Romeo (ROH-mee-oh), the only son of old Montague, a nobleman of Verona. A romantic youth, inclined to be in love with love, he gives up his idealized passion for Rosaline when Juliet rouses in him a lasting devotion. His star-crossed young life ends in suicide.
Juliet (JEW-lee-eht), the only daughter of old Capulet. Little more than a child at the beginning of the play, she is quickly matured by love and grief into a young woman of profound grace and tragic dignity. Unable to find sympathy in her family and unable to trust her nurse, she risks death to avoid a forced marriage, which would be bigamous. Awakening in the tomb to find Romeo’s body, she too commits suicide.
Montague (MON-teh-gyew), Romeo’s father, head of the house of Montague. An enemy of the Capulets, he is a good and reasonable man and father. In the family feud, he seems more provoked than provoking. After the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, he becomes reconciled with the Capulets.
Lady Montague, Romeo’s gentle mother. Tenderhearted and peace-loving, she breaks down under the fury of the clashing houses and the banishment of her son and dies of grief.
Capulet (KAP-yew-leht), Juliet’s fiery father. Essentially good-hearted but furiously unreasonable when thwarted in the slightest thing, he destroys the happiness and the life of his dearly loved daughter. He joins his former enemy in grief and friendship after her death.
Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother. Dominated by her husband, she fails to offer Juliet the understanding and affection the girl desperately needs.
The nurse, Juliet’s good-hearted, bawdy-tongued mentor. She aids the young lovers in consummating their marriage but, lacking in moral principle, she urges Juliet to marry Paris after Romeo is banished. Hence, Juliet has no one to turn to in her great distress and need.
Friar Lawrence, a kindly, timorous priest. He marries the young lovers and tries to help them in their fearful adversity, but he fails, thwarted by fate.
Benvolio (behn-VOH-lee-oh), old Montague’s nephew, the friend of Romeo and Mercutio. Less hotheaded than Mercutio, he tries to avoid quarrels even with the irreconcilable Tybalt. His account of the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt saves Romeo from execution but not from banishment.
Mercutio (mur-KYEW-shee-oh), Romeo’s volatile and witty friend. Poetically fanciful and teasing, he can be a savage foe. His angry challenge to Tybalt after Romeo has behaved with humility leads to various deaths and the final catastrophe. He has a superb death scene.
Paris, a young nobleman in love with Juliet. The hasty marriage planned by the Capulets between Paris and Juliet forces her to fake death to avoid a bigamous union. The false death becomes real for her as well as for Paris and Romeo.
Escalus (EHS-kuh-luhs), the duke of Verona, a kinsman of Mercutio and Paris. A just, merciful ruler, he tries to arrange a peace between the feuding families. He joins them at the tomb that holds their dead children and presides over their reconciliation.
Peter, Capulet’s stupid servant. Unable to read, he asks Romeo and Mercutio to help him with Capulet’s invitation list, thus bringing about the meeting between Romeo and Juliet.
Friar John, a friend of Friar Lawrence. Caught in a home visited by the plague, he is delayed too long to deliver Friar Lawrence’s letter to Romeo informing him about Juliet’s counterfeit death. This is another of the fatal events that work against the young lovers.
An apothecary, a poverty-stricken old wretch. He illegally sells Romeo poison.
Balthasar (BAL-theh-zahr), Romeo’s servant. He brings Romeo news of Juliet’s supposed death and actual internment in the Capulet vault. He accompanies Romeo to the tomb and remains nearby, though ordered to leave the area by Romeo. His testimony, added to that of Friar Lawrence and Paris’ page, enables Duke Escalus and the others to reconstruct the events.
Gregory, servants of Capulet who begin the street brawl at the play’s opening.
Cousin to Capulet
Cousin to Capulet, who joins old Capulet in reminiscences at the dance.
Tybalt (TIHB-ahlt), a fiery member of the Capulet clan. He challenges Romeo at the Capulet feast, but the fight is prevented by old Capulet. Still bearing a grudge, he meets Romeo’s friend Mercutio in the street and kills him in a duel. Romeo then takes up the fight and kills Tybalt.