Romeo and Juliet Summary
(Click the plot infographic to download.)
We start off with a little action: a duel between the servants of two enemy families of Verona: the Montagues and the Capulets. After the swords are sheathed, Verona's Prince shows up to say that the next person who fights is going to get killed, and he means it this time.
Along comes Romeo Montague, mooning over some chick named Rosaline. Meanwhile, Juliet Capulet, age thirteen, has just heard that Verona's most eligible bachelor Paris has his eye on her. They're going to check each other out that night at a masquerade ball at the Capulets' house. Romeo and his friends have decided to crash the Capulet ball—in costume—because Rosaline is on the guest list.
Things take a turn when Romeo meets Juliet. They fall instantly in love, obviously, but then—gasp!—find out they're from rival families. It's all very dire, but, being two crazy kids in love, they have a secret meeting and decide to get married. Vegas road trip, anyone?
Oh wait. No Vegas. Instead, Romeo meets with Friar Laurence to arrange the marriage, and Juliet gets her nurse to be a go-between. The Nurse meets Romeo and his friend Mercutio (who thinks the whole situation is hilarious), and they arrange to get Juliet to Friar Laurence.
Get ready for some more names: Benvolio, another member of the Montague posse, runs into Tybalt Capulet, who is angry about the Montagues crashing his family party the other night. Romeo, freshly married, strolls into the middle of a tense situation—which gets way tense when Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo promptly kills Tybalt in return. Romeo jets, but the Prince still shows up to banish him. (Hey, at least he's not going to be killed.)
Juliet hears from the Nurse that her new husband has murdered her cousin, which is a major bummer—but not enough of a bummer to keep her from being super stoked about her wedding night. The Nurse finds Romeo hiding at Friar Laurence's, and the Friar hatches a plan. Romeo can spend his wedding night with Juliet, but then he has to leave town while the Friar finds some way to get the Prince of Verona to pardon Romeo.
Meanwhile, back at the Capulet house, Lord Capulet decides a wedding (to Paris) is just the thing to distract Juliet from her grief. Oops. After Juliet's awesome, romantic wedding night, she finds out that she's supposed to marry Paris in two days. Even her nurse thinks she should marry Paris, since Romeo is "as good as dead" to her.
Juliet runs over to Friar Laurence's, where she has a weird kiss with Paris and then threatens to kill herself. The Friar comes up with a plan that is 100% guaranteed to work and doesn't sound risky At All (not): giving her an herbal concoction that will make her appear to be dead for 42 hours. Yes, exactly 42. So, she runs home, agrees to marry Paris, and takes the poison so she can be taken to the Capulet tomb where Romeo can find her and everyone can live happily ever after.
Sadly, Romeo is a little out of the loop off in Mantua, and the news of Juliet's "death" makes it to Romeo before word of the Friar's plan. He buys some poison so he can go to Juliet's grave and kill himself, which is obviously the mature response. But first, he murders Paris and then spends some time with Juliet's "dead" body.
He drinks the poison and dies just in time for Juliet to wake up and find him dead. Argh missed connections. The Friar, who apparently shows up at some point, tries to convince Juliet to run away, but she refuses and kills herself with a dagger. Just then, literally everyone shows up to the tomb at the same time and finds the dead lovers. Friar Laurence confesses everything, and the two lords of the rival houses are moved by their dead children's love story and agree to end the feud. Happy ending?
- The Chorus (kind of like a narrator) appears on stage and gives us the lowdown on the play we're about to watch (or read).
- The setting is "fair Verona," a town in Italy where two rival upper-crust families (the Capulets and the Montagues) have been feuding for as long as anyone can remember.
- We're also told how the children of these two families (that would be Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet) will fall in love, but the story's not going to be a happy one. Before the play is over, our infamous "star-crossed lovers [will] take their life" (commit suicide), which will put an end to their parents' feud.
- Finally, the Chorus invites us to sit back and relax while we enjoy the "two-hours' traffic of [the] stage," which is sixteenth-century theater speak for "the next two hours it's going to take for the play to be performed."
- Brain Snack: In director Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film adaptation of the play (Romeo + Juliet), the Chorus is replaced by a TV anchorwoman who delivers the lines as an evening news story.
Act 1, Scene 1
- On the streets of Verona, two young Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory, are hanging out and trash-talking the Montagues. Those are some loyal servants.
