Summary of the Play
The play opens with the servants of the Montague and Capulet families quarreling and fighting in the streets of Verona, Italy. The two families have been enemies for as long as anyone can remember. Romeo, son of Lord Montague, accidentally finds out about a ball given by Lord Capulet and plans to attend uninvited. Romeo and his friends Mercutio and Benvolio put on masks and attend the ball, where Romeo meets the beautiful Juliet and falls instantly in love. Later that night Romeo goes to Juliet’s balcony, and they exchange vows of love. Romeo enlists the help of Friar Laurence, who agrees to marry the young lovers in hopes of ending the long-standing feud between the two families.
Romeo returns from his wedding and finds that his friend Mercutio is engaged in combat with Tybalt, a member of the Capulet family. Tybalt kills Mercutio. Romeo, enraged over his friend’s death, then slays Tybalt. Romeo immediately realizes that he has murdered his wife’s cousin and flees to Friar Laurence for help. He also learns that the Prince has banned him from the city under penalty of death if he is found within its borders. Friar Laurence arranges for Romeo to spend one last night with Juliet before he flees to Mantua.
In the meantime, Lord Capulet, unaware that Juliet is married to Romeo, has promised her hand in marriage to Paris. When Juliet is told of the arranged marriage, she is desperate and seeks the help of Friar Laurence, who gives her a vial of sleeping potion. The potion will have a death-like but temporary effect. The plan is for Juliet to take the potion, appear to be dead, and be laid out in the family vault. Romeo will come to the vault the next night and be there waiting when she awakens. The couple will then flee to Mantua to live. Friar Laurence sends the important message to Romeo telling him of his plan to help Juliet, but the message never reaches Romeo. Juliet, assured by Friar Laurence that Romeo will be waiting for her when she awakens in the tomb, goes home and drinks the potion.
Hearing that Juliet is dead, Romeo purchases poison from a poor apothecary and rushes to her tomb. Upon his arrival, he finds Paris, also in mourning. Thinking that Romeo has come to rob the tomb, Paris fights with Romeo. Romeo kills Paris, enters into the tomb, and buries Paris there. He then bids farewell to Juliet and takes the poison. Awakening from her death-like sleep, Juliet discovers her dead lover and kills herself with Romeo’s dagger. Friar Laurence arrives too late to save the lovers and tells the Prince the entire story. The Montagues and Capulets promise to end their hostilities, which have caused the deaths of their only children.
Estimated Reading Time
Because of the play form and the language of Shakespeare, an average student should spend about an hour per act in individual reading. Each act may be broken down into two or three scenes at a time to ensure understanding. The language might be difficult at first and will require careful examination of footnotes or help located in the text. After reading each scene, you should answer all study questions in relation to that scene to ensure understanding and comprehension. The essay questions may be used if needed. Since there are five acts in Romeo and Juliet, you should expect to spend approximately five hours divided in segments of eight to ten sessions.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In Verona, Italy, there live two famous families, the Montagues and the Capulets. These two houses are deadly enemies, and their enmity does not stop at harsh words, but extend to bloody duels. Romeo, son of old Montague, thinks himself in love with haughty Rosaline, a beautiful girl who does not return his affection. Hearing that Rosaline is to attend a great feast at the house of Capulet, Romeo and his trusted friend, Mercutio, don masks and enter the great hall of their enemy as guests. Romeo is no sooner in the ballroom than he notices the exquisite Juliet, Capulet’s daughter, and instantly forgets his disdainful Rosaline. Romeo never saw Juliet before, and in asking her name he arouses the suspicion of Tybalt, a fiery member of the Capulet clan. Tybalt draws his sword and faces Romeo. Old Capulet, coming upon the two men, parts them, and with the gentility that comes with age requests that they have no bloodshed at the feast. Tybalt, however, is angered that a Montague should take part in Capulet festivities and afterward nurses a grudge against Romeo.
