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Ellen Terry as Juliet, Lyceum Theatre, 1882

Romeo and Juliet

Summary of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet: 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.

Act I

Romeo and Juliet begins as the Chorus introduces two feuding families of Verona: the Capulets and the Montagues. As the young men of each faction fight each other on a hot summer's day, the Prince of Verona intercedes and threatens them with the law unless they stop. Around the same time, the head of the Capulet family plans a feast to introduce his daughter Juliet, who is almost fourteen, to a Count named Paris, who seeks to marry her. By a mistake, Montague's son Romeo and his friends (Benvolio and the Prince's cousin Mercutio) hear of the party and resolve to go in carnival disguise. Romeo hopes he will see his adored Rosaline; instead, while there, he meets and falls instantly in love with Juliet. While at the party, the Montague boys are recognised by Juliet's cousin Tybalt, and are forced to leave just as Romeo and Juliet have each discovered one another. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1986
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1986

Act II

Romeo lingers near the Capulet's house to talk with Juliet when she appears in her window. The pair declare their love for one another and intention to be married 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


Following the secret marriage, Tybalt sends a challenge to Romeo who, after refusing to fight, angers Mercutio who, in turn, quarrels with Tybalt. Mercutio is accidentally killed as Romeo intervenes to try to break up the fight. In anger, Romeo pursues Tybalt, kills him, and is banished by the Prince. Juliet is anxious that Romeo is late meeting her and learns of the brawl from her Nurse. With Friar Laurence's help, they arrange for Romeo to spend the night with Juliet before taking refuge in Mantua. To calm the Capulet family's sorrow at Tybalt's death, Juliet's marriage to Paris is hastened. Juliet’s parents are angry that she doesn't want to marry Paris, not knowing about her secret contract with Romeo. 

Engraving by J. J. Vandenburgh of Henry William Bunbury's watercolour painting (see above)
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, so that when the wedding party arrives to greet Juliet the next day, they will believe she is dead. The Friar sends a colleague to warn Romeo and bid him to come to the Capulet's family monument to rescue his sleeping wife.

Act V

The message is delayed due to plague being 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, promising to erect a monument in their memory.

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1958
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1958

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