- Then some young Montague servants (including Abraham) show up. Sampson and Gregory want to put their money where their mouths are, i.e., kick some Montague butt—but the Prince of Verona has laid out strict laws against starting fights.
- So, instead, they try to get the Montagues to start the fight.
- Sampson gives the Montagues the Elizabethan finger—he bites his thumb at them.
- Success. In about 0.5 seconds, they're fighting.
- Benvolio, the resident nice guy, shows up with a, "Why can't we all just get along?"
- But Tybalt, resident Capulet mean-guy, dashes in and says something like, "I'm going to get medieval on your…personage."
- All hell, which has been bursting at the seams up until now, breaks loose.
- Adding fuel to the fire, the remaining members of each of the families come out to join the fight, or "fray," as they called it back then.
- Like any good schoolyard brawl, some authority figure shows up and puts an end to the fun. In this case, it is the Prince of Verona. And he's m-a-d.
- He orders the Montagues and the Capulets to cease and desist. (Except it takes him a lot longer to say it, and he adds a supplement that anyone breaking his rule will be put to death.)
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
- BTW, Lord and Lady Montague say, has anyone seen their son, Romeo?
- Romeo, we find out, has been moping around in a "grove of sycamore," which, by the way, is Shakespeare's way of hinting that Romeo is lovesick or "sick amour." (Get it? Syc-a-more?)
- Not only that, says Benvolio, but Romeo never wants to hang out anymore.
- Montague chimes in, complaining that all Romeo ever does (when he's not skulking around in sycamore groves) is lock himself up in his dark "chamber" (bedroom).
- Yep, sounds like a lovesick teenager to us.
- Benvolio, like any good friend, decides to spy for Romeo's parents.
- Romeo wanders in and willingly tells Benvolio that he's in love with a girl who doesn't love him back. Cue Romeo's sighing, lamenting, and poetic musings.
- Romeo reveals that his unavailable crush has taken a vow of chastity and he boo-hoos about the fact that the still unnamed beautiful girl will never have any beautiful children.
- (It also means that Romeo will never get to make out with her in the back seat of his car, if you know what we mean.)
- We interrupt this program for a tasty brain snack: Romeo has been acting like a typical "Petrarchan lover" in this scene. Petrarch was a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose sonnets were all the rage in Renaissance England. In fact, Shakespeare's own collection of Sonnets is, in part, inspired by Petrarch's love poetry, which was written about "Laura," a figure who was as unavailable and unattainable as Romeo's current crush.
- Now back to our program.
- Benvolio tells his friend to get over it already, ugh. He says Romeo should look at other girls, but Romeo is skeptical. No one will compare. Benvolio disagrees and says he'll make Romeo forget his crush or die trying.
Act 1, Scene 2
- Meanwhile, Lord Capulet is hanging out with County (a.k.a. Count) Paris, Verona's #1 most Eligible Bachelor.
- Capulet says something like "I'm getting too old for this whole family feud thing and so is Lord Montague—I'm sure we can work something out to keep the peace."
- (Get your highlighters out because this is pretty important. The whole Montague/Capulet feud may not be as big a deal to the older generation as it is to the younger generation.)
- But Paris has other things on his mind, like, "Hey, can I marry your thirteen-year-old daughter, Juliet?"
- Capulet says that his daughter's a little young—better wait until she's fifteen.
- Quick Brain Snack: In Shakespeare's day, the legal age of marriage was twelve for girls and fourteen for boys, but that doesn't mean people were running around getting married as pre-teens. In fact, most English people of the time married in their early twenties, just like now (source). Shakespeare was probably emphasizing how crazy these Italians were by making Juliet so young.
- Plus, he'd like Juliet to be on board with all this. But he says Paris can talk to his daughter at the annual Capulet bash that they're holding tonight at his house—maybe Juliet will fall in love with Paris.
- Age aside, it was totally normal for fathers to broker marriage deals without any input from their daughters, kind of like Montague is doing right now. We see this kind of bargaining in plays like The Merchant of Venice, where Portia's dead father manages to arrange his daughter's marriage from the grave (we're not kidding) and in The Taming of the Shrew, where Baptista Minola gives Katherine away in marriage without her consent. Yikes.
- Capulet gives one of his servants, Peter, a list of people to invite to the party. Unfortunately, the servant can't read. The illiterate servant decides to look for some people who can read.
- Romeo and Benvolio come in, still arguing about Romeo's unnamed love interest. (Don't worry, we'll find out this mystery girl's name soon enough.)
