Romeo and Juliet explores the fates of two young lovers whose death is predestined (I am not counting this as a spoiler as everybody knows and you find out in the first minute of the play)! The play centers around how fate intervenes to lead them on a path that results in their tragic end but has wider implications for the imagined version of Verona and the fictional family feud.
Plot Overview, without Spoilers
The play opens with a monologue explaining what it is about. It then shows a scene with a fight between the two families demonstrating the feud that was referenced in the prologue. We are introduced to Romeo who is pining after Rosaline. Romeo’s best friend Mercutio convinces Romeo to attend a ball to help him get over his lovesickness.
At the ball, the character Romeo meets Juliet. The two have an instant connection but we discover that there is a strong reason why they should not be together and that Juliet is being lined up to be married to somebody else.
Romeo and Juliet meet in secret and get married this leads to an awkward confrontation with a member of Juliet’s family that results in Romeo being banished. To still be with one another Juliet launches a plot that goes tragically wrong.
Romeo and Juliet Summary
Warning: this will contain explicit spoilers)
The prologue begins by introducing the two warring families (the Capulets and Montagues and tells us of their long-standing grudge. It also introduces the idea that there will be two lovers in the play and that they will take their lives.
Act 1 Scene 1
The first scene helps to set the scene for the situation between the two families. We see two Capulet servants bragging about being stronger than Montague men and generally making smutty puns. They spot two Montague men and plot to try and start a fight with them within the confines of Verona law. They bite their thumbs at the Montagues which was considered an insult at the time a war of words ensues and this descends into a fight. Benvolio enters and tries to calm things down by drawing his sword.
Tybalt witnesses this and sees it as an act of aggression. Benvolio explains he was trying to keep the peace and Tyblat states that he hates peace almost as much as the Montagues. The brawl continues and Montague and Capulet themselves get involved before it is stopped by Prince Escalus who decrees that he is tired of the unrest and anybody who disturbs the peace again will face the death penalty.
Act 1 Scene 2
Paris and Capulet discuss the idea of Juliet marrying Paris. While Capulet is keen on this he thinks Juliet is too young. Meanwhile, Benvolio and Romeo are invited to the Capulet ball under the assumption they are not Montagues. Benvolio thinks Romeo should go to help him get over Rosaline. Romeo agrees but only because Rosaline’s name is on the guest list.
Act 1 Scene 3
This scene is set just before the feat that the Capulet’s have planned. It serves partially as comic relief thanks to the nurse’s bawdy stories. However, the scene ends with Juliet’s mum announcing that Paris wishes to marry Juliet. Juliet suggests she has not given much thought to marriage but will look out for Paris to see if he is someone that Juliet might like.
Act 1 Scene 4
Once again there is a lot of comedy in this scene thanks largely to the character of Mercutio. He, Romeo and Benvolio are dressed up and ready to attend the Capulet party but Romeo is still pining for Rosaline. Mercutio mocks all of Romeo’s pleas turning his words into innuendos. The conversation takes a darker turn as they talk about a strange dream Romeo has had. Romeo claims that he feels that going to the party will lead to his demise. This is foreshadowing. However, his fears are quelled by Mercutio and they proceed to the party.
Act 1 Scene 5
This is the scene where Romeo meets Juliet for the first time. Upon doing so he instantly forgets Rosaline declaring “Did my heart love till now” meaning that his previous feelings were probably shallow. Unbeknownst to Romeo, he has been spotted by Tybalt who wants to confront Romeo for daring to appear. Capulet stops him but Tybalt swears vengeance for the slight. Romeo and Juliet share a kiss but both are mortified when they later find out that they belong to rival households.
Act 2 Scene 1
Romeo attempts to find Juliet abandoning Benvolio and Mercutio. Mercutio assumes that Romeo has gone to track down Rosaline and playfully insults him. However, Romeo does not respond as he is preoccupied and has already ascended a wall to try and get to Juliet.
Act 2 Scene 2
This is a key scene in the play as Romeo listens in on Juliet as she declares her love for him but bemoans the fact that he is a Montague. She thinks out loud suggesting she would relinquish her very name if he loved her. Romeo announces his presence and declares his love. Juliet wants him to leave as she is worried if he is caught he will be killed. The scene has an interesting back and forth as Romeo comes on strong and despite her feelings, Juliet is hesitant as she is worried things are moving too fast. She arranges to send someone to him in the morning to test whether his love is as true as he is suggesting.
Act 2 Scene 3
The scene opens with Friar Lawrence talking about the properties of certain herbs and foreshadowing the mixture that will eventually lead to the lover’s demise. Romeo enters and the friar suspects he has slept with Rosaline. Romeo explains that he has fallen for Juliet and despite the friar’s skepticism he agrees to marry the pair as he can foresee it leading to peace between the two families.
Act 2 Scene 4
A lot happens in this scene which contains a lot of exposition dressed up in comedy. Firstly we learn through a discussion between Benvolio and Mercutio that Tybalt has issued a challenge to Romeo. Mercutio talks up Tybalt’s mastery of dueling but also makes it clear that he cannot stand the man. Romeo arrives and is mocked by Mercutio for abandoning his friends in search of love.
