Romeo and Juliet walk out onto Juliet’s balcony after having spent the night together. It is nearly morning, and Romeo is preparing to leave. Juliet insists that day has not yet broken, and Romeo should stay a while longer, but he insists that “night’s candles are burnt out,” and it is time for him to make haste unless he wants to be killed. Juliet, realizing that what Romeo says is true, has a change of heart and begins urging him to hurry to Mantua before he’s caught. Romeo looks out on the dawn and laments that as “more light” breaks, his and Juliet’s troubles grow “dark[er.]” The nurse enters and announces that Lady Capulet is on her way to Juliet’s room. Juliet states that as the window “let[s] day in,” it “let[s] life out.”
This passage represents Shakespeare’s inversion of common preconceptions about day and night, light and dark. While day and light are usually purifying, happy symbols, within the world of the play, the dawning sun is garish, draining, and loathed because it represents the end of Romeo and Juliet’s time together—and the threat of being discovered by their families in the harsh light of day.
After a kiss farewell, Romeo climbs down the rope ladder. Juliet calls after him, worried that it will be years before they see one another again. Romeo insists that he will send her greetings as often as he can, and says he believes in his heart they’ll be together again soon. Juliet, looking down the ladder at Romeo, says she’s having a terrible premonition—Romeo is so far below her it’s as if he’s “dead in the bottom of a tomb.” Romeo begs Juliet not to worry, then takes his leave.
Juliet’s premonition as she looks down the ladder at Romeo hearkens back to Romeo’s portentous dream the night before the Capulet ball. Both of them know, on some level, that they are pawns of fate—and perhaps even sense that their love is doomed—but choose to ignore their instincts.
Lady Capulet calls out to Juliet and asks how she’s doing. Juliet says she’s feeling poorly. Lady Capulet tells Juliet that it’s time to stop crying for Tybalt. Juliet says she can’t help but weep, and Lady Capulet then suggests that Juliet weep not because Tybalt is dead—since her tears won’t do him any good in the grave—but because the “villain” who killed him, Romeo, still lives. Juliet, putting on an act, says she wishes she could avenge Tybalt’s death. Lady Capulet says that a plan to do just that is already in motion—she is planning on sending instructions and poison to a friend who lives in Mantua, ordering the man to kill Romeo on sight. Juliet says she wishes she could mix the poison herself.
Juliet knows that if her parents find out about her love for Romeo, her already-miserable situation will only get worse. She chooses to let her mother believe she’s crying over Tybalt, and to play up her hatred of Romeo to throw her mother off. Her violent speech about Romeo belies her intense love for him.
Lady Capulet tells Juliet that it’s time to talk of nicer things—she has some good news for her daughter. Juliet asks what the news is. Lady Capulet says that in order to help Juliet feel better, her father has “sorted out a sudden day of joy,” and arranged for her to be married to Paris on Thursday morning. Juliet says she doesn’t want to marry Paris—she would, she says, marry her sworn enemy Romeo before him. Capulet and the nurse enter, and Capulet asks why Juliet is still crying—surely, he says, her mother must have given her the happy news. Lady Capulet says the ungrateful Juliet isn’t happy about her marriage, adding that she wishes her daughter “were married to her grave.” Capulet, too, is enraged by Juliet’s stoicism, and asks why she isn’t “proud.” Juliet screams that she can never be proud of something she hates.
Though Juliet once claimed that Romeo and his family were her “only hate,” she’s come a long way since making that characterization. What she hates now is not Romeo or any one of the Montagues—rather, it is her parents, Paris, and all that their sneaky attempts to conspire about her fate behind her back represent. Juliet’s loyalties are shifting, and she is questioning the duty she owes to her parents when they so clearly seem to believe they have no duties or responsibilities to her happiness in return.
Capulet screams at Juliet for her ungratefulness, and tells her that no matter what, she is going to marry Paris on Thursday—if she refuses, he will “drag” her to the church.” Juliet begs her father to listen to her, but Capulet is so angry that he calls Juliet a “curse” upon their family. The nurse chides Capulet for speaking so coarsely of his daughter. Capulet orders the nurse, whom he calls a “fool,” to “hold [her] tongue.” He continues railing against Juliet, lamenting that he’s worked hard to find her a good match and make sure she’s taken care of, only to be rewarded with cruelty and ingratitude. He tells Juliet that if she doesn’t agree to the marriage, he will disown her and never acknowledge her as his daughter again. Capulet storms out angrily.
Capulet is so threatened by the idea that his plans to use his daughter for his own social advancement might not work out that he spews vitriol at anyone who questions him. Though there is certainly a “curse” or plague upon the House of Capulet, it’s not Juliet—rather, it’s her father’s own shortsightedness and narcissism that corrupt everything in his path.
Juliet begs her mother to delay the marriage a while—otherwise, Juliet says, her parents might as well build the bridal bed inside of the Capulet crypt. Lady Capulet, furious as her husband, tells Juliet to do whatever she wants—her parents are “done” with her, then storms away Juliet, crying, asks her nurse what can possibly be done. The nurse urges Juliet to marry Paris, since Romeo is banished and may never come back, while Paris is a fine gentleman and a better match than Romeo ever was. Juliet asks her nurse if she’s speaking from the heart, and the nurse says she is. Juliet says her nurse has comforted her greatly and orders the woman to go tell Lady Capulet that Juliet has gone to Friar Laurence’s chambers to make confession and be absolved for having so offended her father. The nurse congratulates Juliet on her wise choice, then hurries off.
Juliet is mad with rage and desperation as she threatens suicide should her parents force her to go through with the marriage to Paris. Again, her feelings—any feelings connected to her love for Romeo—are so intense that in trying to express them she resorts to violent thoughts and speech. Even though Juliet talks a big talk, once she realizes that her parents really mean to disown her, she gets busy with making false amends in order to buy herself more time to figure out a solution to her problems.
Alone, Juliet remarks what a “wicked fiend” the nurse is, and says she regrets having ever trusted her. Juliet resolves to go to Friar Laurence—not to confess, but to seek the man’s counsel and a “remedy” to her woes. If he can’t help her, she says, she will take her own life rather than insult Romeo by marrying Paris.
Juliet’s nurse has been her companion and ally for over a decade—and yet as soon as the woman speaks against Romeo, she is effectively dead to Juliet. Juliet will not suffer anyone who does not support her love for Romeo, and will sever herself from anyone who stands in its way.