the friar where her husband is. Hearing a noise that he believes is the coming of the watch, the friar quickly replies that both Romeo and Paris are dead, and that she must leave with him. Juliet refuses to leave, and the friar, fearful that the watch is imminent, exits without her. Juliet sees Romeo dead beside her, and surmises from the empty vial that he has drunk poison. Hoping she might die by the same poison, Juliet kisses his lips, but to no avail. Hearing the approaching watch, Juliet unsheathes Romeo’s dagger and, saying, “O happy dagger, / This is thy sheath,” stabs herself (5.3.171). She dies upon Romeo’s body.

Chaos reigns in the churchyard, where Paris’s page has brought the watch. The watchmen discover bloodstains near the tomb; they hold Balthasar and Friar Lawrence, who they discovered loitering nearby. The Prince and the Capulets enter. Romeo, Juliet, and Paris are discovered in the tomb. Montague arrives, declaring that Lady Montague has died of grief for Romeo’s exile. The Prince shows Montague his son’s body. Upon the Prince’s request, Friar Lawrence succinctly tells the story of Romeo and Juliet’s secret marriage and its consequences. Balthasar gives the Prince the letter Romeo had previously written to his father. The Prince says that it confirms the friar’s story. He scolds the Capulets and Montagues, calling the tragedy a consequence of their feud and reminding them that he himself has lost two close kinsmen: Mercutio and Paris. Capulet and Montague clasp hands and agree to put their vendetta behind them. Montague says that he will build a golden statue of Juliet, and Capulet insists that he will raise Romeo’s likeness in gold beside hers. The Prince takes the group away to discuss these events, pronouncing that there has never been “a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (5.3.309).

Read a translation of Act 5, scene 3 →

Analysis

The deaths of Romeo and Juliet occur in a sequence of compounding stages: first, Juliet drinks a potion that makes her appear dead. Thinking her dead, Romeo then drinks a poison that actually kills him. Seeing him dead, Juliet stabs herself through the heart with a dagger. Their parallel consumption of mysterious potions lends their deaths a symmetry, which is broken by Juliet’s dramatic dagger stroke.

Social and private forces converge in the suicides of Romeo and Juliet. Paris, Juliet’s would-be husband, challenges Romeo, her actual husband, pitting the embodiments of Juliet’s lack of power in the public sphere against her very real ability to give her heart where she wishes. Through the arrival of the Prince, the law imposes itself, seeking to restore the peace in the name of social order and government. Montague and Capulet arrive, rehashing family tensions.

None of these forces are able to exert any influence on the young lovers. We have seen Romeo and Juliet time and again attempt to reconfigure the world through language so that their love might have a place to exist peacefully. That language, though powerful in the moment, could never counter the vast forces of the social world. Through suicide, the lovers believe they can escape the world that oppresses them.

Further, in the final brutality of their deaths, they transfigure that world. The feud between their families ends. Prince Escalus—the law—recognizes the honor and value due to the lovers. In dying, love has conquered all, its passion is shown to be the brightest and most powerful. It seems at last that Friar Lawrence’s words have come to be: “These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die” (2.5.9–10). The intense passion of Romeo and Juliet has trumped all other passions, and in coming to its violent end has forced those other passions, also, to cease.

One senses the grand irony that in death Romeo and Juliet have created the world that would have allowed their love to live. That irony does exist, and it is tragic. Because of their impulsive, last-ditch effort at preserving their love, Romeo and Juliet have forfeited the opportunity to enjoy that same love and to experience the resulting peace from the feud's end. At the play’s conclusion, we not only feel wrenched by the rash act that Romeo and Juliet have committed to immortalize their love, but also saddened by the unnecessary loss of two young lives. Their deaths are not meant to be glorified or idealized, but rather to show the desperate and tragic lengths the lovers felt they must go to in order to preserve their love.