In the graveyard outside the church, Paris sneaks close to the Capulet crypt to scatter flowers around Juliet’s resting place while his page keeps watch nearby. Paris vows to come to Juliet’s grave nightly. When his page whistles, indicating that someone is coming, Paris hides. Romeo and Balthasar enter with torches, a pickax, and a crowbar. Romeo takes the ax and crowbar and gives Balthasar a letter, which he orders him to bring to Montague early the next morning. Romeo tells Balthasar that he is going into the crypt, and orders Balthasar not to interrupt him no matter what—on pain of death. He pays Balthasar for his troubles, wishes him good luck, and bids him goodbye. Balthasar, however, resolves, in an aside, to hide nearby—he is nervous about Romeo’s mental state and unsure of his master’s intentions.
Paris is, in his grief, just as devoted a lover as Romeo, promising that he will visit Juliet every day to scatter flowers upon her grave and mourn her. This scene calls into question the nature of love, and raises the issue of whether Paris’s overzealous, melodramatic grief over Juliet’s death is any falser or less worthy than Romeo’s—which is just as outsized and ridiculous.
Romeo resolves to crack the crypt open with his tools and feed himself into deaths’ “detestable maw.” Paris watches, surprised and angry at the sight of the “villain” who murdered Tybalt desecrating the Capulet crypt. He approaches Romeo and orders him to stop—if Romeo doesn’t accompany Paris to be turned over to the authorities, Paris says, he will kill him. Romeo warns Paris not to “tempt […] a desperate man.” He urges Paris to go away and forget what he’s seen—otherwise, Romeo says, he will kill Paris. Paris says he will not obey Romeo, and the two begin to fight. As Romeo stabs Paris, Paris’s page runs off to gather the citizens’ watch. Paris falls and dies, begging to be laid to rest next to Juliet.
Paris is blindly allegiant to House Capulet to the end—he clearly has no idea about the truth of anything that’s happened between the two warring clans over the last couple of days, and, like Tybalt, wants to kill Romeo on sight simply because of who he is.
As Romeo stands over Paris’s body, he remembers a piece of gossip Balthasar told him on the ride from Mantua—that Paris was supposed to marry Juliet, or already had. He wonders if he misheard Balthasar, or if, in his madness over Juliet’s death, simply imagined what Balthasar was telling him. Romeo, feeling badly for Paris’s misfortune, opens the Capulet crypt and lays him inside.
Romeo doesn’t feel angry or competitive with Paris—this shows that he is both secure in his love for Juliet and hers for him, but also demonstrates the deterioration of his mental state. Romeo is so wildly depressed that he can’t even muster anger at the idea that another could love or marry Juliet.
As he descends into the crypt and lays eyes on Juliet, Romeo remarks that though death has taken Juliet’s breath from her body, it has “had no power yet upon [her] beauty.” Her cheeks and lips still appear flushed, and she looks as beautiful in death as she did in life. Romeo, afraid that death itself has claimed Juliet to be its own lover, resolves to kill himself near her so that he can stay by her and guard her forever. He embraces Juliet and kisses her one last time, then takes out the poison, drinks it, and dies, remarking how “quick” the apothecary’s drugs are.
Friar Laurence enters the graveyard carrying a torch and crowbar of his own. Seeing a mess strewn about, he asks who is there. Balthasar answers, and tells him that Romeo went down into the crypt half an hour ago. Friar Laurence asks Balthasar to descend into the crypt with him, but Balthasar says he can’t—Romeo threatened to kill him if he entered. Friar Laurence resolves to go alone into the crypt in spite of his fears. As he enters, he sees the corpses of Romeo and Paris, and laments both their deaths.
Friar Laurence has gotten in way over his head. He wanted to help Juliet and Romeo actualize their love for one another in hopes of mending Verona’s ills, but instead, has found himself in the middle of a chaotic mess of his own making. He tried to control fate but has become yet another one of its victims—in his attempts to change his society for the better, he has only struggled in vain.
Juliet stirs, then wakes. She says hello to Friar Laurence and asks where Romeo is. There is a noise outside the crypt, and Friar Laurence urges Juliet to get up from her bier and follow him out of the tomb. He tells her that Paris and Romeo are both dead—their plan has been “thwarted” by forces beyond their control. Only then does Juliet notice the bodies around her. As the noise sounds again, Friar Laurence tells Juliet that he is leaving right away—and she should come, too, so that he can send her away to hide in a nunnery.
Juliet wakes up out of her potion-induced sleep to find a horrible massacre around her—her worst fears have come true. Given the option of running away with Friar Laurence to a nunnery or facing a life without Romeo, Juliet is stuck between two undesirable ends.
Friar Laurence leaves, and Juliet is left alone in the tomb. She looks upon Romeo’s corpse and, seeing a cup in his hand, realizes he has poisoned himself. She checks the cup to see if there is any poison left, so that she can join him in death, but curses him for drinking it all. She kisses his lips, hoping to ingest even a drop, but there is none left in his mouth. As the sounds of the watch approach, Juliet grabs Romeo’s dagger from his hip, stabs herself, and dies.
Juliet and Romeo have both used potions and poisons as a means of escaping the consequences of their actions. Now, with no way out, Juliet is torn between facing her family or hiding away in a nunnery for the rest of her life. She chooses to take her own life to be with Romeo, imagining, as she plunges the dagger into her heart, that it will slowly “rust” there over the years. Romeo and Juliet’s “violent delights” have, as foretold, come to “violent ends.”
