A single character (called the Chorus) describes the setting (the city of Verona) and the major events of the play. He explains that children from two feuding families will fall in love and kill themselves, and that their deaths will end the families’ battle. The prologue is written in a special form of poetry known as the Elizabethan sonnet.
Servants from both families meet on the street and prepare to fight. Benvolio (the nephew of Lord Montague) comes on the scene to break up the fight. Tybalt (the nephew of Lord Capulet) hates peace, and challenges Benvolio to a fight.
The violence escalates, police try stop the chaos, and finally Prince Escalus arrives on the scene. He announces that all dueling must stop, and anybody caught dueling will be put to death.
Romeo’s parents talk with Benvolio and ask if he knows why Romeo has been so moody. Benvolio says he doesn’t know, but the parents leave and Benvolio confronts Romeo. Romeo is in love with Rosaline, a woman has taken a vow of chastity (which means that she will never marry). Benvolio says that he needs to meet somebody new.
Capulet talks with Paris, a relative of the Prince. Paris wants to marry Juliet, but Capulet asks him to be patient and to win her heart. Capulet then sends his servant to invite people to a big party that he is having that night. The servant can’t read the note, and asks Romeo to read it for him. Romeo learns that Rosaline will be at the party, so he decides to attend. Because the party is a masquerade, Romeo thinks that no one will recognize him. Benvolio also wishes to go, so he can introduce Romeo to some other young ladies.
The nurse, Lady Capulet, and Juliet are engaged in a conversation. The nurse is loving woman who is very rough, and often speaks about inappropriate topics. Lady Capulet is the opposite; she is refined, beautiful, and well-spoken. Lady Capulet informs Juliet that Paris wants to marry her, but Juliet says that marriage “is an honor I dream not of.” Juliet agrees to go to the party and take a look at Paris.
Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio are on their way to the party. Romeo is still depressed, and Mercutio (a relative of the prince) tries to cheer him up with a fanciful story.
Capulet welcomes the guests, and tries to encourage everyone to dance. Romeo spots Juliet across the room and falls instantly in love. At the same time, Tybalt hears Romeo’s voice, recognizes that he is a Montague, and vows to kill him. Capulet tries to calm Tybalt down, and eventually has to scold him, and Tybalt puts the battle aside—for now. Tybalt decides that he will fight Romeo at a later time.
Romeo meets Juliet, and the attraction is mutual. He presses his hand against hers, speaks some romantic words, and manages to kiss her twice before they are interrupted by the nurse. Only then does Romeo learn that she is a Capulet. Likewise, Juliet learns that Romeo is a Montague, and expressed her feelings in a famous ironic phrase. “My only love sprung from my only hate”
The Chorus comes out and recites another poem to begin ACT II
Benvolio and Mercutio have lost track of Romeo. The think he is still in love with Rosaline, and suppose that he is moping and whining.
Romeo is in the orchard of the Capulets, and sees Juliet on her balcony.
“But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon…”
Romeo is saying that Juliet is the new light in his life, and she is much brighter than the old light (Rosaline). He is comparing Juliet to the sun and Rosaline to the moon, and we call this type of comparison a metaphor.
Juliet does not know he is there, and speaks to herself. When a character thinks aloud, it is called a soliloquy.
“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
“Wherefore” means “why”, and Juliet is asking Romeo why he is Montague (and the enemy of her family). She then says that if Romeo will be her love, she’ll “no longer be a Capulet”, meaning that she will marry him and take his name.
Juliet speaks another famous quote.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.”
Romeo finally reveals himself. They swear love for each other, but Juliet is afraid that Romeo is enchanted by the night. They agree to get together the next morning at nine.
Juliet says goodbye with another famous quote.
“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.
Romeo tells Friar Laurence that he is love with a Capulet. Friar Laurence scolds Romeo, reminding him that he was crying for Rosaline just the day before. Friar agrees to help Romeo win Juliet’s hand because he thinks their romance might end the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues.
Benvolio and Mercutio are talking about the letter that Tybalt has sent to Romeo. Romeo has been challenged to a duel, and they wonder if he will accept the challenge. When Romeo appears on the scene, Mercutio and Benvolio are surprised by his good mood. Juliet’s nurse and her servant (Peter) arrive on the scene. Romeo tells the nurse to have Juliet meet him at Friar Laurence’ cell so they can be married.
Juliet impatiently waits for the nurse. When the nurse finally arrives, she takes her time telling Juliet what Romeo has said. Finally, when Juliet cannot take any more, the nurse reveals that Romeo has proposed.
The Friar prepares to marry Romeo and Juliet. Although the scene ends before the wedding takes place, Romeo and Juliet do get married. However, the marriage is kept secret.
Benvolio warns Mercutio that it’s a hot day, and if they run into the Capulets a fight might break out. Mercutio doesn’t take his advice, and when Tybalt shows up Mercutio is ready for a fight. Tybalt says that he is there to fight Romeo, but when Romeo shows up three is no fight. Romeo refuses to fight, and instead says that he loves Tybalt. This is because, unknown to Tybalt, the two are now related by marriage.
Mercutio challenges Tybalt, (“Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?”). Romeo steps in between them to stop the fight, but Tybalt reaches under Romeo’s arm and stabs Mercutio. Tybalt flees before Romeo realizes what has happened. Mercutio curses both the Capulets and the Montagues by saying, “A plague a’ both your houses.” He is led offstage, where he dies. Tybalt returns, and an angry Romeo kills him. This is the turning point of the play.