- The Capulets' servant asks them to read the guest list for the party. Guess who's on it? Capulet's "fair niece Rosaline." (Yep, that's Romeo's dream girl all right. She also happens to be a Capulet but Romeo doesn't seem to be worried that the big family feud will be a problem. What's up with that?)
- Romeo and Benvolio decide to crash the Capulet party. Romeo wants to see Rosaline and Benvolio wants to convince Romeo that she's not so special.
Act 1, Scene 3
- At the Capulet house, Juliet's mother, Lady Capulet, comes in to tell her daughter about Paris's proposal.
- But Juliet's nurse (who just gets called "Nurse" through the whole thing) first delivers a long, semi-bawdy speech about Juliet's infancy and toddler years.
- Her rambling, tangent of a speech reveals the following information: the Nurse had a baby named Susan who was about Juliet's age but, sadly, she died. The Nurse is not only Juliet's nanny but she also her wet-nurse. When it was time to "wean" (stop breastfeeding) Juliet, the Nurse put "wormwood" on her breast. (Wormwood is a disgustingly bitter plant extract.)
- Also, Juliet once fell down and cut her forehead when she was little, which the Nurse's late husband thought was hilarious—so hilarious that he turned the accident into a dirty joke about how Juliet would eventually grow up and then fall down (on her back) and have sex with a guy.
- This is … a lot of information. Lady Capulet eventually cuts her off and tells her to "hold her peace."
- Lady Capulet unloads the news that Paris has been sniffing around for Juliet's hand in marriage.
- Just check Paris out at the party that night, Lady Capulet says. He'll be the oh-so-dreamy guy all the other girls are swooning over.
- Speaking of, Peter, the servant, enters to announce that guests are beginning to arrive for the big bash.
Act 1, Scene 4
- Romeo and his posse (i.e., Benvolio and Mercutio) are getting ready to sneak into the Capulets' party. Luckily, it's a costume party, so they can wear masks.
- [We should point out that Mercutio's name was on the invite list, because he's not a Montague, but he feels the need to wear a mask anyway. What's up with that?]
- Romeo and Mercutio trade insults and there's some naughty talk about love, in particular, what to do to when "love pricks [hurts] like a thorn." Mercutio's solution? "If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down."
- Translation: The solution to heartache is to go out and have sex.
- Romeo continues to boo-hoo about the unavailable Rosaline and then he announces that he had a dream the night before. Before he can go into the details, Mercutio interrupts and delivers a long, crazy speech about "Queen Mab," a tiny fairy who visits people in their dreams. (You can read more about it in "Symbols.")
- Romeo says Mercutio is talking nonsense and Mercutio, our resident skeptic, retorts that dreams are for idiots.
- Before entering the party, Romeo says he has a feeling that "fate" may have something bad in store for him.
Act 1, Scene 5
- At the shindig, Capulet welcomes his guests to the party and invites everyone to get their groove on. He also threatens that if any young girl refuses to dance, he'll tell everyone she "hath corns" on her feet. (We're not kidding.)
- Now, for the moment we've all been waiting for. Romeo sees Juliet dancing and…falls in love at first sight. Rosaline who?
- Meanwhile, Tybalt, a.k.a., that dude who did all the fighting before (a.k.a., Juliet's easily angered cousin), recognizes Romeo.
- Blood boils right about…now.
- Tybalt tells Lord Capulet that he's going to beat up Romeo for crashing their party.
- Lord Capulet orders him to relax and leave Romeo alone—Romeo seems to be a nice enough kid. Plus, Lord Capulet wisely reasons that parties tend to get ruined by open brawls. Once the cops get called, everyone's fun is ruined.
- Tybalt just swears he'll make Romeo pay for this supposed insult later. Cue the dramatic and ominous music.
- Romeo approaches Juliet and delivers one of the coolest pickup lines to ever come out of the 16th century: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine, the gentle sin is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss." Translation: Your hand is clearly holy, so if I've offended you by touching it with my rough, unworthy hand, let me make things better with a kiss.
- Instead of getting annoyed and walking away, Juliet is intrigued. She banters back, telling him not to be so hard on himself. By holding her hand he's just showing devotion, the same way that pilgrims touch the hands of saints' (as in the statues of saints they worship). She also points out that placing their hands together, palm to palm, is like kissing.
- Romeo suggests that their lips should do what their hands are doing and gives her a kiss.
- (Count it: he says a total of 67 words to her before the lip-lock.)