Romeo goes to Juliet, speaks in urgent courtliness to her, and asks if he might kiss her hand. She gives her permission, much impressed by this unknown gentleman whose affection for her is so evident. Romeo then begs to kiss her lips, and when she has no breath to object, he presses her to him. They are interrupted by Juliet’s nurse, who sends the young girl off to her mother. When she goes, Romeo...
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Summary and Analysis
Act I, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis
Sampson: a servant in the Capulet household
Gregory: a servant in the Capulet household
Benvolio: a peace-loving friend to Romeo and the Montague family
Tybalt: a fiery-tempered member of the Capulet family
Lord Capulet: the head of the Capulet household
Lady Capulet: the wife of Lord Capulet and mother of Juliet
Lord Montague: the head of the Montague household
Lady Montague: the wife of Lord Montague and the mother of Romeo
Prince Escalus: the Prince of Verona whose job is to keep the peace
Romeo: the tragic hero of the play who falls in love with the enemy’s daughter, Juliet
Paris: the young nobleman who is asking Lord Capulet for Juliet’s hand in marriage
Servant: a servant to the Capulet family who has been asked to deliver invitations to the ball
Abram: servant to Montague
Before the action of Act I begins, the Chorus sets the stage with the Prologue, which summarizes the basic plot of the play. It states that two families in Verona have been bitter enemies for centuries. The fighting has broken out again between the families. A child from each of the warring families meet and fall in love, and it is the death of the children that finally ends the feud between the parents.
Scene 1 opens in Verona, Italy, with two Capulet...
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Act I, Scenes 3-5: Summary and Analysis
Nurse: Juliet’s nurse who has taken care of her since her infancy
Susan: the Nurse’s daughter who was born on the same day as Juliet but died. She is not in the scene but is alluded to by the Nurse
Mercutio: a friend to Romeo who loves words
In Scene 3 Lady Capulet informs Juliet that it is time for her to think of marriage. At first Lady Capulet sends the Nurse away, but then calls her back, remembering that she knows all their secrets anyway. The Nurse and Lady Capulet discuss Juliet’s age; and the Nurse recalls exactly the hour of Juliet’s birth because she was born on Lammas Eve, the same day as Susan, her daughter who died.
Lady Capulet asks Juliet if she is ready to marry. Juliet replies that she has not even thought of marriage. Lady Capulet tells her about Paris and compares him to a book that only needs a cover (a wife). Lady Capulet stresses his physical attractiveness and his wealth, which enforce the belief that love dwells in the eye rather than in the heart. Juliet, always obedient to her parents, agrees to look at him at the feast that night and to consider his suit.
Scene 4 portrays Romeo and his friends on their way to the ball. The young men are carrying or wearing masks. Benvolio suggests that they enter quietly, dance, and then leave. Mercutio is a glib speaker and loves to hear himself talk. He is light-hearted and ridicules...
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Act II, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis
Act II begins with another Prologue in the form of a sonnet which provides the audience with a preview of what is to come. It states that the shallow love that Romeo had for Rosaline has been replaced with love for Juliet. “Alike bewitched by the charm of looks” expresses that both Romeo and Juliet are mutually attracted to one another. His feelings are returned and “passion lends them power.”
Scene 1 takes place outside the walls of Lord Capulet’s house. Romeo feels that he cannot leave because his heart remains where Juliet lives, and he climbs over the wall into the orchard. Romeo’s friends, who do not know of Romeo’s new love, call for him and try to entreat him to come out of hiding by calling out Rosaline’s name. Mercutio teases Romeo about Rosaline, not realizing that her name now means nothing to him. Romeo’s friends give up looking for him and return to their homes.
Scene 2 takes place within the walls of Lord Capulet’s orchard. Romeo watches as Juliet appears at her window and compares her to light, the East, the sun, and the stars in heaven. As she leans her cheek upon her hand, he wishes that he could be a glove on the hand that touches her cheek. He listens as she calls out his name, and he hears her proclaim that it is only his name that is her enemy. Romeo jumps from the bushes and declares that he will change his name if that is keeping her from loving him. Juliet is startled...
