Romeo and Juliet
|Title page of the Second Quarto (published 1599)|
|Original title (if not in English)||balls|
|ISBN||ISBN 0486275574, ISBN 1885564112, ISBN 0521618703|
The play begins with a large fight between the Capulets and the Montagues, two prestigious families in Verona, Italy. These families have been fighting for quite some time, and the Prince declares that their next public brawl will be punished by death. When the fight is over, Romeo’s cousin Benvolio tries to cheer him of his melancholy. Romeo reveals that he is in love with a woman named Rosaline, but she has chosen to live a life of chastity. Romeo and Benvolio are accidentally invited to their enemy’s party; Benvolio convinces Romeo to go.
At the party, Romeo locks eyes with a young woman named Juliet. They instantly fall in love, but they do not realize that their families are mortal enemies. When they realize each other’s identities, they are devastated, but they cannot help the way that they feel. Romeo sneaks into Juliet’s yard after the party and proclaims his love for her. She returns his sentiments and the two decide to marry. The next day, Romeo and Juliet are married by Friar Lawrence; an event witnessed by Juliet’s Nurse and Romeo’s loyal servant, Balthasar. They plan to meet in Juliet’s chambers that night.
Romeo visits his best friend Mercutio and his cousin Benvolio but his good mood is curtailed. Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, starts a verbal quarrel with Romeo, which soon turns into a duel with Mercutio. Romeo tries to stop the fight but it is too late: Tybalt kills Mercutio. Romeo, enraged, retaliates by killing Tybalt. Once Romeo realizes the consequences of his actions, he hides at Friar Lawrence’s cell.
Friar Lawrence informs Romeo that he has been banished from Verona and will be killed if he stays. The Friar suggests Romeo spend the night with Juliet, then leave for Mantua in the morning. He tells Romeo that he will attempt to settle the Capulet and Montague dispute so Romeo can later return to a united family. Romeo takes his advice, spending one night with Juliet before fleeing Verona.
Juliet’s mother, completely unaware of her daughter's secret marriage to Romeo, informs Juliet that she will marry a man named Paris in a few days. Juliet, outraged, refuses to comply. Her parents tell her that she must marry Paris and the Nurse agrees with them. Juliet asks Friar Lawrence for advice, insisting she would rather die than marry Paris. Fr. Lawrence gives Juliet a potion which will make her appear dead and tells her to take it the night before the wedding. He promises to send word to Romeo - intending the two lovers be reunited in the Capulet vault.
Juliet drinks the potion and everybody assumes that she is dead — including Balthasar, who immediately tells Romeo. Friar Lawrence’s letter fails to reach Romeo, so he assumes that his wife is dead. He rushes to Juliet’s tomb and, in deep grief, drinks a vial of poison. Moments later, Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead and kills herself due to grief. Once the families discover what happened, they finally end their bitter feud. Thus the youngsters' deaths bring the families together. Romeo And Juliet is a true tragedy in the literary sense because the families gather sufficient self-knowledge to correct their behaviour but not until it is too late to save the situation.
Romeo and Juliet characters
- Romeo — sole heir to the Montague fortune
- Lord Montague — Romeo’s father
- Lady Montague — Romeo’s mother
- Benvolio — Romeo’s cousin
- Balthasar — Romeo’s faithful servant
- Abraham — Montague servant
- Juliet — sole heir to the Capulet fortune
- Lord Capulet — Juliet’s father
- Lady Capulet — Juliet’s mother
- Tybalt — Juliet’s cousin
- The Nurse — Juliet’s faithful Nurse
- Peter — Capulet servant
- Sampson — Capulet servant
- Gregory — Capulet servant
- Friar Lawrence — friend and advisor to Romeo and Juliet
- Mercutio — Romeo’s best friend; Prince’s kinsman
- Prince Escalus — Prince of Verona; kinsman to Mercutio and Paris
- Paris — Loves Juliet
- Rosaline — Romeo’s first love who never actually appears in the play
- Friar John — Friar Lawrence’s friend
- Apothecary — Romeo’s acquaintance in Mantua
The prologue to this play essentially summarizes the entire story. Two prominent families (the Montagues and the Capulets) from the city of Verona are at war with one another. These families have battled against each other for quite some time, but things have recently become even worse. From these households, two people will fall in love, but their “star-cross’d” relationship will end in death. Once these two people die, the families will finally end their bitter feud. The familial grudge, the lovers, and their untimely death will be the topic of this two hour play.
