Romeo and Juliet, perhaps the greatest work of William Shakespeare - who was easily the greatest playwright of all time, is arguably the greatest tale of romance of all time. It is truly a play of superlatives, amongst the best works of the English language ever written. It is a tragedy that tells the tale of two lovers from rival families in Verona - one named Romeo, of the Montague family and one named Juliet, of the Capulets. These teenage lives end in suicide, also ending the rivalry between the families. Or, as the prologue of the play says-
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
The prologue reveals the tragic conclusion to the play, at the first part of the play, no less. Basically, it informs the audience that there are two families that share an ancient rivalry, but recently, the families have become angry with each other again. Then, a pair of star-cross’d (or destined) lovers, one from each family, kill themselves and the families end their rivalry because of this. And this plot will be displayed on stage for the next two hours.
Normally, a playwright would not give away the ending of the play at the very beginning, as it ruins the drama and surprise of the ending. However, in some ways, this enhances the viewing experience, as it makes the audience hope for Romeo and Juliet to make it through the barriers and problems they face, while knowing that they will end up dead before the play is finished. In fact, giving away the ending at the beginning has little effect on modern audiences, as many know the familiar ending before seeing it. The plot is one of the most famous and well-known throughout the world.
Scene One is the opening of the play. It provides some background of the story, which is useful later.
Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
The first act’s first scene begins in a public place in Verona, Italy. Two servants of the Capulets, named Gregory and Sampson. They are armed and protects, in case they begin a fight with the Montague servants. They joke (with the use of puns1 until they encounter two Capulet servants named Abraham and Balthasar. A fight begins, until Benvolio, a Montague whose name means ‘good will’, attempts to stop it.
I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword,
Or manage it to part these men with me.
However, soon a quick-temepered Capulet named Tybalt enters, and attempts to make the patient and kind Benvolio (cousin of Romeo) fight him. Benvolio attempts to avoid this, but Tybalt and Benvolio end up fighting. Several members of each house then join in on the brawl, including the Lady and Lord Capulet and Montague. Prince Escalus, strongly opposed to the silly feuding of the two families, ends the feud, threatening retribution if such a fight occurs again.
In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.
As Lord Montague and Benvolio speak after the fight, they begin to talk about Romeo, the son of Montague and cousin of Benvolio, and the depression he had been suffering lately. We find that Romeo is in love, and out of the favour of the woman. We also find that he is over-dramatic and stereotypical about love2.
This part of the play has little effect on the plot of the story, but it importantly introduces two aspects - the feuding of the Capulets and Montagues (though the reason of the feud is never said - perhaps no one remembers the cause of the ancient feud) and the depression of Romeo as a result of the loss of his love, who would turn out to be a woman named Rosaline.
Scene Two begins in a street with Lord Capulet and a man called Count Paris, an honourable man who would make a good husband for Juliet.
This night I hold an old accustom'd feast,
Whereto I have invited many a guest,
Such as I love; and you, among the store,
One more, most welcome, makes my number more.
Capulet and Paris discuss marriage arrangements - Capulet agrees that his 13 year old daughter Juliet should marry Paris, but not right away. He could only marry her right away as long as she agrees to. Capulet invites Paris to a masked party, and instructs a servant to invite a number of people around Verona to the feast, and gives him a guest list. However, the servant is illiterate, and must ask a literate person for help.
God gi' god-den. I pray, sir, can you read?
By chance, he asks Romeo and Benvolio to help him, who were still speaking about the subject scene one left off on. Romeo read the list to him and found that one of the guests to be invited was Rosaline - niece of Capulet. The servant explained that the feast would be at Lord Capulet’s home, and as long as he was not a Montague, he could attend. As the servant left, Benvolio told Romeo that they should go to the party, and he would show him many ladies more fair than Rosaline. They both agreed to go to the feast.
Scene Three begins at a room in the Capulet house. At its opening, Juliet’s nurse calls for her to speak with Lady Capulet. The nurse comments that Juliet with be 14 years old in less than two weeks, and that is a fine age to marry at. The nurse continues speaking about sex and marriage3 until Lady Capulet tells her daughter that Count Paris is coming to marry her, and asks her what she thinks of this.
