Juliet’s speech in Act 4, Scene 3, filled with much classic Shakesperean imagery, is a turning point in the play for Juliet in which she wrestles with the conflicts in her life and then ultimately comes to a decision. It encompasses all the major themes in the play and many ideas all come together for the first time in this passage. First of all, this soliloquy deals with fear, of what will happen if she takes the potion and of what will happen if she doesn’t. Secondly, it concerns time, specifically the recurring night and darkness motif. Thirdly, it discusses love and death, the two major contrasting themes. Lastly, it introduces or reintroduces other opposites, such as reality versus appearance, which was the major metaphor in Juliet’s earlier speech.
If one had to summarize this speech in just a few words, one would say it was an inner monologue about fear, in which Juliet worries about all the possible problems that could befall her. When she says “I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins, that almost freezes up the heat of life”, she is saying that she has a bad feeling something unfortunate is going to happen that may result in death. She even says, “God knows when we shall meet again” which shows that she isn’t sure what terrible consequences there may be from drinking the potion. Initially she worries “What if it do not work at all?” and that she’ll have to “be married then to-morrow morning” with Paris. Then, she becomes afraid that it’s a poison, which the friar “subtly hath minister’d to have me dead” so that he should not be punished for marrying her to Romeo.
Next, she fears that she should awaken before Romeo arrives. Here, she imagines herself “stifled in the vault”, in other words that she dies suffocated because there is no “healthsome air”, or scared to death because of “the terror of the place”, and being “packed” amidst “the bones of all my buried ancestors”, including Tybalt. After that, she envisions the spirits she has heard stories about coming out to haunt her at the graveyard. Lastly, she worries she’s going to go crazy and, in her madness, kill herself. This is obviously foreshadowing, particularly in the lines “if I wake, shall I not be distraught”, since when she does wake, she finds Romeo’s dead body, and in the lines “dash out my desperate brains”, which represents that she is going to commit suicide. Clearly, fear is present throughout the entire speech until she gets carried away enough to dare to drink the potion.
Another recurring theme in this speech, which comes up again and again in the play, is night. The line “the horrible conceit of death and night” is very important as it ties together for the first time the two principal antitheses in the play, life and death and day and night. Here she is saying that if it is completely dark, she will be scared to death and therefore to lie there in the darkness of the vault is to be as good as dead. Before, darkness meant Romeo could be hidden by the night so he could go see Juliet and was therefore ironically associated with good things while light and the day brought them separation and troubles and was therefore associated with bad things.
However, now the night represents for Juliet what it usually does for us, which is darkness, misery and death. Later, Shakespeare returns to the ironic implications of night as brighter times as it is during the night that Juliet is safe and things go according to plan, whereas the minute dawn breaks, confusion reigns again and the lovers take their lives. The night-related imagery is used here to paint a dark and gloomy picture of the tomb to make Juliet seem even more courageous and thus for the audience to sympathize with her.
Love and death are two of the major themes throughout the play, which in a way contrast one another and in a way are dependent on one another. The entire speech is about Juliet questioning her love for Romeo and whether she is willing to sacrifice her life to remain true to her love. She contrasts what will happen if she doesn’t drink the potion and has to marry Paris, with the prospect of death if she does drink it. After listing all the possible disasters that could befall her as a result of drinking the liquor, she ends with “Romeo, Romeo, Romeo, here’s drink! I drink to thee!”. This tells us that to Juliet, marrying Paris is a fate worse than death and that she is willing to risk her life for Romeo.
So, her love toward him is both a savior as that is what motivated her to drink the potion and escape her doom but it is also her ruin as their adoration for each other is what kills them both in the end. Another way to say this is that risking death will bring her love but death itself will take him away. Throughout this entire passage, there is this ominous threat of death, foreshadowing the outcome of the play. Specifically, the phrases “God knows when we shall meet again”, “freezes up the heat of life”, “if I wake, shall I not be distraught” and “dash out my desperate brains” all hint at what will happen and tell us that Juliet had made up her mind and is willing to die for Romeo.
This speech incorporates many opposites or antitheses that Shakespeare employs constantly in this drama. Some of these are in the concrete language such as the contrast at the beginning of this speech between hot and cold. The simile “I have a faint cold fear…that almost freezes up the heat of life” is very poetic and clever because life represents the warmth and passion between the two lovers, their “heat” and her fear is of death, which turns a body cold. Another example of opposites is when Juliet questions whether the potion is a poison or an antidote to her troubles. There are also metaphorical opposites, below the surface of the text, such as reality versus appearance.
The main subject of this extract is the false death, which makes her seem dead but she is really alive. Later, the word “act” on line 19 also ties in to this symbol as it relates to theatricality and pretending to be someone or something that you are not. Clearly, opposites are very important in this passage because during the entire speech, Juliet is weighing her possibilities and asking herself what will happen if she does drink it and what will happen if she doesn’t. Inside, she is comparing what her life will be like with Paris and what her life will be like with Romeo.
This speech is, I believe, an extremely important one in the play. It is truly the moment where what has happened and what will happen come together in Juliet’s decision that she would sacrifice herself out of love for Romeo. Parallel to that coming together in the plot is an assemblage of many images that have been used previously. It is also important because it is in my opinion the moment that Juliet enters into adulthood. In the lines “I needs must act alone”, Juliet is finally ready to leave the comfort of being a child and make her own choices in life. Her fears are natural; everyone fears change, the unfamiliar, and so, part of Juliet’s worries in this speech are those of having to move on and make her own way for herself in a world full of hardships and obstacles. In the end, she takes comfort in Romeo, whom she expects to be there when she awakens, and drinks to him. Throughout the speech, beautiful imagery is used and the five senses are incorporated to make the scene come to life in order for the audience to sympathize with the lovers before their tragic deaths.