Act I, Scene i
Sampson and Gregory, two Capulet servants, discuss how much they despise the Montague family. The two make puns about how they would like to defeat the Montague men and sexually conquer the Montague women. Their banter is interrupted when they spot two Montague servants. Gregory and Sampson try to determine the best way to begin a fight without being held accountable, and Sampson decides to bite his thumb at the Montagues. As this is considered a strong insult, Abraham and Balthasar, the two Montague men, take offense and begin a verbal quarrel. Benvolio from the Montague side sees this fight and draws his sword to force peace upon both parties. When Tybalt from the Capulet side sees this, he draws his own sword and informs Benvolio that he hates peace as much as he hates all Montagues. A widespread fight breaks out and Lords Capulet and Montague attempt to enter the fray. Their wives force them to stay out of the brawl, a command which is soon reinforced by Prince Escalus. The Prince decrees that the Montagues and Capulets have disturbed the peace too many times, and future disturbances will be punished by death. With that, everybody leaves, except for Montague, Lady Montague, and their nephew, Benvolio.
Montague demands to know how the fight began, and Benvolio explains what happened. Lady Montague is less concerned with the fight than she is with her melancholy son, Romeo. She asks Benvolio if he has seen Romeo, and Benvolio says that he has seen his depressed cousin wandering among the sycamores outside the city. The Montagues are distressed over their son’s sadness and they confide that Romeo will not explain the source of his misery. When Benvolio sees his cousin approaching, he tells Lord and Lady Montague that he will find the source of Romeo’s problems. Romeo’s parents quickly leave, and Romeo approaches Benvolio. He informs Benvolio that he is miserable because he is in love with a woman named Rosaline who does not return his affection. Furthermore, she does not return any man’s affection because she wants to live a life of chastity. Benvolio encourages Romeo to forget about Rosaline by focusing on other beautiful women. Romeo insists that there are no other women for him, and Benvolio vows to prove him wrong.
Act I, Scene ii
Capulet and Paris, one of the Prince’s kinsmen, walk together and discuss Paris’ desire to marry Juliet. Capulet is happy about this request, but he insists that Paris should wait two years because Juliet is not even 14 years old yet. Capulet tries to console Paris by saying that he is throwing a party that would serve as the perfect place for Paris to woo Juliet. Capulet gives a guest list to a servant named Peter and tells him to invite the guests. As Paris and Capulet walk away, Peter reveals that this will not be an easy task because he cannot read. Fortunately, Romeo and Benvolio wander by at that moment and Romeo reads the list aloud. Peter feels relieved and invites Romeo and Mercutio to the masquerade feast, provided that they are not Montagues. Benvolio persuades Romeo to go to the party to get his mind off Rosaline. Romeo agrees, but only because he saw Rosaline’s name on the list.
Act I, Scene iii
At the Capulet house, Lady Capulet tells the Nurse to find Juliet. When Juliet enters the room, Lady Capulet tells the Nurse to leave so she can speak in privacy. She quickly thinks better and tells the Nurse to stay so she can help her. The Nurse immediately reminisces back to Juliet’s youth and states that Juliet is the most beautiful child the Nurse has taken care of. She says that she hopes she will see Juliet married some day, at which point Lady Capulet brings up her subject. She asks Juliet if she wants to get married, and Juliet replies that she hasn’t given the subject much thought. Lady Capulet tells Juliet that Paris will be at the party tonight, and that he would make a fine husband. Juliet succumbs to her mother’s will and says that she will see whether or not she could love him. The conversation is cut short when a servant tells them that the feast is ready.