It is an honour that I dream not of.
Juliet agrees to meet Paris at the dinner, but does not promise to marry him. Then, a servant enters to bring the Lady and Juliet to the feast.
Scene Four begins with Romeo, Benvolio and Romeo’s friend Mercutio on the street, going to the masked party. Mercutio is an invited guest to the party, but Romeo and Benvolio are not - in fact, being Montagues, there could be consequences if Lord Capulet finds out that they are attending. However, they do not intend to ruin the party - they all agree to wear masks dance (except Romeo, who contends that he is too heart-broken). Benvolio’s plan is to go in quickly and get out just as quickly.
And we mean well in going to this mask;
But 'tis no wit to go.
Romeo has second thoughts about attending the party, because of a dream he had. Mercutio trys to cheer Romeo up by telling him a silly dream he had, effectively mocking Romeo’s belief in the truth in dreams. It is a very long story about Queen Mab, a fairie’s midwife who helps dreams be born. This speech it has little consequence in the plot. Finally, Romeo ends the long speech by telling Mercutio ‘Thou talk'st of nothing’. Then, Romeo, who continues to believe that something bad will happen if they enter the Capulet’s house, delivers the following speech-
I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But He, that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen.
Romeo is forecasting that his life will end prematurely if he enters the Capulet’s home. However, he believes in destiny, and despite his fear of his death, he joins the party. Finally at the end of the scene, Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio make their way into the party.
Scene Five begins as the feast has ended, musicians are getting ready and the dancing is about to begin. The servants are clearing the feast in a hurry. Lord Capulet welcomes Romeo and his friends to the party, and sits down to talk to his cousin, the Second Capulet.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
Meanwhile, Romeo, who is not dancing, notices a woman and he says that he considers her the most beautiful person he has ever seen. This was the Capulet Juliet, and this was the first time Romeo ever saw her. It was love at first sight, and Romeo suddenly forgets about Rosaline. When the dance ends, Romeo plans to go over to Juliet and touch her hand.
However, after he speaks for ten lines about the beauty of Juliet, Tybalt, the quick-tempered Capulet, recognizes his voice. Tybalt sends someone to fetch his sword, which he will murder Romeo with. Lord Capulet, however, notices Tybalt’s rage and asks why he is so angry. Tybalt points out that a Montague is at the party, and Capulet notices that it is Romeo4.
He shall be endured:
What, goodman boy! I say, he shall: go to;
Am I the master here, or you? go to
Luckily for Romeo, Capulet decides that he is a ‘a virtuous and well-govern'd youth’ and Tybalt should ignore his intrusion. Tybalt, in his anger, argues this, but Capulet angrily informs him that does not want Tybalt to harm Romeo in his home. Tybalt warns him that he will regret this later.
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
These are Romeo’s first words to Juliet. He offers to kiss her hand and they engage in a witty conversation suggesting that Juliet is a saint and Romeo is a pilgrim. Romeo eventually gets to kiss Juliet, just before her nurse summons her to speak with her mother. Juliet leaves. The nurse informs him that Juliet is the daughter of Lady Capulet.
Is she a Capulet?
O dear account! my life is my foe's debt.
Then Benvolio tells Romeo that it is time to leave, and they do. Juliet asks who this stranger was. The nurse finds out that he is Romeo, a Montague. Juliet is very surprised by this, and says-
My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me,
That I must love a loathed enemy.
Juliet is called for by someone, and the nurse and Juliet exit, ending the scene and the act. Note that Count Paris and Rosaline are never mentioned in the party scene - even though they are the reason why Romeo and Juliet are at the party. This was probably because Shakespeare did not want to complicate their falling in love.
Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair for which love groan'd for and would die,
With tender Juliet match'd, is now not fair.
Now Romeo is beloved and loves again,
Alike betwitched by the charm of looks,
But to his foe supposed he must complain,
And she steal love's sweet bait from fearful hooks:
Being held a foe, he may not have access
To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear;
And she as much in love, her means much less
To meet her new-beloved any where:
But passion lends them power, time means, to meet
Tempering extremities with extreme sweet.