- A second later, he comes up with another excuse and they kiss again. Meanwhile, their dialogue has formed a perfect Shakespearean love sonnet, rhymes and all. Not too shabby.
- Juliet's nurse interrupts them and sends Juliet away, and Romeo asks her the name of the girl he's been kissing.
- And … she's a Capulet. Oops.
- The party starts breaking up.
- Juliet, who is already completely in love, asks her nurse to find out the identity of the first guy she has ever kissed. The answer: "His name is Romeo, and a Montague, the only son of your great enemy."
- Juliet is not too happy to hear this, but she still manages to be poetic about it: "My only love sprung from my only hate?"
Act 2, Chorus
- The Chorus enters the stage and delivers a speech full of stuff you already know if you've been paying attention: Romeo has forgotten all about Rosaline and is now in love with the daughter of his enemy. Rosaline, who he once said he'd die for, didn't stand a chance when compared to Juliet.
- What the Chorus adds, you probably could have guessed—namely that it's going to be hard for Romeo, a Montague, to get much quality time with Juliet, a Capulet. But...their passion makes them determined, and in time they'll find a way to meet up. Thanks, Chorus! Now we're ready to move on.
Act 2, Scene 1
- Romeo doesn't want to leave the Capulet's property, so he ditches his friends and hides out in the orchard behind the Capulet house.
- Benvolio and Mercutio try to find him. Unaware that Romeo now has the hots for Juliet, they shout lots of filthy things about Rosaline hoping that Romeo will come out to defend Rosaline's honor. No such luck.
- Eventually they give up and head home.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
- We interrupt this program for a helpful reading tip: Worried that your copy of the play divides scenes differently than we do here? Don't trip. The division of acts and scenes varies depending on which edition of the play you're reading. Some editions of the play (like the Folger edition, the Riverside Shakespeare, and the MIT online edition) cut off Act 2, Scene 1 at the end of Benvolio's line (quoted above) and give the famous balcony scene its own section (Act 2, Scene 2). Some other editions (like the Norton Shakespeare) include Romeo and Juliet's famous balcony scene in Act 2, Scene 1.
- Now back to our program.
Act 2, Scene 2
- Romeo is wandering aimlessly around the Capulet backyard when guess-who appears on the balcony. "What light through yonder window breaks?" he asks.
- He then answers his own question. "It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!"
- Just when you think Romeo is cray-cray, Juliet is talking to herself, too. "O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" she asks.
- You might wonder, "why is she asking where Romeo is?" Well, as it turns out, "Wherefore" doesn't mean "where." It means "why." Juliet is saying, "Why does the guy I love have to be a Montague?"
- Juliet goes on talking to herself about how amazing Romeo is.
- Romeo is smart enough to keep his mouth shut and listen. Finally, he can't resist anymore, and he calls out to her.
- Juliet is super embarrassed until she realizes that it's Romeo hiding in the bushes. This is bad news, because if her family finds Romeo, they'll kill him.
- Luckily, she gets over her shock fast enough to enjoy the most romantic love scene in the history of Western literature.
- There's lots of poetry, vows of love that sound a lot like religious worship, baffling language, and teenage melodrama.
- Then Juliet basically proposes to Romeo when she says "If that thy bent of love be honourable, / Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow." Translation: "If you love me and want to marry me, let me know ASAP."
- Romeo is game. They end up setting up a way to send messages the next day so they can plan the wedding. It does not involve overage on their parents' texting plan.
- Eventually, Romeo and Juliet run out of things to talk about and start babbling just so they don't have to leave each other—kind of a "You hang up," "No, you hang up," deal.
- But, in Shakespearian terms, "You hang up" is actually "Parting is such sweet sorrow / That I shall say goodnight till it be morrow."
- If this went down 400 years later, these kids would be running off to Vegas together but, this being a Shakespeare play, Juliet finally drags herself away to bed and Romeo hightails it off to Friar Laurence, his favorite priest, to figure out the wedding plans.
Act 2, Scene 3
- That Romeo sure is fast because the next thing we know, Romeo tracks down Friar Laurence, who has been out foraging for medicinal plants and herbs for one of his concoctions.
- (Note: historians (like Andrew Crislip) also tell us that it wasn't uncommon for clergymen to practice or dabble in medicine—after all, a visit to the physician was an expense that many people couldn't afford and priests often needed to supplement their income.)