Paris’s page leads a group of watchmen down into the Capulet crypt. The chief watchman finds the “pitiful sight” of Paris, Romeo, and Juliet, all dead, in the bottom of the crypt—he realizes that Juliet was merely faking her death when she was buried two days ago but has now taken her own life for real. He orders his watchmen to go collect Prince Escalus, the Capulets, and the Montagues—he is determined to find out the cause of “all these piteous woes.” Soon, a second watchman returns with Balthasar, while a third returns with Friar Laurence, who has been caught fleeing the graveyard with an ax and shovel.
The play doesn’t end with Romeo and Juliet’s deaths—Shakespeare extends the action in order to show that their deaths, tragic as they are, will indeed serve some purpose. Just as the chorus promised, their untimely ends may be the only things to put an end to the “mutiny” in Verona and the “ancient grudge” between the Capulets and Montagues—but only if swift action is taken to understand what happened to them.
Prince Escalus enters with his attendants, annoyed that he’s been risen from bed so early. Capulet and Lady Capulet, too, arrive on the scene, desperate to know what’s going on—in the streets, they’ve heard people crying the names of Romeo, Juliet, and Paris. The chief watchman tells them all that Romeo and Paris are dead, and that Juliet is “new killed.” Montague enters and says that, at the news of Romeo’s exile, Lady Montague fell ill and died. He asks what “further woe” he must endure, and the prince tells him to look inside the crypt. At the sight of his son’s corpse, Montague chides Romeo for going to the grave before his father. The prince urges the Capulets and Montague to quiet down and stopper their sadness and rage until the investigation is complete and the truth is known. He orders his watchmen to bring forth the suspects.
Even though Romeo, Juliet, and Paris are dead, there is little time for mourning—Prince Escalus is determined to get to the bottom of what happened in hopes of rooting out the destruction of Verona at the hands of these two warring houses once and for all. Both families have had to reach the lowest points of their misery and pain in order to see the truth of what they’ve wrought on their city, their kinsmen, and indeed even their enemies.
Friar Laurence speaks up to clear the air. He admits that he married Romeo and Juliet in secret on the day of Tybalt’s death—Juliet was, all along, pining for the exiled Romeo and not the deceased Tybalt. In trying to soothe her, he says, her parents married her to Paris—but only drove Juliet further into her grief. The friar admits to giving Juliet a potion which would make her appear dead so that she could run away with Romeo, then explains how the plan went awry. After realizing Romeo would not receive word of the scheme, Friar Laurence came to the crypt to retrieve Juliet—but when he arrived, he found Romeo and Paris dead, and could not convince Juliet to follow him away from the tomb. Friar Laurence says that if he's responsible for her death, he should be punished by the “rigor of severest law.”
Friar Laurence recounts the tale of Romeo and Juliet’s ill-fated love and unlucky marriage, acknowledging that he is responsible for many of their story’s tragic turns. He insists that he only wanted to help them—but his conscience cannot let him escape his complicity in their unhappy ends.
Prince Escalus brings forth Balthasar and asks him to say his peace. Balthasar says that after he brought Romeo news of Juliet’s death, Romeo fled Mantua for Verona, gave Balthasar a letter for Montague, and threatened Balthasar with death if he followed Romeo into the crypt. The prince looks at the letter, then calls forth Paris’s page, who says that Paris also ordered him to hide while he attended to business at the crypt. The prince announces that Romeo’s letter confirms the truth of Friar Laurence’s testimony.
Prince Escalus is fed up with the violence and tragedy in his community and is determined to root it out through an investigation which lays bare who is responsible for what, and why.
Prince Escalus orders Montague and Capulet to “see what a scourge is laid upon [their] hate.” Because of their feud, he says, the prince, too, has lost noble and valued kinsmen. “All are punished,” he says, by the hatred Capulet and Montague have sown. Capulet calls Montague towards him, referring to him as “brother,” and asks for his hand. His forgiveness, he says, is Juliet’s dowry. Montague states that he will erect a pure gold statue in Juliet’s form—as long as Verona stands, so too will her monument. Capulet says he’ll erect a statue of Romeo, too, so that both victims of their feud are honored.
Prince Escalus, in pointing out that “all are punished,” shows that no good comes of senseless hate and cruelty. Romeo and Juliet are dead, and their parents will mourn them for the rest of their lives—all because of their silly feud. Just as the chorus predicted, Romeo and Juliet’s tragic deaths were the wake-up call their parents needed in order to at last put an end to their “ancient grudge.”
As dawn begins to spread across the sky, Prince Escalus announces the arrival of “a glooming peace.” The day will be cloudy, he predicts—the sun will not show his face on such a day. The proceedings are not yet finished, the prince says—he calls everyone gathered at the crypt to come with him so that some can be pardoned while others receive punishment. The prince concludes the play by stating that there “never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
The prince of Verona genuinely laments all the misery and hardship his people have suffered, and he intends to try his best to set things right and ensure that something like Romeo and Juliet’s woeful tale never happens again. This ending, while tragic, hints at the idea that society’s most vulnerable individuals can affect change—but that, unfortunately, it may take great tragedy or loss of life in order to underscore society’s failings.