Act I, Scene iv
Romeo, Benvolio, and their friend Mercutio gather with other guests and walk towards the Capulet’s feast. Romeo wonders how they will get into the feast without being recognized, despite the fact that they are all wearing masks. Mercutio tries to cheer Romeo up by telling him that he must dance at the party. Ever the melancholy one, Romeo replies that he is too depressed to dance. Mercutio then begins one of the most famous speeches from any Shakespeare play when he begins speaking about Queen Mab. At first, Mercutio is lighthearted, but he soon becomes angry. Romeo calms Mercutio down and reveals one final bit of depressing news. He says that he has a terrible feeling about this party, and he fears that death is in the stars. Still, Romeo and his friends make their way into the feast.
Act I, Scene v
The feast begins and all is well. Capulet greets all his guests and everybody is having a wonderful time. Romeo spots Juliet from across the room and he immediately forgets about Rosaline. Tybalt hears Romeo’s voice and becomes enraged. He attempts to start a fight, but Capulet refuses to have any blood shed in his home. Tybalt vows that he will get his revenge at a later time. Meanwhile, Romeo is so smitten by Juliet’s beauty that he asks her to kiss him. The two speak in metaphors that proclaim Romeo as a pilgrim and Juliet as the saint who can redeem him. Juliet agrees to stand still while Romeo eliminates his sin through her lips, but Juliet then realizes that his sin is now in her mouth. Romeo happily takes his sin back by kissing her again. The Nurse interrupts them and sends Juliet to speak with her mother. Romeo learns that Juliet is the daughter of his mortal enemy just as Benvolio tells him it is time to leave. As everybody departs, Juliet nonchalantly asks the Nurse to name certain people. When the Nurse labels Romeo as a Montague, Juliet is devastated.
Act II, Scene i
Romeo feels compelled to stay at Juliet’s house because that is where his heart belongs. He climbs over the wall and into the orchard while his friends taunt him from the other side. Mercutio mocks Romeo’s feelings for Rosaline, but when Romeo does not surface, he and Benvolio go home.
Act II, Scene ii
Romeo hides in the Capulet’s orchard and sees Juliet in her window. Romeo quietly professes his love for her and compares her to various beautiful elements in the world. He remains hidden while Juliet laments over her predicament. Once Romeo is certain that Juliet is as distraught as he is, he makes his presence known. At first, Juliet is startled and slightly angry to know that he invaded her private lamentations. Juliet demands to know why he is there and how he got there. Romeo tells her that the power of his love helped him climb the high walls, and Juliet’s demeanor softens. Romeo and Juliet proclaim their love to one another, and it is clear that they are both serious. However, Juliet wants more proof. After the Nurse calls her inside, Juliet tells Romeo that if he is serious about his vow that he will have word of their marriage tomorrow. He tells Juliet to send somebody to him at 9:00 so they may discuss the subject of marriage. Romeo and Juliet regretfully part for the night, but both are excited about what the day will bring.
Act II, Scene iii
Friar Lawrence is introduced into the play while he tends to his garden. He explains that some plants and flowers have medicinal qualities while others can lead to horrible things. He turns this into a metaphor for the actions of people by stating that a similar battle of good and evil rages within the hearts of men. Friar Lawrence is interrupted when Romeo enters the scene. At first, Friar Lawrence thinks that Romeo spent his night sinning with Rosaline. Romeo informs him that he has “forgot that name and that name’s woe.” Friar Lawrence is happy to hear this until Romeo informs him that he spent the night with his enemy. He tells Friar Lawrence that he is in love with Juliet, and Friar Lawrence is astonished. He justifies Romeo’s change of heart by saying that young men love with their eyes, not with their hearts. Romeo convinces him that his love is true, and that he and Juliet wish to be married immediately. Though reluctant at first, Friar Lawrence gives his consent in hope that this marriage will end the rivalry between Montague and Capulet. Before Romeo leaves, Friar Lawrence advises him to slow down because “they stumble that run fast.”
