How does one summarize Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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To summarize a piece of literature, one must first zero in on the key events found in the work. One thing that makes literature easy to summarize is knowing that almost every work of literature follows a strict formula for plot development. The structure for plot development consists of six elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. The exposition is the starting point in the story; it's the moment when the major characters, setting, and even the major conflicts are introduced. The rising action refers to all events that lead up to the story's climax. The climax is the most intense moment in the conflict and story; it is especially the moment when the resolution comes into view and becomes inevitable. Finally, falling action is any events that also help lead to the resolution, and the resolution is the moment when all conflicts are resolved. The resolution is especially the moment when all loose ends are tied. Since almost all plots contain these elements, to summarize the story line, all you have to do is zero in on these key elements and describe them. Since we are limited in space, below are a couple of ideas to help get you started.

The first act of the play serves as the exposition. It is in this act that we meet every character; plus it is in this act that we are introduced to all of the conflicts. The greatest conflict is introduced in the very first scene, and the greatest conflict is the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. It is the man vs. man conflict of the feud that separates the two lovers and ultimately causes all of the deaths in the play. We know that the feud is ultimately to blame for the deaths because of Prince Escalus's insightful accusation in the final scene, "See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, / That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!" (V.iii.303-04).

The play's climax happens the moment that Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel in Act 3, especially the moment when Romeo decides to avenge Mercutio's death by killing Tybalt. This climatic moment leads to all of the next consequences laid out in the plot, including Romeo's banishment and ultimately the couple's death.

Hence, if we were to write a few sentences summarizing the exposition and conflict, we would write something like the following:

  • Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy concerning two families in Verona. The two families are engaged in a feud that is the leading cause of all the deaths in the play, especially leading to the final conflict between Romeo Montague and Tybalt Capulet.

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