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Act II, Scenes 3 and 4: Summary and Analysis
Friar Laurence: a Franciscan friar who is a priest and a specialist in herbs and medicines. He hopes that the marriage will end the feud between the two families.
Peter: the Nurse’s servant
As Scene 3 begins, the reader finds Friar Laurence carrying a wicker basket and selecting herbs, flowers, and plants to use in making medicine. It is daybreak on Monday, the second day in the lives of the lovers. Friar Laurence tells how plants contain both poisonous and healing powers. If a plant’s use is abused, the result is harmful. “Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied, / And vice sometime by action dignified.” He applies this same lesson to man, who possesses both good and evil within him. If man allows the evil to become predominant in his life, it will destroy him.
Romeo approaches, and Friar Laurence asks if he is ill or if he has been up all night. Romeo answers that he has been up all night. To this, the Friar assumes that he has been with Rosaline and committed sin. Romeo assures him that this is not so and states that he has forgotten Rosaline. He reveals to the Friar that he has been with the daughter of Lord Capulet, and they have fallen in love and wish to be married today. The Friar scolds him for professing to love one woman one day and another on the next day. He states, “Young men’s love then lies /Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” Romeo...
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Act II, Scenes 5 and 6: Summary and Analysis
Scene 5 takes place within the Capulet orchard where Juliet is anxiously waiting for the Nurse to return with news from Romeo. The Nurse left at nine o’clock and it is now twelve. Juliet wishes that the Nurse were as in love as she is so that she would be faster in her return, for the waiting is torture for Juliet. The Nurse finally arrives, and Juliet says, “O Lord, why lookest thou sad? / Though news be sad, yet tell them merrily; / If good, thou shamest the music of sweet news / By playing it to me with so sour a face.” The Nurse replies that her bones ache and asks that Juliet leave her alone for awhile. Juliet says, “I would thou hadst my bones, and I thy news.” The Nurse banters with Juliet, claiming to be hot and too tired to talk. Then she tells Juliet that she has made a good choice. The Nurse finally asks Juliet if she is able to go to shrift today. If so, Romeo is waiting there to make her his wife.
Scene 6 takes place in Friar Laurence’s cell where both he and Romeo are waiting for the arrival of Juliet. The Friar hopes that the future will not punish them with sorrow, and Romeo replies that sorrow cannot equal the joy that one minute in the sight of Juliet gives him. The Friar again cautions Romeo with the words, “Love moderately; long love doth so; Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”
Juliet arrives and they both proclaim their immense love for one another. Juliet says, “But my true love...
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Act III, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis
Scene 1 takes place on the streets of Verona. It is Monday afternoon on day two, about an hour after the wedding between Romeo and Juliet. Benvolio and Mercutio are walking down one of the streets when Benvolio suggests that they retire. The day is extremely hot, and if they meet with the Capulets, tempers will flare and there is bound to be a fight. Mercutio is ready for a fight and hopes to have one. The Capulets enter led by Tybalt, who inquires about Romeo. Tybalt had challenged Romeo to a duel to get revenge for his uninvited appearance at the Capulet ball. At this time, Romeo, who is returning from Friar Laurence’s chapel, approaches the group of men.
Tybalt insults Romeo by calling him a villain, but Romeo responds by saying that Tybalt does not know him. To this, Tybalt challenges him to draw his sword, but Romeo replies, “I do protest I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise.” Mercutio steps in to defend Romeo’s honor and returns Tybalt’s insult by calling him “Good King of Cats.” Mercutio draws and he and Tybalt begin to fight. Romeo calls for Benvolio to help him stop the fight. Romeo reaches to push Mercutio away, thereby blocking Mercutio’s view. Tybalt takes the opportunity to reach under Romeo’s arm and fatally stabs Mercutio. When Romeo is told that Mercutio is dead, he realizes that his love for Juliet has made him act “effeminately.” When Mercutio is killed, Romeo’s...