Act II, Scene iv
Benvolio and Mercutio want to know where Romeo was last night. He never returned to his father’s house, where Tybalt sent him a letter challenging him to a duel. Mercutio and Benvolio are concerned with Romeo’s ability to fight in a duel with his recent melancholic state. Before they can speculate further, Romeo enters the scene. The three banter back and forth and Romeo is clearly in a better mood than he was the last time he saw them. Their playful banter is cut short when the Nurse and Peter enter the scene. Mercutio pokes fun at the Nurse until she asks to speak to Romeo in privacy. Mercutio and Benvolio exit, reminding Romeo to meet them at his father’s house for dinner.
The Nurse is angry at Mercutio’s behavior, which initially makes her suspicious of Romeo’s intentions. She is relieved to hear that Romeo fully plans to marry Juliet. He tells the Nurse that Juliet must find a way to go to church that evening because that is when they will be wed. Romeo also tells the Nurse that he will send his servant to the Capulet house with a rope ladder so Romeo can climb up to Juliet’s window that night.
Act II, Scene v
Juliet impatiently awaits news from the Nurse because she is eager to hear what Romeo said of their marriage. When the Nurse arrives, she procrastinates and avoids giving Juliet the good news. She complains of her aching bones and the incredible heat, and Juliet humors her with mock sympathy. Finally, the Nurse tells Juliet what she has been waiting to hear: she and Romeo will be wed tonight.
Act II, Scene vi
Friar Lawrence and Romeo wait for Juliet in Friar Lawrence’s cell. Friar Lawrence hopes that this wedding is a good idea and that it will not end with sorrow. Romeo is convinced that nothing could end in sorrow because Juliet fills him with so much joy. Juliet enters the cell, where she and Romeo exchange their vows of love. Friar Lawrence sees that the two do indeed love one another, and he performs the wedding ceremony.
Act III, Scene i
Benvolio and Mercutio walk through the streets of Verona and Benvolio suggests that they should go home for the day. He says that if they stay out they are bound to run into the Capulets and a quarrel will be inevitable. Mercutio does not care if they encounter the Capulets; in fact, he wishes they would. His wishes are soon granted because Tybalt and his men enter the scene. Mercutio spurs Tybalt on with a battle of words, while Benvolio tries to convince Tybalt to settle this matter peacefully.
Before Tybalt can respond, Romeo approaches the group. Tybalt tells Romeo that he is a villain, and it is clear that Tybalt wants to fight. However, Romeo wishes to keep the peace because he is now married to Juliet. He tells Tybalt that he has no quarrel with the Capulets and that he considers their name as important as his own. Mercutio is outraged at Romeo’s attempts at peace, and he draws his sword. Tybalt draws his sword and the two begin to duel. Romeo attempts to stop their fight and Tybalt takes that opportunity to stab Mercutio from under Romeo’s arm.
While Tybalt and his men flee, Mercutio reveals the true nature of his wound. He curses the houses of Montague and Capulet before he dies. Romeo immediately realizes that his love for Juliet softened him to the point where he lost his honor and his friend. He vows vengeance and is consumed with rage by the time Tybalt returns. He tells Tybalt that Mercutio’s soul has not gone far and that one of their souls must join him. Romeo and Tybalt engage in a sword fight, and Tybalt falls down dead. Benvolio convinces Romeo to flee because he will surely be killed for this offense. Romeo shouts “I am fortune’s fool” and hastily exits the scene.
The citizens of Verona, the Prince, the Montagues, and the Capulets enter the scene, demanding to know what happened. Benvolio explains that Romeo had good intentions, but he is responsible for Tybalt’s death. Lady Capulet demands justice, but the Prince angrily interrupts her. He says that two people have already died and there is no need to make more men join them. The Prince banishes Romeo from Verona and proclaims that if Romeo is found within Verona’s walls, he shall be killed.