- Friar Laurence delivers a speech about how herbs and plants have the potential to be healing and medicinal, but if they're misused, they can be deadly poison.
- Get your highlighters out, because this is important. Check out "Symbols" if you want to know more.
- Friar Laurence looks at Romeo and notices that loverboy hasn't "been in bed tonight" and assumes that he must have finally hooked up with Rosaline. He also notices that Romeo is suddenly cheerful after weeks of moping around.
- Nope, he's totally over Rosaline and into this chick Juliet. Will Friar Laurence perform the ceremony?
- The Friar's response: "Holy Saint Francis!"
- Friar Laurence provides a much-needed reality check: Romeo has been switching girls like highway lanes.
- The Friar decides to help Romeo out but not because he's a romantic: he's got political motives—a marriage between Romeo and Juliet just might reconcile the two warring families.
- So, in the name of reducing the yearly street-brawl-murder rate in Verona, Friar Laurence skips the lecture on fidelity and commitment and goes right to agreeing with the marriage.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
Act 2, Scene 4
- Mercutio and Benvolio still haven't figured out where Romeo is.
- It turns out that Tybalt has sent Romeo a message that goes something like this: "I'm going to beat you up with my sword."
- But lovelorn Romeo is in no condition to face Tybalt in a duel, right?
- History Snack: Many Elizabethans believed that love (between a man and a woman that is) basically turned men into sissies. Being "effeminate" didn't mean you were like a woman—it meant you were too into women.
- Of course Mercutio also uses the opportunity to take a dig at Tybalt, who takes himself and his sword fighting skills way too seriously.
- Romeo finally shows up, and he's dropped the depressed "Rosaline doesn't love me" act.
- The fellas engage in one of their favorite pastimes, talking trash and telling some of the dirtiest jokes in Western literature. You know, just a few bros chillin' together.
- As planned, the Nurse shows up to meet with Romeo. She looks ridiculous, apparently, and Mercutio can't resist flirting with her, mocking her, and talking dirty to her. He first says that the fan she's using should be used to cover her face since it's more attractive than she is. Then, when the Nurse questions him about the time of day, he manages to turn a description of a clock into a graphic portrayal of masturbation.
- In between all these antics, Romeo manages to take the Nurse aside and tell her that Juliet should find an excuse to come to Friar Laurence's church—where she will be married.
- [FYI: Romeo's keeping his wedding plans from everyone (except the Nurse and Juliet), including his best friends.]
Act 2, Scene 5
- In an orchard at the Capulet place, Juliet waits for the Nurse to come back with a message from Romeo.
- When the Nurse comes back, she plays a little game by refusing to tell Juliet anything and complaining about her aching back.
- Finally, the Nurse gives in and tells Juliet to run to Friar Laurence's cell (a "cell" is just a room) where Romeo is waiting so they can get hitched.
- Before the scene ends, the Nurse says she'll "fetch a ladder" for Romeo to climb up so the lovers can spend their wedding night together. She also manages to turn her description of Romeo "climbing" the ladder into Juliet's "bird's nest" into an image of the kind of sex the couple is going to have later that night.
Act 2, Scene 6
- Back at Friar Laurence's place, the priest tries to convince Romeo to calm down a little. Marriage is for the long term, you see. "These violent delights have violent ends," he warns.
- Unfortunately, it goes in one ear and out the other.
- Brain Snack: If you're a Twilight fan, you're probably thinking that Friar Laurence's "These violent delights" line sounds familiar. That's because Stephenie Meyer uses the quote as an epigraph for the novel New Moon.
- Juliet runs in. The room's hormonal level skyrockets. Romeo and Juliet can barely keep their hands off each other, even in the presence of a priest.
- Friar Laurence takes them off to marry them so they can move on to the highly anticipated honeymoon phase.
Act 3, Scene 1
- Things are starting to heat up—as they usually do in Act 3 of Shakespeare's plays. Benvolio and Mercutio are hanging out as usual, trading insults and mocking the Capulets.
- Trouble materializes in the form of Tybalt, who is trying to find Romeo so he can get back at him for crashing the Capulet party.
- Tybalt provokes Mercutio by saying "Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo," which means "You're a known associate/friend of Romeo." It also kind of implies that Romeo and Mercutio are sleeping together.
- Mercutio responds that he's going to make Tybalt "dance" with his "fiddlestick" (his sword) and yes, there's a sexual innuendo at work here, swords being phallic symbols and all.
- Benvolio, who wants everyone to be friends, warns the guys not to fight in public.
