The play opens with a public brawl. A simple hand-gesture from a Capulet servant to a group of Montague servants spirals into a full-out fight, but the Prince is so over it. From this point onwards, he announces, anyone who fights in public will be put to death. Obviously, this is setting up a big confrontation later in the play.
Meanwhile, we meet our two lovahs. On the Capulet side, thirteen-year-old Juliet has just gotten her first proposal from some way older dude she's never met. On the Montague side, Romeo is supposedly head over heels in love with a girl named Rosaline who won't give her the time of day. We're all set up for a rousing …
Romeo crashes a Capulet party in hopes of seeing Rosaline, but instead he sees Juliet. It's love at first sight. Literally: they talk for, like, five minutes before they're making out. (We know this is classic lit and all, but seriously? Have some self-respect, kids.) So, where's the conflict? Romeo finds out that Juliet is a Capulet. Then Juliet finds out that Romeo is a Montague. Dun dun dun.
When the two lovers finally get some alone time later that night, they decide that the family feud doesn't matter—they have to be together. So, they enlist the help of some adults who really should know better: Juliet's nurse and Romeo's confessor, a priest named Friar Laurence. Less than twenty-four hours after they've met, Romeo and Juliet are tying the knot in secret at Friar Laurence's church.
Okay, this is unexpected but still fairly straightforward: what's the complication? Tybalt is so furious that Romeo crashed the Capulet party that he's decided to challenge Romeo to a duel. Yep, this is going to be a problem.
The big rumble goes down, and here's how it plays out: Tybalt kills Mercutio; Romeo kills Tybalt; and then Romeo flees the scene just before the Prince shows up to pronounce him banished. Oops. Sounds pretty climactic to us.
But then we have to have a literal climax (sorry—it's Romeo and Juliet. There's a lot of sex). Both Romeo and Juliet are hysterical about the whole banishment thing, so the Friar and the Nurse figure out a way for Romeo and Juliet to spend one night together before Romeo leaves for Mantua, a nearby city. We don't get to see it on stage, but trust us: it happens.
But Romeo has barely climbed out the window before Juliet is being forced into marriage with Paris. Everyone thinks this marriage is a good idea, so Juliet runs to the Friar and, um, threatens to commit suicide if he can't help her figure a way out of the mess that she's in. Solution? Juliet will drink a weird potion that will make her appear as if she's dead. But when she wakes up in her family tomb, he and Romeo will be there waiting for her. Great idea!
Everything would still be fine—except that Romeo doesn't get reception in Manuta or something, so he never finds out that Juliet isn't actually dead. He heads back to Verona with some poison, kills Paris at the Capulet tomb, and then drinks the poison. Two seconds later, the Friar shows up. When Juliet wakes up and sees Romeo dead, and kills herself. Two seconds later, the
When Romeo arrives at the Capulet tomb, Paris is there, mourning over his dead almost-wife. Paris gets in the way, so Romeo kills him. Then he breaks into the tomb and embraces his dead wife. She still looks as if she's alive, Romeo says, which almost kills the audience. But he has no way of knowing the truth, so he kisses Juliet farewell and drinks the poison.
The Friar shows up about one minute too late, just in time to watch Juliet wake up from her drugged sleep. She immediately looks for Romeo—and finds him lying dead next to her. The Friar hears noise from outside, and tries to convince Juliet to run away. But Juliet refuses to leave Romeo's side. The Friar exits, and Juliet takes Romeo's dagger and stabs herself.
When the citizens of Verona—including Romeo and Juliet's parents—come in, the two lovers are lying side by side, both dead. The families decide that maybe this whole thing has gone on long enough and decide to be friends. Happy ending?