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Romeo and Juliet

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English Literature

Romeo and Juliet are two of the most famous lovers in history. Inspired by an Italian tale, Shakespeare retold their tragic story that became a synonym for doomed love.

Let's explore Romeo and Juliet (1597) - a five-act tragedy about love, destiny, and much more!

AuthorWilliam Shakespeare
Written between1591-1595
First stage performance1597
GenreTragedyRomance
FormBlank verseIambic pentametre
Dramatic devicesSoliloquyMonologueDramatic ironyAside
Literary devicesForeshadowingPunMetaphorSymbolismParadox

Romeo and Juliet: summary

Set in Verona, Romeo and Juliet is about two star-crossed lovers who can't be together because of the rivalry between their families.

Two noble families in Verona, the Capulets and the Montagues, are sworn enemies. Prince Escalus threatens to punish them if they disturb the peace again. Count Paris wants to marry the daughter of Capulet, Juliet. Capulet accepts Paris' proposal but asks him to wait. Juliet isn't very fond of Paris but her mother, Lady Capulet, and the Nurse try to make her see the advantages of marrying the Count. In the Montagues' household, young Romeo Montague is heartbroken over Rosaline. His cousin, Benvolio, and his friend, Mercutio, convince Romeo to attend the Capulets' ball.

At the ball, Romeo and Juliet meet each other and it's love at first sight. Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, almost attacks Romeo but Capulet stops him. After the ball, Juliet talks to herself about her feelings for Romeo that were awakened despite him being a Montague. Romeo secretly listens to her before he reveals his presence. He also confesses that he's forgotten about Rosaline, and he loves Juliet despite her being a Capulet. Romeo and Juliet desperately want to be together, so they decide to marry in secret.

This scene in Act 2, Scene 2, is known as the 'balcony scene', as Juliet is on her balcony and Romeo is hiding underneath it. This is one of the most famous dramatic scenes of all time.

Romeo confides in Friar Lawrence and asks him to conduct the secret wedding. Friar Lawrence agrees. The Nurse meets Romeo and gets the information back to Juliet. Romeo and Juliet get married. Tybalt, who has not forgotten Romeo and his friends crashing the Capulets' ball, challenges Romeo to a duel. Romeo refuses to fight him and Mercutio takes his place. Tybalt kills Mercutio. In turn, Romeo kills Tybalt. When he finds out about what happened, Escalus banishes Romeo. Before he leaves Verona, Romeo spends his wedding night with Juliet. The two of them are hopeful that they can find a way to reunite. Romeo flees.

Capulet and Lady Capulet think that Juliet is grieving because of Tybalt's death. They decide that it would do her good to get married to Paris earlier than planned. Juliet refuses and her parents are ready to disown her. She goes to Friar Lawrence for advice. He tells her to pretend she's agreed to marry Paris. He gives her a potion that will make her appear dead for 42 hours, but she'll actually be asleep. Friar Lawrence assures Juliet that he will get word of this to Romeo, so that he can be there when Juliet awakens. Juliet drinks the potion. Her mother and the Nurse find her and, convinced that she has passed away, put her in the family crypt.

Friar Lawrence's messenger, Friar John, fails to reach Romeo on time. Romeo's servant, Balthasar, gets to Romeo before the messenger does, and tells him the news of Juliet's death. Romeo is convinced that he can't live without Juliet. He plans to kill himself with poison. Romeo wants to die by Juliet's side so he travels back to Verona. In the Capulet crypt, he runs into Paris who attacks him. Romeo kills Paris. He then takes the poison and falls dead next to Juliet. Juliet awakens to find Romeo's lifeless body. Friar Lawrence arrives and tries to make her leave the crypt. He's afraid of what could happen if either of them is discovered there. Juliet refuses to leave. The Friar departs without Juliet, who kills herself with Romeo's dagger.

Prince Escalus, Friar Lawrence, the Capulets and the Montagues find the bodies in the crypt. The Friar tells everyone what happened. The Capulets and the Montagues are shaken by what their feud has brought about. They agree to maintain peaceful relations.

Romeo and Juliet script brief analysis

Let's explore the main themes and characters in this play.

Themes and quotes

The themes of this famous play are worth examining.

Love

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have, for both are infinite.

- Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

Standing on her balcony, Juliet talks to Romeo about her love for him.

Romeo and Juliet is a play about two young people who are in love. Their love is as beautiful as it is tragic. It brings them joy, but it also causes the couple's death and the deaths of others around them.

Shakespeare depicts love as a chaotic and inexplicable force that can lead to irreversible consequences. When Romeo and Juliet meet, they are instantly drawn to each other. The passion they feel is so deep that they neglect the rules of courting. They decide to marry as quickly as possible. The two young lovers put their love for each other before anything and anyone else in their lives. They don't care for their family's feud or for the governance of Verona.