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Act III, Scenes 3 and 4: Summary and Analysis
Scene 3 takes place on Monday night inside Friar Laurence’s cell. When Romeo fled the streets of Verona after the killings, he went there to hide. As the Friar approaches, the distraught Romeo asks what the Prince has decreed as his punishment.
The Friar says, “Not body’s death, but body’s banishment.” To this, Romeo cries that banishment is worse than death because “There is no world without Verona walls.” Friar Laurence attempts to make Romeo realize that he could have been sentenced to death, that the decree of banishment means that at least he will live. Romeo claims that not being able to see and touch Juliet is the same punishment as death. Romeo will not be consoled and throws himself on the floor in an extravagant display of grief.
The Nurse enters and is stern with Romeo. She says, “Stand up, stand up! Stand, and you be a man. / For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand! / Why should you fall into so deep an O?” At the sound of Juliet’s name, Romeo inquires about her and asks if she hates him for killing her cousin. The nurse says that she is weeping and calling out both their names. Romeo grabs a knife, asks where in his anatomy does the name Montague lodge, and attempts to kill himself by cutting out that part.
The Nurse takes the dagger from Romeo,and the Friar accuses him of being womanish. The Friar gives Romeo three reasons why he should be glad that he is alive. One,...
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Act III, Scene 5: Summary and Analysis
Scene 5 takes place very early Tuesday morning on day three. Romeo and Juliet have been together for the night and are discussing whether they hear the nightingale or the lark. The nightingale sings at night, and the lark sings in early morning. The child in Juliet insists that it is the nightingale, while Romeo insists that it is the lark, and he must hurry from the city. Juliet persuades him that it is the nightingale, and Romeo decides that he will stay longer, risking capture and even death. At this point, the more mature and fearful Juliet says that it is indeed the lark, and he must flee. They bid farewell, and Juliet has a vision that the next time that they see one another, he will be dead in a tomb.
Romeo leaves and Lady Capulet enters. Juliet is surprised by her mother’s early visit and allows her mother to believe that her red eyes and wan appearance are the result of her weeping for Tybalt. Lady Capulet tells Juliet that she is going to send someone to Mantua to give Romeo poison. Then she tells her that she has good news for her. Her father has agreed to have her marry County Paris at Saint Peter’s Church next Thursday.
Juliet says, “He shall not make me there a joyful bride!” Lord Capulet enters and notices the tears and asks if Lady Capulet has given her the news. Lady Capulet assures him that she told Juliet the news, and she (Juliet) wants nothing to do with Paris or the marriage.
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Act IV, Scenes 1-3: Summary and Analysis
As scene 1 opens, Paris is found at Friar Laurence’s cell consulting with him about his wedding plans. The friar, who knows why this marriage can never take place, says that it is rushing to have the marriage on Thursday. Paris tells Friar Laurence that they have decided to go ahead and marry because Juliet has been weeping uncontrollably, and her father is worried about her. Lord Capulet, not knowing that she weeps for Romeo, believes that the marriage will help her get over Tybalt’s death more quickly. Juliet arrives and Paris greets her as his wife. She responds coolly but cordially. After Paris tells her that he will come for her early Thursday morning, he departs. Juliet entreats the Friar to “come weep with me—past hope, past care, past help!”
The Friar tells her that he already knows the circumstances. Juliet explains that she would do anything to get out of the marriage to Paris and pleads for the friar to help her. She also tells him that if he cannot help, she will kill herself rather than marry Paris.
The Friar, realizing that she is serious about her feelings, tells her that he has a plan. She must go home, consent to marry Paris, and then she is to sleep alone on that Wednesday night before the wedding is to take place. When she is in bed, she is to drink a potion that he has made to induce sleep. The sleep will be so deep that no pulse can be found, and her body will be cold to the touch. The color...