Act III, Scene ii
Juliet impatiently waits for nighttime to fall so she can be with Romeo. The Nurse enters her room with the ladder from Romeo, and Juliet can see that something is wrong. At first, Juliet misunderstands and she thinks that Romeo and Tybalt are both dead. The Nurse clarifies the situation and says that Romeo killed Tybalt and is now banished. Juliet feels betrayed and she cannot believe her misfortune. She soon forgives Romeo, and gives the Nurse her ring to give to Romeo. Despite all that has happened, Juliet still wants to spend a first and final night with her husband.
Act III, Scene iii
Romeo hides in Friar Lawrence’s cell, waiting to learn of his punishment. When Friar Lawrence tells him that he will live, but he has been banished, Romeo is devastated. He claims that there is no life outside of Verona and away from Juliet. Friar Lawrence tries to talk some sense into Romeo by reminding him that he could have been murdered for his actions. However, Romeo is too consumed by his grief to listen to logic, and he continues to throw a near temper tantrum until the Nurse arrives.
The Nurse convinces him to stand up and “be a man” for Juliet’s sake. Once he hears her name, Romeo comes to and inquires about his wife. The Nurse informs him that she weeps for her banished husband and for her murdered cousin. Romeo grabs his sword and attempts to cut out the part of him where his vile name lies. Friar Lawrence stops him and tells him to stop acting “womanish.” Friar Lawrence suggests that Romeo spend the night with Juliet, just as he intended. At the light of day, Romeo is to flee to Mantua, where he will wait until Friar Lawrence can put an end to the familial feuds. Friar Lawrence tells Romeo that he will send his servant to Mantua to update Romeo on his progress. The Nurse and Romeo both agree with this plan, and she gives Romeo Juliet’s ring. Romeo says ‘good-bye’ and prepares to leave.
Act III, Scene iv
Paris returns to the Capulet’s house late on Monday night to see what Juliet said of their potential marriage. Capulet tells Paris that he and his wife have not yet spoken to Juliet regarding that matter because of the deaths that occurred earlier that day. Capulet assumes that Juliet will obey him, and he tells Paris that they will be married on Thursday. Capulet tells Lady Capulet to tell Juliet the good news before she goes to sleep.
Act III, Scene v
It is early Tuesday morning and Romeo and Juliet awake from their night together. Juliet tells Romeo that it is not time for him to leave yet, but he insists that he must go. His maturity rapidly fades and he tells Juliet that he would rather stay with her. She takes on the mature role and tells him that he must leave. The Nurse enters and tells Juliet that her mother is on her way to her chambers. Romeo and Juliet share a final kiss before he escapes through her window. As he leaves, she has a vision of him lying in a tomb.
Lady Capulet enters the room and thinks that Juliet’s distress is over Tybalt’s death. She tries to console her by saying that they will send somebody to avenge Tybalt’s death by killing Romeo. Lady Capulet then switches to the ‘happy’ news of her visit and informs Juliet that she will marry Paris on Thursday. To her mother’s astonishment, Juliet adamantly refuses to have anything to do with that plan. Lord Capulet enters the room and learns of his daughter’s refusal. He threatens her and tells her that she will marry Paris, whether she likes it or not. He storms out of the room.
Juliet tries to plea with her mother, but Lady Capulet will not listen. Juliet turns to the Nurse and begs for her help. The Nurse tells Juliet that Romeo is banished and Paris is a fine young man. She recommends that Juliet go to confession and move on with her life. Juliet realizes that the Nurse is no longer on her side and she agrees to go to confession. Once the Nurse leaves, Juliet reveals that she is going to ask Friar Lawrence for his advice. If he cannot help her, she will resort to suicide.