- And then in stroll the just-married Romeo.
- Insults are exchanged, but Romeo remembers that Tybalt is his new wife's cousin, so he turns the other cheek.
- Mercutio finds this totally shocking—actually dishonorable—so he offers to fight Tybalt instead.
- So they fight. Romeo tries to intervene, but Tybalt stabs Mercutio.
- Romeo and Benvolio assume that Mercutio hasn't been badly hurt because he starts joking about his wound—but it's no joke. He's dying.
- He then gives us the famous line, "A plague on both your houses," and then turns to BFF Romeo and says, "Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm," he says. A minute later, he is dead.
- Romeo blames himself for Mercutio's death and laments that his love for "sweet Juliet" "hath made [him] effeminate" [a girly wimp]. So, he decides to man up.
- By challenging Tybalt to a duel.
- And killing him.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
- Benvolio tells him to run away before the Prince captures him, and Romeo gets away just before all the citizens of Verona miraculously show up at the scene of the duel.
- The Prince arrives and is, uh, a little angry. Remember how he said that anyone caught fighting would die?
- After Benvolio explains what happened, Lady Capulet demands to Romeo be killed.
- But Lord Montague argues that Tybalt got what was coming to him for killing Mercutio.
- The Prince comes up with a solution: because Tybalt started the fight, he'll spare Romeo's life. But he rules that Romeo must be banished from Verona.
- Man, and he was just getting ready for his honeymoon.
Act 3, Scene 2
- Juliet, who hasn't heard about the whole murder/ revenge killing thing, is watching the clock for nightfall, when Romeo is supposed to sneak into her room.
- When the Nurse enters, Juliet realizes right away that something has gone wrong.
- First, Juliet thinks Romeo has been killed. Nope: her husband has just murdered her cousin.
- Juliet's first reaction is to curse Romeo, and the Nurse joins in—but you know that isn't going to go over well, and it doesn't.
- Juliet turns on the Nurse and tells her she can't criticize her husband. If he hadn't killed Tybalt, then Tybalt would have killed Romeo. Forced to choose between the cousin she has loved all her life and her new husband, she chooses Romeo.
- Teenagers, right?
- Just as she's decided to forgive Romeo, she remembers that he's been banished and starts flipping out.
- Juliet is wailing about the fact that she'll die a virgin when the Nurse tells her Romeo isn't gone yet. He's hiding out at Friar Laurence's. The Nurse promises to find him so he and Juliet can have their night of passion before he has to hit the road.
Act 3, Scene 3
- Romeo is hiding out at Friar Laurence's, and Friar updates him on the Tybalt situation.
- The Friar wants him to see the banishment as good news—yay for no executions?—but Romeo is too focused on the never seeing Juliet again part.
- There's a knock at the door. It may be the Prince's men. Eek.
- The Friar tells Romeo to hide, but Romeo refuses. Luckily for everyone, it's only the Nurse at the door. She and the Friar try to deal with Romeo, who keeps threatening really mature things like stabbing himself out of guilt for hurting Juliet.
- The Friar comes up with a slightly plan that's better because it doesn't involve suicide: Romeo and Juliet can have one night together before Romeo leaves Verona.
- Later, he promises, they'll be able to figure out a way to get Romeo pardoned by the Prince so he can come back to Verona and make his marriage to Juliet public knowledge.
- Hearing this plan, Romeo recovers and runs off to see Juliet.
- Quick Brain Snack: marriages in the Catholic Church (and lots of other churches) weren't consider valid unless they'd been consummated—i.e., the two people had to have sex. If Juliet and Romeo don't sleep together, Juliet's dad will be able to get the marriage declared invalid and marry her off to Paris.
Act 3, Scene 4
- Paris is still hanging around hoping he can marry Juliet.
- Unfortunately, Juliet's still way depressed about Tybalt/Romeo.
- Of course, her parents don't know about the Romeo part, and Juliet's grief for Tybalt seems so extreme to her father that he changes his mind about waiting a few years before she is married. What better way to cheer her up than to force her into a marriage with a man she's just not that into?
- Figuring that there's no way Juliet could refuse a great guy like Paris, Lord Capulet decides to go full speed ahead. How about marrying her next week? he asks Paris.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
Act 3, Scene 5
- Romeo and Juliet wake after their first and (spoiler alert) only night together.
- They don't want to say good-bye, but they know Romeo will be killed if he gets caught in Verona, especially if he also happens to be in Juliet's bed.