After marrying Juliet, Romeo sees himself not as a Montague but as Juliet's husband, as her family. Since Tybalt is Juliet's cousin, Romeo feels that fighting him would be wrong. However, Tybalt kills Romeo's closest friend, Mercutio. Romeo is blinded by rage and he kills Tybalt, which shows that Romeo loves Mercutio with the same ferocity as he loves Juliet. In the play, love is a dangerous force, whether it is aimed at a lover or a friend.

Love in Romeo and Juliet is also equated with death. On several occasions throughout the play, the young lovers show that they are ready to die if they can't be together. Romeo commits suicide when he believes that Juliet is dead. When she finds him lying dead, Juliet doesn't hesitate to take her own life. Neither of them wants to live in a world without the other. In death, Romeo and Juliet can preserve their love.

Fate vs free will

I defy you, stars.

- Romeo, Act 5, Scene 1

Romeo sees Juliet lying in the crypt and thinks she is dead. He expresses his defiance against faith.

In the beginning of the play, the Chorus tells us that Romeo and Juliet are 'star-crossed lovers'. This foreshadows the fact that they're not meant to be together for long, at least not in this life. By falling in love with each other, Romeo and Juliet go against the established norms of the society they live in. According to everyone else, they're supposed to hate each other. Instead, they use their free will to rebel against that order and marry in secret. The two young lovers are prepared to be together against all odds. However, their individual decisions can't stand against the overarching power of destiny. It is fate that they meet and that they fall in love. It's also predetermined that they don't have the chance to be together for long.

Friar Lawrence's plan to save their love fails because the messenger doesn't get to Romeo on time. This could be called bad luck or the work of fate.

Although their love is doomed, Romeo and Juliet refuse to accept that. They simply can't be apart. In the end, each of them chooses death over a loveless life.

What do you think - is the lovers' suicide a manifestation of faith or free will?

Light and dark

These violent delights have violent ends

- Friar Lawrence, Act 2, Scene 6

Right before Juliet arrives for the secret wedding ceremony, Friar Lawrence warns Romeo of the dangers of loving with such intensity.

The play is divided into light and dark, both literally and metaphorically. Romeo and Juliet see each other as a light in their otherwise dark existence, which is marked by the hatred of their families.

Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. He means that he has lived in the dark until he saw her.

At the same time, there is a paradox. Romeo and Juliet always meet at night, while the fights between the Capulets and the Montagues take place during the day. This shows that light and dark are intertwined, as you can't have one without the other. In Shakespeare's Verona, light can't be born without darkness, love and hate coexist, and life is followed by death.

Characters

Let's take a look at the play's main characters.

Juliet Capulet

Juliet is the teenage daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At the beginning of the play, Juliet is a modest young lady that does what is expected of her. However, after she meets Romeo and falls in love with him, Juliet reveals her depth of feeling. She shows that nothing can get in the way of her love. Whilst being aware of the risks, Juliet is brave and open about her feelings. She proposes getting married to Romeo. She's not afraid to stand up to her parents when they force her to marry Paris. Juliet is also more reasonable than Romeo and very mature for her age; she is not yet 14. At the same time, she's just as blinded by her passion as him. Without a second thought, she chooses death over a life without Romeo.

Romeo Montague

Romeo is the teenage son of Montague and Lady Montague. When he is first introduced, he's upset over his unrequited love for Rosaline. After he meets Juliet, Romeo immediately forgets about everything else and falls madly in love with her. Romeo is very impulsive, he mostly relies on his heart rather than his mind. When Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo doesn't pause to think his actions through, he kills Tybalt and has to suffer the consequences. However, this proves that Romeo is a loyal friend and someone who is capable of deep love. This is further emphasised by his overwhelming grief when he thinks that Juliet is dead. Romeo's rash nature makes him kill himself before he has the chance to realise that Juliet is only asleep.

Friar Lawrence

Friar Lawrence is a kind Franciscan monk. Romeo and Juliet trust him with their secrets. At first, when Romeo comes to him requesting that he marry him and Juliet, Friar Lawrence is wary. He's a wise man who understands how fickle young people's affections can be. However, he decides to help them because he sees their marriage as an opportunity to achieve peace between the Capulets and the Montagues. Throughout the play, the Friar does everything in his power to help Romeo and Juliet, but his good intentions fail and lead to tragic consequences.

Nurse

The Nurse has raised Juliet. She helps Juliet to keep her secret relationship with Romeo because she loves Juliet like a daughter and wants her to be happy. The same noble intention drives the Nurse to change her mind and to urge Juliet to marry Paris. After Romeo kills Tybalt, the Nurse realises how dangerous Juliet's love is. She wants Juliet to be safe.