-The Prologue of Act II
By now, Romeo and Juliet had forgotten about Rosaline and Paris, and this desire has been superceded with a mutual love for each other.
Scene One begins at a wall outside of Capulet’s orchard. Romeo climbs over this wall, to be where Juliet is. Benvolio and Mercutio come along. Mercutio believes that he has gone to sleep, but Benvolio says that he saw him climb over the wall.
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh:
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;
Mercutio taunts and mocks Romeo with clever wordplay with sexual and obscene meanings. Romeo refuses to respond to this, and Mercutio continues. Eventually, Benvolio tells Mercutio that since Romeo doesn’t want to be found, it is of no use looking for him.
Scene Two is one of the more famous scenes of the play. It is the balcony scene, in which Romeo sneaks into the orchard at the Capulet’s home and under the balcony of Juliet’s bedroom.
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Upon seeing Juliet at a window, Romeo speaks about her beauty to himself, and then sees that she says something, but cannot hear it. He decides to answer her, but at the last minute decides that this is too bold. He continues to speak about her beauty until she interrupts him by simply saying ‘Ay me!’. Romeo asks her to speak again.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?5
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.
Juliet speaks from the balcony about how a name has no importance - it does not affect what a person is, or indeed who they are. She declares that a name is not like a hand or a foot, it is not what makes up a person. She further asks-
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
After Juliet speaks, Romeo speaks to her, for the first time so that she can hear him. He says that she should call him simply love, and he will be baptized as such. Confused, Juliet asks who is there. Romeo does not identify himself by his name, because he hates the name and is afraid it will cause offense. Juliet recognizes the voice, and asks if it was Romeo. Romeo, still refusing to say his own name, says that if the name Romeo Montague is offensive, he isn’t.
Juliet becomes worried about how he got over the high orchard walls, and if any of her kinsmen will see him, because if they would, they would kill Romeo. Romeo responds that he will do anything for love, and would rather die with her love immediately than die later without her love. Juliet asks how he found her there, and he responds that love directed him here. These questions illustrate how Romeo’s main priority is love and passion, while Juliet is not as passionate, and more careful. She gives practical questions, and Romeo gives passionate answers. Juliet is also more skeptical about Romeo’s love than Romeo is of hers.
The lovers decide to get married, and Juliet will send a messenger with the details of the wedding. The two speak for some time, declaring their love for one another, and as Juliet’s turn comes, her nurse rushes her. She hastily wishes him goodnight, and as Romeo begins to depart, Juliet comes back out and they decide to send the messenger at nine o’clock. After a long goodbye, Romeo decides to go to Friar Laurence to ask for his help in marriage, and the scene ends.
Scene Three begins with the calm and old Friar Laurence speaking about nature, and various other things. He speaks about plants and about a struggle between good and evil - basically things one would expect a Friar to speak about.
Good morrow, father.
Romeo and enters and greets the Friar, to his surprise. He wonders why Romeo is awake so early - perhaps he it is because he is troubled, or perhaps he has not been to bed. Romeo admits that he has not been to bed, and the Friar asks where he has been.
I'll tell thee, ere thou ask it me again.
I have been feasting with mine enemy,
Romeo speaks in riddles - answering the Friar by saying that he has wounds which he can heal. To us, this means that Romeo has wounds from Cupid’s arrow, and marriage can heal them - which the Friar can do. To the Friar, this is simply confusing and it sounds as if Romeo has been in a fight. Friar Laurence asks him to clearly explain what he means.
We met, we woo'd and made exchange of vow,
I'll tell thee as we pass; but this I pray,
That thou consent to marry us to-day.
Romeo explains that he and Juliet have fallen in love, and that he wishes to be married that day. The Friar is surprised by this, because of how fickle Romeo seems to be. He says-
Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!
Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,
So soon forsaken? young men's love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.
The Friar is afraid that Romeo is simply exchanging his infatuation of Rosaline for an infatuation of Juliet. He makes this point to Romeo, but Romeo explains that he and Juliet have a mutual love.