- Before Juliet has time to fix her hair or anything, her mother comes in. They manage to have a conversation about "that villain Romeo" in which Lady Capulet misinterprets 99.9% of everything that Juliet says.
- Lady Capulet announces her big, exciting news: in two days, Juliet will be marrying Paris.
- No way, says Juliet, being a typical thirteen-year-old.
- Lady Capulet throws up her hands and basically says "Wait 'til your father gets home."
- When he does get home, he's all pleased with himself for arranging such a great marriage for her, so he's surprised when Juliet rains on his parental-control parade.
- Lord Capulet blows up. When verbally abusing Juliet doesn't work, he tries a different tactic. If she doesn't marry Paris, he says, he'll throw her out in the street; she can beg for food or starve.
- After Lord Capulet storms out, Juliet turns to her mother for help. How could a mother turn her own daughter out of the house? Juliet begs her mother to find a way even to delay the marriage with Paris.
- But Lady Capulet just storms out, too.
- How about the Nurse?
- Juliet makes a case for not abandoning the hubby: She's already married, so marrying Paris would be a sin against God, as well as an unthinkable betrayal of Romeo.
- Maaaaaaybe—but marrying Paris would be a step up on the social ladder. He's better looking and a much better catch. Also, he's not a hated enemy, and um, there's no other option.
- Unless you count starving on the street which, clearly, the Nurse does not.
- Juliet cannot believe this is happening. Even the nurse isn't on her side anymore.
- Juliet has only one ally left: Friar Laurence. If he can't help her, suicide might be her only option.
Act 4, Scene 1
- Paris has stopped by Friar Laurence's church to make plans for his upcoming marriage to Juliet. The Friar is quietly freaking out, since he's not a big fan of enabling bigamy.
- Juliet rushes in to see the friar talking with the last person on earth she wants to see: Paris.
- "Happily met, my lady and my wife," Paris says to Juliet as she enters. It's pretty much downhill from there.
- Eventually, Paris takes the hint that Juliet needs to make confession to the Friar, and he leaves—but not before giving Juliet an unwanted and uninspiring kiss.
- Left alone, Juliet … whips out a dagger and tells the Friar she will kill herself if he can't think of a way for her to avoid marrying Paris.
- Confronted with his second suicidal teen in under 24 hours, Friar Laurence remains calm. Once again, he has a better plan that doesn't involve suicide. (Although, if you ask us, it is still seriously flawed.)
- He tells Juliet his idea. He knows of a weird potion that will make Juliet appear as if she is dead for "two and forty hours." That's Shakespeare for 42 hours.
- Conveniently, the Capulets don't actually bury their dead in the ground, which otherwise would kind of screw up the plan. Instead, they stick them in a big tomb.
- If everyone thinks Juliet is dead, the Friar explains, she won't have to marry Paris. Then he and Romeo can come to the tomb and wait for her to wake up, and then she and Romeo can go to Mantua together. The Friar promises to send a letter to Romeo so he knows what's going on.
- Juliet thinks this is a great idea, which we can only understand by assuming she's never seen a tragedy in her life. She takes the potion, thanks the Friar, and heads home.
Act 4, Scene 2
- Juliet comes home, all fake-humble and repentant. She apologizes for being a bratty teenager and says she'll marry Paris.
- Lord Capulet is overjoyed and decides the marriage will take place the next day, even if he has to stay up all night making preparations.
Act 4, Scene 3
- Juliet convinces the Nurse and Lady Capulet to leave her alone, then takes out the potion the Friar gave her.
- She worries for a brief moment that it might be real poison, and then freaks herself out by imagining what it'll be like to awake surrounded by a bunch of dead bodies, including the fresh corpse of her cousin Tybalt.
- She drinks the potion, making sure to fall on to the bed instead of dropping awkwardly onto the floor.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
Act 4, Scene 4
- Everyone is bustling around cheerfully trying to get things ready for the wedding that morning. No one has realized yet that the bride has a serious case of cold feet.
Act 4, Scene 5
- When the Nurse comes to wake Juliet up in the morning, she discovers the girl dead. Oh, bummer. Wonder if they'll get the photographer's deposit back?
- Then the Friar shows up and takes action, telling them to take Juliet to the tomb, stat.
Act 5, Scene 1
- In exile in Mantua, Romeo wakes up feeling good. He has just had a dream in which Juliet found him dead, but then kissed him back to life.
