Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Mortality

By William Shakespeare

Mortality

Act 2, Scene 2
Romeo

ROMEO
I would I were thy bird.

JULIET
Sweet, so would I.
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
(2.2.196-198)

Have you ever looked at a cute animal or toddler and said, "I want to eat you up?" Yeah. Wanting to love on something so hard that you destroy it may not be as weird as it sounds.

Juliet

JULIET
'Tis almost morning; I would have thee gone,
And yet no further than a wanton's bird,
Who lets it hop a little from her hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silk thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
ROMEO
I would I were thy bird.
JULIET
Sweet, so would I.
Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.
(2.2.190-198)

Juliet seems to sense that the intensity of her love for Romeo is so great it has the potential to be destructive.

Act 3, Scene 1
Mercutio

MERCUTIO
I am hurt.
A plague o' both your houses! I am sped.
Is he gone and hath nothing?
BENVOLIO
What, art thou hurt?
MERCUTIO
Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, 'tis enough.
Where is my page?—Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.
ROMEO
Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much.
MERCUTIO
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as
a church-door; but 'tis enough. 'Twill serve. Ask for
me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o'
both your houses! 'Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue, a
villain that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the
devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.
ROMEO
I thought all for the best.
MERCUTIO
Help me into some house, Benvolio,
Or I shall faint. A plague o' both your houses!
They have made worms' meat of me.
I have it, and soundly too. Your houses!
(3.1.94-113)

Mercutio blames both the Montagues and the Capulets for his death.

MERCUTIO
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church door, but 'tis enough. 'Twill serve. Ask for
me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o'
both your houses! 'Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a
cat, to scratch a man to death! A braggart, a rogue, a
villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the
devil came you between us? I was hurt under your
arm.
(3.1.100-109)

Mercutio doesn't bother blaming fate for his death—he places the blame squarely on the family feud. Is he right?

Act 3, Scene 2
Juliet

JULIET
Is Romeo slaughtered, and is Tybalt dead?
My dearest cousin, and my dearer lord?
Then, dreadful trumpet, sound the general doom,
For who is living if those two are gone?
(3.2.71-74)

For Juliet, the loss of both Tybalt and Romeo seems like the Apocalypse; she expects to hear the trumpet sounding that marks the Day of Judgment.

JULIET
Some word there was, worser than Tybalt's death,
That murdered me. I would forget it fain.
But, O, it presses to my memory
Like damned guilty deeds to sinners' minds:
'Tybalt is dead, and Romeo banishèd.'
That 'banishèd,' that one word 'banishèd,'
Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. Tybalt's death
Was woe enough, if it had ended there;
Or, if sour woe delights in fellowship
And needly will be ranked with other griefs,
Why followed not, when she said 'Tybalt's dead,'
'Thy father' or thy 'mother,' nay, or both,
Which modern lamentations might have moved?
But with a rearward following Tybalt's death,
'Romeo is banishèd,' to speak that word
Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet,
All slain, all dead. 'Romeo is banishèd.'
There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,
In that word's death. No words can that woe sound.
(3.2.119-137)

For Juliet, being separated from Romeo is the same as being dead.

JULIET
Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-browed
   night,
Give me my Romeo, and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
(3.2.21-27)

Juliet's vision of loving Romeo is so intense that she thinks it will break the boundaries of mortality and convince all the world to be in love with Romeo. (In some versions of the play, it is "and when he shall die," while in others, it is, "when shall die.")

The Nurse

NURSE
Ah, weraday, he's dead, he's dead, he's dead!
We are undone, lady, we are undone.
Alack the day, he's gone, he's kill'd, he's dead.
JULIET
Can heaven be so envious?
NURSE
Romeo can,
Though heaven cannot. O Romeo, Romeo,
Who ever would have thought it? Romeo!
JULIET
What devil art thou, that dost torment me thus?
This torture should be roared in dismal hell.
Hath Romeo slain himself? Say thou but 'Ay,'
And that bare vowel 'I' shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice.
I am not I, if there be such an 'I,'
Or those eyes shut that make thee answer 'Ay.'
If he be slain, say 'Ay,' or if not, "No."
Brief sounds determine of my weal or woe.
NURSE
I saw the wound, I saw it with mine eyes
(God save the mark!) here on his manly breast—
A piteous corse, a bloody piteous corse,
Pale, pale as ashes, all bedaubed in blood,
All in gore blood. I swoonèd at the sight.
JULIET
O, break, my heart, poor bankrupt, break at once!
To prison, eyes; ne'er look on liberty.
Vile earth, to earth resign; end motion here,
And thou and Romeo press one heavy bier.
(3.2.42-66)

Without Romeo, Juliet thinks her only option is death. She is no longer herself without him.

Act 3, Scene 3
Romeo

ROMEO
What less than dooms-day is the prince's doom?
FRIAR LAURENCE
A gentler judgment vanish'd from his lips,
Not body's death, but body's banishment.
ROMEO
Ha, banishment! be merciful, say 'death;'
For exile hath more terror in his look,
Much more than death: do not say 'banishment.'
FRIAR LAURENCE
Hence from Verona art thou banished:
Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.
ROMEO
There is no world without Verona walls,
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence-banished is banish'd from the world,
And world's exile is death: then banished,
Is death mis-term'd: calling death banishment,
Thou cutt'st my head off with a golden axe,
And smilest upon the stroke that murders me.
(3.3.9-23)

For Romeo, being separated from Juliet is like death, because Juliet is his entire world. Check out "Quotes" for "Exile" for more on this.