In one respect I'll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households' rancour to pure love.
Despite his doubts of whether the love is real, the Friar agrees to marry the two so that the Capulets and Montagues may finally end their feuding.
Scene Four is where things start to get interesting. It begins with Benvolio and Mercutio looking for Romeo, as they were when we left them in Scene One. They assume Romeo has been pouting about Rosaline.
Tybalt, the kinsman of old Capulet,
Hath sent a letter to his father's house.
Benvolio tells Mercutio that Tybalt Capulet has sent Romeo a letter, which is probably a challenge for a duel. Mercutio notes that Tybalt is a dueler of great reputation - who is very skilled in dueling.
Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.
Romeo joins them, and Mercutio teases him about leaving them last night. Mercutio and Romeo exchange a long round of witty word play and insults, with meanings that are generally lost on modern audiences. All one needs to get out of this long bout of joking is that Mercutio and Romeo and good friends, and that Mercutio is happy to see that Romeo is now sociable and happy.
Next, Juliet’s nurse and her servant Peter enter. Mercutio - as always - makes some impolite jokes, briefly distracting the nurse. She asks for a private conversation with Romeo, misspeaking, which leads to a number of jokes by the three men - adding little more to the play than showing how many words for prostitute Elizabethan times had. Benvolio and Mercutio leave Romeo and the Nurse to their conversation, though. Once he is gone, Romeo gives a terrific description of Mercutio to the nurse-
A gentleman, nurse, that loves to hear himself talk,
and will speak more in a minute than he will stand
to in a month.
Finally, however, the Nurse begins to speak with Romeo about Juliet’s plans for marriage. First though, she has Romeo guarantee his honesty and good nature to her. Romeo is never really told what the Nurse is supposed to tell him, but he tells the Nurse to tell Juliet to meet at Friar Laurence’s cell for a confession and marriage. He also says that she should meet his servant who will bring a rope ladder, which will come in handy later. He says goodbye to her.
...but she just won’t go away. She speaks about Juliet as a toddler, Paris, teasing Juliet and how Rosemary and Romeo begin with the same letter (she thinks). Finally, Romeo gets rid of her and the scene ends.
Scene Five opens with Juliet complaining about the nurse being two and a half hours late to rejoin her. The nurse comes soon though, and Juliet asks her what Romeo has said.
Fie, how my bones ache! what a jaunt have I had!
The nurse complains about the aches she acquired on her trip to see Romeo. She avoids telling Juliet the result of this trip immediately, to tease her. Finally, when she appears to be telling Juliet the news, she comedically says-
Your love says, like an honest gentleman, and a
courteous, and a kind, and a handsome, and, I
warrant, a virtuous, --Where is your mother?
Finally, the nurse tells Juliet the good news and tells her to meet Romeo at Friar Laurence’s cell. Juliet apparently blushes, and thanks the nurse, ending the scene.
Scene Six begins with Friar Laurence and Romeo waiting for Juliet to arrive so that they can be married. The Friar thinks that this marriage will end the hostilities between the Capulets and Montagues, or cause more hostilities. Romeo is unconcerned, and simply wants to marry Juliet.
Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;
The Friar gives the young Romeo some advice about marriage. He says that the spark that the two have now will not last forever, and it will fizzle of eventually.
Here comes the lady: O, so light a foot
As the Friar is lecturing Romeo, Juliet interrupts by running up to Romeo. Juliet greets the Friar, and she and Romeo kiss. Twice, it seems. They speak briefly about their love, but the Friar ends this and takes them off to be married in secret... ending Act Two.
Scene One is where things start to get exciting. It is set in a public place during a hot day. Benvolio and Mercutio are about, and Benvolio worries about Capulets attacking them. Mercutio jokes with Benvolio, saying that he, the supposedly good-natured man, is as quick-tempered as any other person in Italy. They joke for a while, but soon are joined by some Capulets.
By my head, here come the Capulets.
