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Ellen Terry as Juliet, Lyceum Theatre, 1882

Romeo and Juliet

Synopsis and plot overview of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

TL;DR (may contain spoilers): The classic story of boy meets girl; girl's family hates boy's family; boy's family hates girl's family; boy kills girl's cousin; boy and girl kill themselves.

Romeo and Juliet Summary

An age-old vendetta between two powerful families erupts into bloodshed. A group of masked Montagues risk further conflict by gatecrashing a Capulet party. A young lovesick Romeo Montague falls instantly in love with Juliet Capulet, who is due to marry her father’s choice, the County Paris. With the help of Juliet’s nurse, the women arrange for the couple to marry the next day, but Romeo’s attempt to halt a street fight leads to the death of Juliet’s own cousin, Tybalt, for which Romeo is banished. In a desperate attempt to be reunited with Romeo, Juliet follows the Friar’s plot and fakes her own death. The message fails to reach Romeo, and believing Juliet dead, he takes his life in her tomb. Juliet wakes to find Romeo’s corpse beside her and kills herself. The grieving family agree to end their feud.


More detail: 2 minute read

Act I

Romeo and Juliet begins as the Chorus introduces two feuding families of Verona: the Capulets and the Montagues. On a hot summer's day, the young men of each faction fight until the Prince of Verona intercedes and threatens to banish them. Soon after, the head of the Capulet family plans a feast. His goal is to introduce his daughter Juliet to a Count named Paris who seeks to marry Juliet. 

Montague's son Romeo and his friends (Benvolio and Mercutio) hear of the party and resolve to go in disguise. Romeo hopes to see his beloved Rosaline at the party. Instead, while there, he meets Juliet and falls instantly in love with her. Juliet's cousin Tybalt recognises the Montague boys and forces them to leave just as Romeo and Juliet discover one another. 

In modern dress, Juliet wears a while low-cut silk-looking dress and Romeo a white suit and a carnival mask which he has raised to his hairline. The sit on a set of wooden stairs, Juliet below and to the right of Romeo; her left hand is lifted and held in both of his. He looks seriously at her, while she looks modestly down, smiling.
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1986

Act II

Romeo lingers near the Capulet house to talk with Juliet when she appears in her window. The pair declare their love for one another and intend to marry the next day. With the help of Juliet's Nurse, the lovers arrange to marry when Juliet goes for confession at the cell of Friar Laurence. There, they are secretly married (talk about a short engagement). 

Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow

— Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Scene 2

Act III

Following the secret marriage, Juliet's cousin Tybalt sends a challenge to Romeo. Romeo refuses to fight, which angers his friend Mercutio who then fights with Tybalt. Mercutio is accidentally killed as Romeo intervenes to stop the fight. In anger, Romeo pursues Tybalt, kills him, and is banished by the Prince. 

Juliet is anxious when Romeo is late to meet her and learns of the brawl, Tybalt's death, and Romeo's banishment. Friar Laurence arranges for Romeo to spend the night with Juliet before he leaves for Mantua. Meanwhile, the Capulet family grieves for Tybalt, so Lord Capulet moves Juliet's marriage to Paris to the next day. Juliet’s parents are angry when Juliet doesn't want to marry Paris, but they don't know about her secret marriage to Romeo.

Romeo and Juliet Engraving by J. J. Vandenburgh of Henry William Bunbury's watercolour painting. In a stone cell, Juliet in a long white dress and with a white head-covering, sits on a bench. Romeo in a grey doublet and white short hose, wearing a hat with a feather, holds her left hand as the look at each other. On the right the friar, with his back to them, is making a dismissive gesture with his right hand.
Romeo and Juliet with Friar Laurence, Bunbury, 1984

A pair of star-crossed lovers

— Romeo and Juliet, Prologue

Act IV

Friar Laurence helps Juliet by providing a sleeping draught that will make her seem dead. When the wedding party arrives to greet Juliet the next day, they believe she is dead. The Friar sends a messenger to warn Romeo of Juliet's plan and bids him to come to the Capulet family monument to rescue his sleeping wife. 


Ready to test your knowledge? Have a go at our multiple choice Romeo and Juliet Quiz

Act V

The vital message to Romeo doesn't arrive in time because the plague is in town (so the messenger cannot leave Verona). Hearing from his servant that Juliet is dead, Romeo buys poison from an Apothecary in Mantua. He returns to Verona and goes to the tomb where he surprises and kills the mourning Paris. Romeo takes his poison and dies, while Juliet awakens from her drugged coma. She learns what has happened from Friar Laurence, but she refuses to leave the tomb and stabs herself. The Friar returns with the Prince, the Capulets, and Romeo's lately widowed father. The deaths of their children lead the families to make peace, and they promise to erect a monument in Romeo and Juliet's memory.

The empty set: a platform two steps above the front stage has matching structures each side. Each is an arched arcade with pillars, with the same above but with an open arched low balcony rail. To the rear are some steps, and a higher platform with some low buildings and a distant arched structure in the centre.
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1958


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