Act 4, Scene 3
Juliet

JULIET
What if it be a poison, which the Friar
Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonored,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is. And yet, methinks, it should not,
For he hath still been tried a holy man.
How if, when I am laid into the tomb,
I wake before the time that Romeo
Come to redeem me? There's a fearful point.
Shall I not then be stifled in the vault,
To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in,
And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes?
Or, if I live, is it not very like,
The horrible conceit of death and night,
Together with the terror of the place—
As in a vault, an ancient receptacle
Where, for these many hundred years the bones
Of all my buried ancestors are packed:
Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth,
Lies festering in his shroud; where, as they say,
At some hours in the night spirits resort—
Alack, alack, is it not like that I,
So early waking, what with loathsome smells,
And shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth,
That living mortals, hearing them, run mad—
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environèd with all these hideous fears,
And madly play with my forefather's joints,
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud,
And, in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?
O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier's point! Stay, Tybalt, stay!
Romeo, Romeo, Romeo! Here’s drink. I drink to 
   thee. (4.3.25-60)

Juliet understands the horrors of death – rotting bodies, terrible smells – but a world where she is forced to marry someone other than Romeo, in her mind, is worse than the world of death.

Act 4, Scene 4
Lord Capulet

CAPULET
Ha, let me see her: out, alas! she's cold.
Her blood is settled, and her joints are stiff.
Life and these lips have long been separated.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
(4.4.30-34)

That image of the "frost" killing the "flower" is particularly pertinent when you think about Juliet's birthday—Lammas-Eve, the night before the traditional harvest festival. She dies in bloom, before anyone can "harvest" her. (Well, so Capulet thinks—actually, Romeo's done a pretty good job of bringing the harvest in, if you know what we mean.)

Act 4, Scene 5
The Nurse

NURSE
She's dead, deceased. She's dead, alack the day!
LADY CAPULET
Alack the day, she's dead, she's dead, she's dead.
CAPULET
Ha! let me see her! Out, alas, she's cold.
Her blood is settled, and her joints are stiff.
Life and these lips have long been separated.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
NURSE
O lamentable day!
LADY CAPULET
                              O woeful time!
CAPULET
Death, that hath ta'en her hence to make me wail,
Ties up my tongue and will not let me speak.
(4.5.28-38)

Juliet's family tries to describe her death in gentle terms – "an untimely frost" – to make her loss less horrific to them.

Lord Capulet

CAPULET
All things that we ordainèd festival
Turn from their office to black funeral;
Our instruments to melancholy bells,
Our wedding cheer to a sad burial feast,
Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change,
Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse,
And all things change them to the contrary.
(4.5.90-96)

Lord Capulet describes death as a kind of marriage, and a funeral as a kind of wedding. Like love and hate, these two major life events don't seem so different after all.

Act 5, Scene 1
Romeo

ROMEO
Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.
(5.1.37)

Even when he's thisclose to killing himself, Romeo manages to be clever: he's going to "lie" with Juliet in death, just like he lay with her in the marriage bed.

ROMEO
Come hither, man. I see that thou art poor.
                                                                He offers money.
Hold, there is forty ducats. Let me have
A dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear
As will disperse itself through all the veins,
That the life-weary taker may fall dead,
And that the trunk may be discharged of breath
As violently as hasty powder fired
Doth hurry from the fatal cannon's womb.
APOTHECARY
Such mortal drugs I have; but Mantua's law
Is death to any he that utters them.
ROMEO
Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness,
And fearest to die? Famine is in thy cheeks,
Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,
Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back.
The world is not thy friend nor the world's law.
The world affords no law to make thee rich.
Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.
(5.1.62-78)

Romeo wants a swift and instantaneous demise. He is already so prepared for death that he sees it all around him, even personified in the character of the sickly looking Apothecary.

ROMEO
Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness,
And fear'st to die? Famine is in thy cheeks,
Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,
Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back.
The world is not thy friend nor the world's law.
The world affords no law to make thee rich.
Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.
(5.1.72-78)

Being near death can make people do all kinds of illegal, crazy things. In the case of this apothecary, starvation means that he's willing to break the law and sell poison to Romeo.

Act 5, Scene 3
Romeo

ROMEO
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth,
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And in despite I'll cram thee with more food.
(5.3.45-48)

Romeo describes the Capulet family tomb as a "womb" that has swallowed Juliet's dead body. That … brings whole new meaning to the phrase "womb to tomb."

Juliet

JULIET
O, happy dagger,
This is thy sheath. There rust, and let me die.
(5.3.174-175)

Again with the sexual innuendo: Romeo's "dagger" is going to stay in Juliet's "sheath" forever. We're pretty sure you get this, even without knowing that, in Latin, "vagina" translates directly to "sheath." For these kids, there's almost no distinction between dying together and sleeping together.

JULIET
What's here? A cup, closed in my true love's hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end.—
O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after! I will kiss thy lips.
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make die with a restorative.              She kisses him
Thy lips are warm!

                        Enter Paris’s Page and Watch.
Yea, noise? Then I'll be brief. O happy dagger,
This is thy sheath. There rust, and let me die.
(5.3.166-175)

Juliet does not hesitate to follow Romeo into death. Poison, to her, is like a medicine, a "restorative" that could bring her back together with Romeo. The thing is, there's not enough poison on Romeo's lips so Juliet uses her husband's sword.

CHORUS
The fearful passage of their death-marked love […]
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; 
(Prologue.9, 12)

No surprises here: we know we're heading toward death from the very beginning. To be fair, that is how everything (i.e., life) ends.