Act IV, Scene i
Friar Lawrence and Paris discuss the upcoming wedding and Friar Lawrence tries to convince him that Thursday is too soon. Paris reveals that Juliet has been devastated by Tybalt’s death and Lord Capulet thinks this wedding will revive her spirits. Juliet enters the room and tries to avoid Paris’ talk of love and marriage. She asks Friar Lawrence if she can make confession and Paris exits. Once they are alone, Juliet begs Friar Lawrence to help her. She says that if she cannot avoid this marriage, she will certainly kill herself.
Friar Lawrence realizes how dire this situation is and tells Juliet that he has a plan. Juliet will pretend to agree with the marriage to make her family happy. On Wednesday night, she will drink a potion that will induce a sleep that is so deep that she will appear dead. Thursday morning, her family will find her and think she is dead. They will put her in the Capulet tomb, where she will sleep for 42 hours. Friar Lawrence will send word to Romeo about his plan, and Romeo will be waiting in the tomb when Juliet awakens. Then the two can live out the rest of their days together in Mantua.
Act IV, Scene ii
Despite Juliet’s initial disapproval, Lord Capulet, the Nurse, and several servants prepare for the wedding that is to take place in two days. Juliet returns from ‘confession’ and begs her father’s forgiveness. He is thrilled to see that Juliet has returned to her obedient ways and he forgives her immediately. He is so happy by Juliet’s transformation that he decides to hold the wedding on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Juliet asks the Nurse to help her prepare for her wedding and they exit together. Lady Capulet tells her husband that it is late, but he says that he will stay and make sure that everything is perfectly prepared for tomorrow.
Act IV, Scene iii
Juliet tells her mother and the Nurse that she does not need any more help and that she wishes to be left alone. Unaware of what is about to happen, they exit. Juliet is afraid to drink the potion because she has many concerns. At first, she is scared that the potion will not work and that she will have to marry Paris in the morning. Then she becomes scared that Friar Lawrence gave her poison to ensure that she could not tell anybody about his role in her and Romeo’s marriage. Juliet also worries that she might die in the tomb, either by suffocation or by fear. Finally, Juliet imagines that Tybalt’s spirit is going after Romeo and she dismisses her fears. She drinks the potion and falls down as if dead.
Act IV, Scene iv
Capulet, Lady Capulet, the Nurse, and the servants make the last minute preparations for the wedding. While they happily celebrate, they are unaware that Juliet would rather feign death than participate in this occasion. Capulet announces that Paris has arrived and sends the Nurse to Juliet’s room to prepare her for the wedding.
Act IV, Scene v
The Nurse cheerfully enters Juliet’s chambers and tries to wake her. At first, she thinks that Juliet is heavily asleep, but she soon comes to the conclusion that Juliet is dead. Soon after, Lady Capulet rushes into the room and screams for help upon her realization. Capulet, Paris, Friar Lawrence, and the musicians enter the room, and chaos ensues. The true depth of the Capulet’s love for their daughter is revealed as they mourn their terrible loss. Friar Lawrence tries to console them by saying that Juliet is in Heaven now. Capulet states that their happy wedding celebration will now be transformed into a mournful funeral. Everybody leaves except for the musicians, who are not at all concerned with what just took place.
Act V, Scene i
It is Thursday morning and Romeo is waiting to hear news from Verona. Balthasar, Romeo’s servant, enters and tells Romeo that Juliet is dead; he saw her corpse in the Capulet vault. Balthasar does not have any news from Friar Lawrence, so Romeo tells him to return with fast horses, a pen, and paper. Overcome with grief, Romeo remembers that there is an impoverished apothecary in Mantua. Despite the fact that it is illegal to buy poison there, the apothecary grudgingly sells Romeo some poison because he is desperate for money. Romeo exits with the poison, determined to leave this world with his wife.
Act V, Scene ii
Friar Lawrence meets with his friend, Friar John, and asks for the letter Romeo sent. Friar John delivers the terrible news that he was unable to go to Mantua due to the threat of plague. Therefore, he could not deliver Friar Lawrence’s letter to Romeo, so Romeo could not know anything of Friar Lawrence’s new plan. Friar Lawrence asks for a crowbar and attempts to sneak into the Capulet tomb, where Juliet will awaken shortly.