Romeo, realizing that he has made a terrible mistake says, “Oh, I am fortune’s fool!” At Benvolio’s urging, Romeo runs off. Citizens arrive to arrest Tybalt so he can be executed for dueling, and they are surprised to find him dead. The Prince, the Montagues, and The Capulets arrive. Benvolio truthfully tells the whole story to the prince. Lady Capulet does not believe Benvolio, and says that Romeo should die. (“I beg for justice, which thou, prince, must give. Romeo slew Tybalt; Romeo must not live.”) Lord Montague says that Romeo killed a person who was going to die, so Romeo should not be punished.
The prince decides that Romeo will not be executed. Romeo must leave Verona immediately, and if he fails to do so he will die.
Juliet anxiously waits for Romeo so they can spend their first night together as husband and wife. The nurse tells Juliet “He’s dead, he’s dead.” Juliet thinks it is Romeo that has died. Finally she learns that Tybalt is dead, and that Romeo is responsible. She first reacts with anger, but later decides that she should be a good wife and side with Romeo. She threatens to kill herself, but the nurse tells her that Romeo is hiding in Friar Laurence’ cell, and that she will fetch Romeo.
Friar Laurence tells Romeo that the prince has banished him from Verona. Romeo does not take the news well and wished to die. Friar Laurence says that Romeo should feel lucky for three reasons. First, Juliet is alive. Second, Tybalt tried to kill Romeo, but Romeo instead killed Tybalt. Third, the prince has decided that Romeo should be banished, not killed. Friar Laurence tells Romeo to go to Juliet, then get out of Verona until things settle down. At some point in the future they will announce their marriage, and then beg the prince for forgiveness.
Capulet decides to “fix” things by telling Paris that he and Juliet can wed. He is certain that Juliet will obey his will.
Juliet and Romeo have spent the night together, which means that their marriage can no longer be annulled. However, Romeo has to sneak out of the city, which he does. Lady Capulet and Juliet have a conversation, and Juliet intentionally misleads her mother into thinking that she wishes Romeo to be dead. “Indeed, I shall never be satisfied with Romeo until I behold him-dead-is my poor heart so for a kinsman vexed.”
Lady Capulet give two pieces of news that she thinks will cheer up Juliet. First, Lady Capulet is planning to have Romeo murdered. Second, Juliet is to be married to Paris. Juliet says that she would rather marry Romeo than Paris, again misleading her mother with a half-truth. When Capulet hears that Juliet does not want to marry Paris he is furious. He tells his daughter that, unless she marries Paris, she can starve die in the streets.
Paris tells Friar Laurence that he plans to marry Juliet. Juliet enters, the friar whisks Paris away, and Juliet and Friar come up with a plan. The friar gives Juliet a potion which she is to take just before going to sleep. It will cause her to fall into a death-like trance for forty-two hours, everyone will think she is dead, and the wedding will be cancelled. Juliet will be placed in the tomb of the Capulets. The Friar will send a message a Romeo, who will free Juliet from the tomb just as she wakes, and the two lovers will run off to Mantua and live happily ever after.
Capulet gets ready for the big wedding day. Juliet tells her father that she has changed her mind and will marry Paris. Capulet is happy at this news, and Juliet sneaks off to her bedroom.
Juliet wonders what will happen if she drinks the potion. She is afraid that it might do nothing at all, and if that happens she will kill herself. She worries that perhaps the friar has given her poison so that he can get out of the mess he has created, but decided that the friar is an honest man. She then fears that she will wake up in the tomb too soon, go mad, and crush out her own brains with a bone from the corpse of one of her kinsmen. She drinks the potion, saying “Romeo, Romeo, Romeo, I drink to thee.”
Capulet, his wife, and the nurse look forward to the wedding. No one, not even the nurse, knows of Juliet’s plan to fake her own death.
Juliet’s nurse goes to wake her, and finds her in the death-like state. Lady Capulet, Lord Capulet, and Paris learn of her “death.” There is much sadness, and then the scene ends on an odd note as the musicians Paris has hired for the wedding talk with Peter (the nurse’s servant).
Romeo’s servant (Balthazar) tells Romeo that Juliet has died. Romeo buys some poison so he can go to Juliet’s tomb to kill himself.
Friar John, a friend of Friar Laurence, brings bad news. John could not get into Mantua and was not able to give Romeo the letter that explaining that Juliet had faked her death. Friar Laurence runs to get a crow bar to get Juliet out of the tomb.
Paris arrives at the churchyard to pay his respects to Juliet. Romeo arrives, with a crow bar so he can enter the tomb and kill himself. Paris mistakenly thinks that Romeo is going to disturb the grave and mutilate the body of Juliet, and the get into a fight. Romeo kills Paris, and enters the tomb.
Romeo looks at Juliet, and is surprised to find her looking almost alive. This is because the potion is wearing off, but before Juliet awakes Romeo kills himself with poison. Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead, takes a dagger from his body, and kills herself.
Just about everybody shows up, and they piece together what has happened. The only person who doesn’t show up is Romeo’s mother, who has died of grief due to her son’s exile.
Montague and Capulet become friends and decide to build a monument to their children.