- That sound you just heard was the anvil of foreshadowing.
- Romeo's servant Balthasar (ironically the name of a wise man in church tradition) arrives with the news from Verona. There's no good way to say this: Juliet's dead.
- Um, is there any message from Friar Laurence?
- Romeo immediately decides that the only thing he can do is go to Juliet's grave and commit suicide there. He knows a poor apothecary who sells illegal drugs, including poisons.
- ("Apothecaries" are basically pharmacists—they sell medicine, some of it prescription and some not.)
- He goes to said "poor apothecary," whose sunken cheeks and hollow looking eyes suggest that he is starving to death, and Romeo convinces him to sell him a dram of poison (even though selling poison is illegal), since, you know, the guy is starving and really needs the money.
- Then Romeo heads for Verona.
Act 5, Scene 2
- Why didn't Romeo get the message Friar Laurence sent him? Because Friar Laurence sent the letter with his friend, Friar John, who was delayed due to an unfortunate mix-up. (Someone accidentally thought he had the plague).
- Next time, don't use up all your minutes, Friar.
- Friar John comes back without having delivered the letter, and Friar Laurence is getting a baaaaaad feeling about this.
- Friar Laurence goes off to the tomb thinking he'll have to wake Juliet alone.
Act 5, Scene 3
- The Capulet tomb seems to be a popular locale. When Romeo approaches, Paris is already there, sadly tossing flowers. He gets an alert from him page that someone is approaching and steps aside to see who it is.
- When Romeo arrives on the scene, he gets a hammer and a crowbar from Balthasar and hands Balthasar a letter for his dad, Lord Montague (aha! that's what he needed the paper and ink for).
- Romeo tells Balthasar not to interrupt him or come after him. He claims he needs to break into Juliet's tomb both to see Juliet's beautiful face one last time and to get a ring from her finger that he needs, um...for something important. If Balthasar tries to follow him, Romeo will tear him limb from limb.
- Balthasar says okay, but instead of leaving he hides behind some bushes. He's not buying Romeo's story.
- Paris sees Romeo and assumes he's there to somehow dishonor the Capulets. To be fair, Romeo looks pretty suspicious—he's carrying a bunch of tomb-breaking-in tools.
- Paris tries to do a citizen's arrest on Romeo, who is, after all, an outlaw.
- You can guess what happens next: they fight, and Romeo kills Paris. Oops.
- Romeo feels pretty guilty for killing yet another one of Juliet's male associates, especially since Paris was one of Mercutio's relatives. He vaguely remembers Balthasar saying that Paris was supposed to marry Juliet or something like that, but admits he wasn't really paying attention. He may have dreamed it.
- Still, Romeo honors Paris's request and places him in the tomb, then he heads over to Juliet's corpse. He wonders more than once why Juliet still looks so fair, why death hasn't made her cheeks pale or her lips blue. Then he gives her a kiss, drinks the poison strong enough to kill twenty men, and dies. Immediately (with one last kiss).
- Thirty seconds too late, the Friar comes in and sees Romeo lying there dead.
- Then, an agonizing minute too late, Juliet wakes up to find her husband dead at her side.
- Brain Snack: In the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, director Baz Luhrmann makes an interesting decision when staging this scene. His Juliet (played by the lovely Claire Danes) wakes up right before Romeo (played by the oh-so dreamy Leo DiCaprio) drinks the poison and dies. Why do you think Luhrmann does this? Does it change things? Why or why not?
- The Friar tries to convince her to run away—the noise of the fighting has attracted attention, and Verona's citizens are about to do what they do best in Romeo and Juliet and show up at the scene—but Juliet won't leave.
- In fact, she tries to drink the rest of the poison so she can die with him, but none is left. So, she does the next best thing: pulls out Romeo's dagger and stabs herself.
(Click the summary infographic to download.)
- (Psst. Check out "Symbols" to hear some thoughts on these methods o' death.)
- When the Prince, the Capulets, and the Montagues show up, the see Romeo and Juliet, both dead, lying beside each other.
- The Prince's guards drag in the Friar, who apparently left Juliet alone in the tomb at some point. He tells the whole story.
- Ugh, fine. Lord Capulet and Lord Montague swear to end their feud and to build statues to commemorate each other's child.
- The Prince says that some of those involved in Romeo and Juliet's death will be pardoned, and some will be punished.
- "For never was a story of more woe," the Prince says, "Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."
- The end.