Act V, Scene iii
Outside of the Capulet monument, Paris and a page keep watch for intruders. Romeo and Balthasar approach the tomb, and Romeo bids Balthasar to deliver a letter to Montague. Romeo tells Balthasar that he is just going inside to retrieve Juliet’s ring, and Romeo tells him to leave lest he be killed. Dubious of Romeo’s intentions, Balthasar hides in the churchyard. When Romeo approaches the tomb, Paris recognizes him as the man who murdered Tybalt. He tries to keep Romeo from entering, and they engage in a duel. Romeo kills Paris and the page flees from the scene. Once Romeo realizes who he murdered, he drags Paris inside the vault to bury him with the rest of the deceased Capulets.
Romeo stands next to Juliet and marvels at how beautiful she is, even in death. He kisses her for the last time, drinks his poison, and dies by his wife’s side. Meanwhile, Friar Lawrence arrives and asks Balthasar to enter the tomb with him. Balthasar declines and Friar Lawrence enters alone. He sees that Paris is dead, as is Romeo. To Friar Lawrence’s horror, he can hear people approaching and Juliet awakens. He bids her to leave with him, but she will not go. He flees before his role in the tragedy can be revealed.
Juliet sees that Romeo is dead and he did not leave any poison for her. She kisses him for the last time and plunges a dagger into her heart. Just as she dies, help arrives in the form of a watch and Paris’ page. They discover the three dead bodies and immediately call for help. The Prince arrives, along with the Capulets and the Montagues, and all suspects are called in. Montague reveals that his wife died over the grief she felt over her son’s banishment. The Prince demands to know what happened, and Friar Lawrence relates the entire story. He asks to receive his rightful blame, but the Prince says that they cannot condemn a holy man. Balthasar and the page give their sides of the story, and the truth is revealed when the Prince reads Romeo’s letter to his father. Capulet and Montague shake hands and end the feud that caused so many innocent people to die.
Summary of major Romeo and Juliet characters
Romeo is the only son of Lord and Lady Montague. He is young, impulsive, and above all else, passionate. Once Romeo sets his heart on something—or someone—he is convinced that there are no other alternatives. At the beginning of the play, Romeo is so heartbroken over Rosaline that he can barely function. He devotes every waking breath and thought to the woman he cannot have, but he forgets about her as soon as he lays his eyes upon Juliet. Once he meets her, his ideas of love mature with him. While he can finally grasp the true meaning of love, he is still unable to control his impulsive behaviors. As a result, Romeo acts before he thinks, and he often suffers consequences that could have otherwise been avoided. The most obvious case of this type of behavior is when Romeo drinks poison because he believes his wife is dead. If he had thought about the ramifications of his plans before he acted upon them, Romeo could have potentially lived a long life with his Juliet.
Though she is not yet 14 years old, Juliet’s maturity far exceeds that of Romeo. At first, she seems to be merely obedient and her actions strive to please those she cares about. As the play progresses and Juliet falls in love with Romeo, she becomes rational, strong, and mature. She chooses her words wisely and rarely acts on impulse. When Romeo was banished from Verona, Juliet could have easily packed her bags and left with him. Instead, she chose to do the logical thing and wait for a time when they could be peacefully reunited. Unfortunately, there would never be a time for them to reunite. When Juliet realizes this, she chooses death over life without her husband. However, it is important to note that she kills herself over her pure grief, not because she needs a man to survive.