While this is said in gest there is a suggestion that Mercutio does actually mean what he says. They are joined by the nurse who is ridiculed by Mercutio who effectively accuses her of being a promiscuous lady. Romeo asks the nurse to request that Juliet finds an excuse to attend church so that the pair might marry. Romeo also convinces the nurse to make it possible that the pair can meet on their wedding night.
Act 2 Scene 5
The nurse returns to Juliet and teases Juliet who is impatient for information. Eventually, the nurse tells Juliet of Romeo’s plan.
Act 2 Scene 6
Romeo and Juliet meet and are married by Friar Lawrence.
Act 3 Scene 1
This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the play. Benvolio and Mercutio are approached by a group of Capulets led by Tybalt. Mercutio mocks Tybalt and things become heated. Romeo arrives and Tybalt turns his attention to Romeo. Having just married into the Capulet family Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt which enrages Mercutio who fights Tybalt instead. Mercutio is killed by Tybalt who runs off.
Mercutio dies dramatically still punning before finally passing away cursing both the Capulet and Montague names. Romeo laments the fact that he did not fight Tybalt, claiming that his love for Juliet has made him effeminate. Tybalt returns and Romeo exacts his revenge killing Tybalt. Benvolio convinces Romeo to run away. Prince Escalus arrives and Benvolio explains how Romeo tried to keep the peace. Escalus declares Romeo banished and states if he is ever seen within Verona he will be killed.
Act 3 Scene 2
News of Tybalt’s death is relayed to Julia via the nurse who at first makes it sound like both Tybalt and Romeo are dead which prompts Juliet to consider taking her own life foreshadowing what will eventually happen. The nurse clears up the confusion but this does not help Juliet who is distraught that she won’t get to see her husband on her wedding night. The nurse vows to seek out Romeo and takes a ring as a sign of Juliet’s affection.
Act 3 Scene 3
Romeo is in a state of despair following the loss of his friend and the news he will be banished. He claims that he might as well be dead because it is crueler to be alive and not with Juliet. The nurse arrives and Romeo is once again distraught at the idea that Juliet might think him a murderer. The friar reassures Romeo and hatches a plan for Romeo to visit Juliet that night and then go into exile and allow the news of their marriage to spread and hopefully with time Prince Escalus might change his mind. The ring that Juliet sent helps renew Romeo’s hopes and he sets off to see his wife.
Act 3 Scene 4
The Capulets discuss Juliet potentially marrying Pairs. Lord Capulet promises Paris Juliet’s hand in marriage.
Act 3 Scene 5
Romeo and Juliet awake having consummated their marriage. Juliet doesn’t want Romeo to leave and overcome with love he agrees to do this regardless of the consequences. Realising how dire the consequences will be Juliet convinces him to leave. When he does leave Juliet’s mother enters and tells Juliet she will marry Paris. Juliet refuses. This angers Lady Capulet. Lord Capulet gets involved and is enraged by Juliet’s refusal to obey him. Juliet talks to the nurse who tries to convince Juliet that Romeo is as good as dead and that Paris would be a good match. Juliet pretends to agree and arranges to meet the friar to “confess”.
Act 4 scene 1
Paris talks to the friar about his upcoming wedding. Meanwhile, Juliet arrives and claims she must confess to getting Paris to leave. When he does Juliet threatens to kill herself rather than marry Paris. She and the friar make a plan to use medicine to fake Juliet’s death so she can avoid marrying Paris and be reunited with Romeo.
Act 4 Scene 2
Paris surprises her parents by cheerfully agreeing to marry Paris. Lord Capulet heads off to tell Paris the good news.
Act 4 Scene 3
Juliet asks to be alone at night and prepares to take the potion. She frets over this decision and has visions of Tybalt’s ghost.
Act 4 Scene 4
The next morning Juliet is discovered and presumed dead. Lord and Lady Capulet are joined by Paris in despairing at her presumed demise.
Act 4 Scene 5
This is a largely comic scene where a group of musicians refuses to play cheerful music. It is often cut during productions as it seems far too comic given the somber tone of what has just happened.
Act 5 Scene 1
Romeo is met by Balthazar and seems in good spirits he asks for news of Juliet but is distraught when he learns that she has died. He vows to join her in Verona. On the way to be with Juliet, he buys a vial of poison as he intends to end his own life.
Act 5 Scene 2
Friar Lawrence talks to a fellow friar who has asked to deliver a letter to Romeo informing him of Juliet’s plan. Unfortunately, he could not deliver the note. The friar worries about rescuing Juliet’s body but does not know that Romeo thinks that Juliet is dead.
Act 5 Scene 3
Romeo attempts to break into the tomb but is stopped by Paris who believes Romeo to be there to deface the tomb in some way. Romeo pleads with Paris but a fight is unavoidable. Romeo kills Paris. Romeo reaches Juliet’s body. He positions himself beside her and takes the poison. Juliet awakes and is told by Friar Lawrence that both Romeo and Paris are dead. Juliet tries to kill herself by taking the poison from Romeo’s lips but when this doesn’t work she uses Romeo’s dagger to take her own life. Lord Escalus blames the tragedy on the feuds both the lords agree to end the feud.