Mercutio

Mercutio is Romeo's friend. Mercutio is witty and is not afraid to tell Romeo his opinion of the latter's behaviour. He's also a loyal friend. When Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, Mercutio stands in his place, to save Romeo's honour. When he dies at Tybalt's hands, however, Mercutio curses the Capulets and the Montagues - he realises he has lost his life because of their feud.

Tybalt

Tybalt is the nephew of Capulet and Lady Capulet, and Juliet's cousin. Tybalt has a temper he can't control. He's fuelled by his hatred for the Montagues. Tybalt wants to kill Romeo when he finds out that he has come to the Capulets' ball uninvited. Later, Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel but Mercutio fights him instead. Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo kills Tybalt.

Escalus

Escalus is the prince of Verona. He disapproves of the constant fights between the Capulets and the Montagues. He wants Verona to be a safe community. The Prince threatens the two families with punishment on several occasions. When he finds out that both Mercutio and Tybalt have been killed, Escalus banishes Romeo for being a part of this. When the young lovers' bodies are discovered in the crypt, Prince Eascalus tells the Capulets and the Montagues that even if he didn't succeed at stopping their violence, fate punished them.

The Chorus is also an important 'character'. In the prologue of Act 1, the Chorus introduces the situation in Verona and informs the audience that the story has a tragic end. The lines of the Chorus are in sonnets.

How has Romeo and Juliet influenced culture today?

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most widely read and performed plays of all time. The tragedy has been translated into almost every language and still has thousands of performances around the world.

The expression 'Romeo and Juliet' has become synonymous with different things, including but not limited to young lovers, two people who are madly in love, or forbidden love. Have you ever called your friend 'a Romeo' when they were being a bit too romantic? The names of the two characters are so iconic and so instilled in our culture today, that you may not even notice how often they're referred to.

Romeo and Juliet has had many adaptations for stage, opera, ballet, screen, literature, and art. But did you know that the famous 1957 musical West Side Story (that had a recent remake in 2021) is based on Romeo and Juliet? The musical sets the story in 1950s New York.

Romeo and Juliet - Key takeaways

  • Romeo and Juliet (1597) is one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. It is a five-act play written between 1591-1595.
  • Set in Verona, the play is about two star-crossed lovers who can't be together because of the rivalry between their families. Romeo and Juliet marry in secret and plan to run away together but things go wrong. The feud between the two families causes the death of the young lovers.
  • The main themes in Romeo and Juliet are love, the tension between fate and free will, and the struggle between light and dark.

  • The main characters are Juliet, Romeo, Friar Lawrence, Nurse, Mercutio, Tybalt, and Escalus.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet was written between 1591 and 1595.

Romeo and Juliet might have been a real story but we can't be sure. Shakespeare took the story from the poem 'The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet' (1562) by Arthur Brooke. Brooke based his poem on an Italian tale. In The History of Verona (1594), Girolamo dalla Corte claims that the story of Romeo and Juliet was real and it took place in 1303.

Romeo and Juliet has many famous quotes. Perhaps the most famous line in the play is the ending line, spoken by Escalus in Act 5, Scene 3:

'For never was a story of more woe 

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.'

Romeo kills himself with poison because he thinks that Juliet is dead. Actually Juliet has taken a sleeping potion. When she awakes and finds Romeo dead, she stabs herself with his dagger.

An important quote from Romeo and Juliet is 'These violent delights have violent ends.' (Act 2, Scene 6). Friar Lawrence warns Romeo of the dangers of loving with such intensity. This quote foreshadows that the love between Romeo and Juliet will lead to tragic consequences.

Final Romeo and Juliet Quiz

Question

Where is Romeo and Juliet set?

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Answer

Verona

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Question

What is the name of Romeo's family?

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Answer

Montague

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Question

Which character conducts the secret marriage between Romeo and Juliet?

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Answer

Friar Lawrence

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Question

True or false: Juliet kills herself with poison.

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Answer

False.

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Question

True or false: with his last breath, Mercutio curses the Capulets and the Montagues.

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Answer

True.

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Question

What is NOT true of the theme of love in Romeo and Juliet?

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Answer

 Love is shown as something false that doesn't exist.

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Question

How does the Chorus refer to Romeo and Juliet at the beginning of the play?

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Answer

As 'star-crossed lovers'

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Question

True or false: Romeo and Juliet always meet during the day.

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Answer

False.

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Question

True or false: Romeo kills Tybalt because Tybalt offends Juliet.

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Answer

False. 

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Question

True or false: Romeo and Juliet see each other as a light in their otherwise dark existence.

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Answer

True.

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Question

Which character tries to stop the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets?

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Answer

Escalus

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