How many days does the plot of Romeo and Juliet span?

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Many readers are shocked to find that the tragic events in Romeo and Juliet span over the course of only five days, Sunday through Thursday.

1. On Sunday, Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love. They plan to marry the next day.

2. The pair marries on Monday, and Romeo kills Tybalt soon after and is exiled. The couple consummates their marriage that night in Juliet's room.

3. Tuesday signifies the day that Romeo reluctantly leaves for his exile in Mantua, and Juliet drinks the potion once she learns of her impending marriage to Paris. Father Lawrence sends a message of the plan to Romeo.

4. Wednesday is the day of the discovery of Juliet's fake death, and in the evening, Romeo commits suicide when he believes his wife to be gone.

5. On Thursday, Juliet wakes to find her love dead in the tomb and stabs herself with his dagger. Later the Montagues and Capulets discover the tragic end of their beloved children. The deaths of their children mark the death of the feud.

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In Shakespeare's source for the play, Arthur Brooke's "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet" (1562), the events take at least nine months to unfold (the time scale is very vague). As usual, in Shakespeare's tragedies, he compresses the time scale to a matter of days. The play takes four days in total, from Sunday through to Thursday morning.

Sunday - first scene and brawl in the morning, party that night, R + J meet, and balcony scene.

Monday - Romeo gets Friar Laurence to agree to marrying them. They get married the same day. Mercutio dies, and Romeo kills Tybalt. That evening, Capulet plans Juliet's marriage - and we know that that evening is on Monday, because Paris tells Capulet:

Monday! ha, ha! Well, Wednesday is too soon.
Thursday let it be— a Thursday, tell her
She shall be married to this noble earl.

Monday night R+J sleep together. Capulet and Juliet fall out about the wedding.

Tuesday. Juliet goes to Friar Laurence and gets the potion. When she apologises to Capulet, he brings the marriage forward a day:

Send for the County. Go tell him of this.
I'll have this knot knit up to-morrow morning.

Tuesday night, Juliet takes the potion.

Wednesday. Juliet is discovered "dead" and put into the vault instead of the marriage ceremony. Late that night, Romeo comes to the vault to commit suicide.

Thursday - "a glooming peace this morning with it brings" - the final lines of the play.

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If we begin by looking at Act 3, Scene 4, in line 18, Paris notes that the day at that time is Monday. We also know that by backing up a bit to Scenes 2 and 3 of that same act, both Romeo and Juliet reference being married on that same day, a few hours prior. They only met the day before. So the timeline looks like this:

Sunday: Romeo is pining over Rosaline when he attends the Capulet ball. He sees Juliet, and they fall immediately in love. The famous balcony scene entails.

Monday: Romeo and Juliet are married. That same evening, he kills her cousin and is banished.

Tuesday: Romeo leaves for his banishment after spending the night with Juliet. The friar hatches a plan with Juliet; she should take a drug to make her appear dead and escape to be with Romeo. Juliet drinks the drug on Tuesday evening.

Wednesday: The Capulets find Juliet's "dead" body.

Thursday: Romeo learns of Juliet's "death" and heads back to her tomb. He kills Paris, kills himself, Juliet awakes, and then she kills herself.

These star-crossed lovers only shared 5 days together—and even all 5 were not shared in physical presence. Likely this was Shakespeare's intent—to show his audience that time is fleeting and is quickly passing us all by.

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An interesting consideration is the role of time in Romeo and Juliet. The star crossed lovers' story is characterized by haste and rush. The entire play takes place over a span of about four to six days. Romeo and Juliet fall in love and die tragically in less than a week! Shakespeare was clearly trying to emphasize the alacrity and headlessness of the rush into passionate love, especially amongst the younger generation.

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