Though he is a kind and religious man who often gives good advice, Friar Lawrence is also responsible for a great deal of conflict in this play. He frequently comes up with good-intentioned schemes that make situations worse than they need to be. It is quite possible that if he didn’t secretly marry Romeo and Juliet, the Capulets and Montagues could have ended their quarrel. If he did not allow Romeo to sneak into Juliet’s room before fleeing for Mantua, there is a good chance that the lovers would have felt less passionate about each other. If he did not concoct a mystical potion to make Juliet appear dead, two lives could have been saved. Of course, Friar Lawrence cannot be blamed for all that happened. Romeo and Juliet’s largest downfall was fate—Father Lawrence simply lent fate a helping hand.
Juliet’s Nurse is a kind, funny woman who loves Juliet as if she were her own child. She has nursed Juliet since infancy and the two of them are extremely close to one another. She goes out of her way to make Juliet happy, and she only wants what is best for her. The Nurse is Juliet’s only friend and confidante until she gives Juliet advice that she doesn’t want to hear.
Mercutio is Romeo’s best friend and the Prince’s kinsman. He is a clever, witty character who loves to make puns. His cold logic is the foil to Romeo’s love-crazed personality. Mercutio is a good friend to Romeo, Benvolio, and nearly everybody he meets—so long as they are not Capulets. Mercutio strongly believes in honor and self-respect, which is why he becomes so enraged when Romeo allows Tybalt to verbally attack him.
Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin and he is deeply loved by his family. He typically thinks with his sword, not with his head. He is easily angered and it does not take much persuasion for him to draw his sword. He takes great joy in fighting, especially when he fights with the hated Montagues and of course Romeo.
Study questions and discussion items
- Compare and contrast Romeo and Juliet. Do you think they complement each other’s personalities, or do you think they bring out each other’s negative qualities?
- Compare and contrast Mercutio and Tybalt. Do you think they hate each other because of the familial feud, or do you think there is a larger reason?
- Compare and contrast the Montagues and Capulets. Do you think either family’s actions are more justified than the other?
- Consider the accelerated timeline of this play. Do you think Shakespeare condensed the events into five days for a reason?
- Consider the way that Juliet’s family reacted when she refused to marry Paris in comparison to the way they acted when they thought she died. Do you think their outrage at Juliet’s death was genuine?
- Discuss Mercutio’s role in the play. Aside from his death, what made his character important?
- Discuss the role of the servants in the play. Aside from serving the main characters, what is their ultimate purpose?
- Discuss the role of Paris in the play. Why do you think Shakespeare included him?
- Discuss Juliet’s relationship with the Nurse. Why do you think the two of them are so close?
- Discuss Shakespeare’s use of humor. Do you think it lightened the overall tone of this play?
Romeo and Juliet Essay topics
- Describe Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. Given the short amount of time that they knew each other, do you think they could have really loved one another? Give examples to support your position.
- Discuss Friar Lawrence’s role in the tragic ending of this play. Consider his involvement in Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, Romeo’s banishment, and Juliet’s mystical potion while you form your answer.
- What is Romeo’s idea of love? Is his love real, or is it merely puppy love? Compare his feelings for Rosaline with his feelings for Juliet while you answer these questions.
- What is the purpose of the Prologue? Why did Shakespeare forewarn his audience of the events that take place throughout the rest of the play?
- Describe the relationships between parents and their children. Consider how Romeo’s parents treat him compared to how Juliet’s parents treat her. Also consider how the Capulets and Montagues react upon hearing of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths.
Romeo and Juliet quotes
Tybalt: "What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word.
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee."
Benvolio: 'Alas, that love so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof.'
Nurse: 'Why, he's a man of wax.'
Lady Capulet: 'Verona's summer hath not such a flower.'
Romeo: 'O she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night.'
Mercutio: 'Romeo! Humors! Madman! Passion! Lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh.
Speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied.
Cry but "Ay me," pronounce but "love" and "dove".'
Romeo: 'He jests at scars that never felt a wound.'
Juliet: 'O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?'
Juliet: 'What's in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet.'
Juliet: '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.'
Romeo: 'Then I defy you stars!'
Friar Lawrence: 'And here I stand, both to impeach and purge
Myself condemned and myself excused.'
Prince: 'For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.'