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Act IV, Scenes 4 and 5: Summary and Analysis
Scene 4 takes place in a hall of the Capulet’s house. Lord and Lady Capulet, the Nurse, and numerous servants are busily preparing for the wedding. The Capulets and their servants are making jokes, not realizing that Juliet is in a deathlike trance in her room. She has risked her life in order to avoid what her family is celebrating. The curfew bell has just chimed three o’clock on Wednesday morning. Lord Capulet hears the music made by Paris and his company as they come for Juliet, and sends the Nurse to awaken and prepare her for the wedding.
Scene 5 is within Juliet’s chamber. The Nurse comes into her room calling for her to get up because Paris is arriving. She calls her a “slugabed,” a sleepy head, and draws back the curtains surrounding her bed. She believes that Juliet is dead and begins screaming. Lord and Lady Capulet rush into the room. Lord Capulet looks at her and exclaims, “She’s cold, / Her blood is settled, and her joints are stiff; / Life and these lips have long been separated. / Death lies on her like an untimely frost.” The Friar, Paris, and his musicians enter, and Lord Capulet tells them that Juliet is dead, and “Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir; / My daughter he hath wedded.” The love that the Capulets have for their daughter is indicated in the following lines: “Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day!/ Most miserable hour that e’er time saw/ In lasting labour of his pilgrimage!/...
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Act V, Scenes 1 and 2: Summary and Analysis
Balthasar: a servant to Romeo
Apothecary: a druggist in Mantua who is extremely poor
Friar John: a Franciscan friar who is a friend to Friar Laurence
Romeo is waiting for Balthasar to arrive with news from Verona. He is in Mantua and it is Thursday. He has had a dream that Juliet finds him dead, and she brings him back to life as an emperor with her kisses. Balthasar arrives telling Romeo that he saw Juliet buried in the Capulet tomb. Romeo says, “Then I defy you, stars!” and makes a hasty plan. He orders Balthasar to hire some fast horses and bring him ink and paper. Romeo inquires if there is a letter from the friar, and when the servant answers negatively, Romeo orders him to get what he demanded.
Romeo remembers an Apothecary in Mantua who appears to be extremely poor. Romeo decides to go to him and try to buy poison. It is against the law to sell poison in Mantua, but Romeo thinks he can sway the Apothecary to sell it to him because of his (the Apothecary’s) extreme poverty.
Romeo offers the apothecary 40 ducats or gold pieces for the poison. At first, the man refuses to sell him the liquid, but reconsiders after Romeo reminds him of his extreme poverty. The Apothecary tells Romeo how to administer the poison, and Romeo replies, “There is thy gold—worse poison to men’s souls. / Doing more murder in this loathsome world, / Than these poor compounds...
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Act V, Scene 3: Summary and Analysis
Page: a servant to Paris
Scene 3 takes place in the churchyard where the Capulet monument is located. Paris and the Page are outside the tomb of Juliet. Paris instructs the page to put out the torch and stand guard while he enters the tomb. The Page is to whistle if anyone approaches. As Paris begins to enter the tomb the Page whistles, indicating that someone is near. Paris watches as Romeo and Balthasar approach. Romeo instructs Balthasar to give a letter to his father the next morning and not to intervene with his purpose. Romeo tells Balthasar that the reason he is at the tomb is to look upon Juliet’s face and to remove a ring from her finger. Balthasar is then instructed to leave the churchyard under the penalty of death by Romeo if he fails to obey him.
Balthasar does not believe Romeo’s reasons for being at the tomb and fears for his master. Because of his concern for Romeo, Balthasar hides nearby rather than leave the churchyard.
As Romeo enters the tomb, Paris recognizes him as Romeo, the one who killed Tybalt and caused Juliet so much grief. Paris believes that he has come to the tomb to do some “vile outrage” to the bodies of Tybalt and Juliet. He steps forward and tries to prevent Romeo from entering the tomb. Because Paris has no torch, Romeo does not recognize him. They fight, and Paris is killed. As they fight, the Page runs for help. After Paris falls fatally...
(The entire section is 1647 words.)