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Ellen Terry as Juliet, Lyceum Theatre, 1882

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.

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. 

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1986
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.

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 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. 

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.

Royal Shakespeare Company, 1958
Royal Shakespeare Company, 1958

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