Romeo and Juliet Act 5 - Scene 2 Summary

Instructor: Meredith Spies

Meredith has studied literature and literary analysis, holding a master's degree in liberal arts with a focus on depictions of femininity vs masculinity in literature and art.

This lesson is a summary of Act 5, Scene 2, from Shakespeare's ''Romeo and Juliet''. In this act, the tragic nature of the play is fully realized as an important message fails to reach Romeo, and Juliet lies sleeping in her family's tomb.

Background to Act 5, Scene 2

Act 5, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet involves a conversation between two monks about an undelivered letter. In Scene 1 of the same act, Romeo has received news that Juliet is dead and entombed. He has made the decision to kill himself and purchased the poison before leaving the city of Mantua and heading for the Capulet family tomb. Scene 2 is quite short, but it also serves to highlight the miscommunications and twists of fate, which lead to the demise of Romeo and Juliet.

Summary of Act 5, Scene 2

Act 5, Scene 2 takes place entirely in Friar Laurence's cell, an archaic term for a monk's quarters in an abbey or a monastery. Friar Laurence, confidant to Romeo and Juliet in their plans to elope, greets his friend, Friar John. In an earlier scene, Laurence entrusted John with a letter for Romeo explaining Juliet's plan to fake her own death. John had been sent so that no one would suspect Laurence's involvement, knowing he was close to the pair.

Laurence is in a good mood and asks for John to give him word from Romeo, or a letter if Romeo decided to write his response down instead. However, John has some bad news for Laurence: He never got the message to Romeo about Juliet's plans to take a potion that will put her into a death-like sleep.

John relates the story of his mishap on the way to Mantua. Believing that a fellow monk who had been visiting the sick belonged to the same order as John, town officials had the latter quarantined. As a result, John could not get the letter to Romeo himself, nor could he convince a messenger to take it for him, so great was the fear of infection. He gives Laurence back the letter meant for Romeo, at which point the former exclaims: 'Unhappy fortune!'

Laurence explains to John that the letter contained important information. As it never reached Romeo, dangerous consequences may be in store. Laurence orders John to go find him an 'iron crow' or crowbar. John runs to find him one, and Laurence prepares to go to Juliet's tomb and free her.

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