Tybalt and several other Capulets and friends of Tybalt. Benvolio is slightly frightened, but Mercutio stands tough. Tybalt relatively politely asks for a word with one of them. It seems he does not intend to start a fight. Mercutio taunts him, but Tybalt wants to deal with Romeo (who he is angry at for attending the Capulet party) not Mercutio.
At perhaps the worst time possible, just as Mercutio has made Tybalt angry, Romeo enters.
Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford
No better term than this, -- thou art a villain.
Romeo reacts in an odd way. He says that he has reason to love Tybalt - much to his confusion. He then says farewell and begins to leave. Tybalt, obviously unsatisfied, says that this is not enough and tells Romeo to fight him. Romeo says that he loves Tybalt in a way he does not yet understand, and he loves the Capulet name just as much as the Montague name.
Why is this? Because Romeo has just married Juliet - a Capulet. Of course, there is never actually a wedding scene, so the audience must assume that they were married in between the end of Act Two and the beginning of Act Three. Very few people know this at this point, though - only the lovers, Friar Laurence, the Nurse and probably some unnamed servants.
However, Mercutio, who is unaware of this, wants to stand up for Romeo, and insults Tybalt - as always, with wit - and challenges him to a fight. Of course, by this time, Tybalt is very angry with Mercutio, and fights him.
Draw, Benvolio; beat down their weapons.
Gentlemen, for shame, forbear this outrage!
Tybalt, Mercutio, the prince expressly hath
Forbidden bandying in Verona streets:
Hold, Tybalt! good Mercutio!
In most productions, Romeo now attempts to push Mercutio away from the action, and by going around Romeo, Tybalt stabs Mercutio in the heart. This was a very shameful and disgraceful way to fight, and so Tybalt runs away with his friends.
I am hurt.
A plague o' both your houses! I am sped.
Is he gone, and hath nothing?
What follows is a very dramatic death scene. Mercutio sends his servant for a doctor. He even continues to joke lightly as he dies. Mercutio curses, as Benvolio helps him into a house.
This gentleman, the prince's near ally,
My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt
In my behalf; my reputation stain'd
With Tybalt's slander, -- Tybalt, that an hour
Hath been my kinsman! O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate
And in my temper soften'd valour's steel!
Romeo speaks to himself about how ashamed he is - how he let Tybalt insult him and let Mercutio fight for him. He is also ashamed that he let his love for Juliet make him less couragous.
O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio's dead!
That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds,
Which too untimely here did scorn the earth
Just after Benvolio tells Romeo that Mercutio is dead, Tybalt comes back. By that time, he is furious and ready to avenge his friend’s death. He will fight to the death.
They do fight, and Romeo’s anger conquers Tybalt, and he falls, slain. Benvolio sends Romeo off as many citizens and the Prince arrive to find he killer of Mercutio. They ask for Tybalt, and as they discover him lying on the ground, one citizens tells him to stand up6.
The Prince asks who started the fight, and Benvolio explains that Tybalt killed Mercutio and Romeo killed Tybalt. Lady Capulet moans and laments of his nephew’s death. Benvolio recounts what happened up until the death of Tybalt (though the part about Mercutio picking the right is absent from his explanation, the overall message is true. Lady Capulet thinks he’s lying to protect Romeo, but the Prince largely ignores her.
The Prince argues that he should be as angry as the Capulets and Montagues are, as Mercutio was a member of his family. However, to keep the peace, he decides to exile Romeo, and orders that if he should return to Verona, he will be killed.
Scene Two starts with Juliet yearning for Romeo to join her. She is probably on her balcony, where Romeo will join her by means of a rope ladder. Juliet is eager to share a bed7 with her new husband for the first time.
The Nurse then arrives with the rope ladder, and probably by the look on her face, Juliet guesses that she has some news. The Nurse delivers some news, but not coherently.
Ah, well-a-day! he's dead, he's dead, he's dead!
We are undone, lady, we are undone!
Alack the day! he's gone, he's kill'd, he's dead!
Juliet, expecting news of Romeo, hears this and thinks that Romeo is dead. The nurse is speaking about Tybalt, but it takes a while for this to clear up. The Nurse finally mentions Tybalt’s name, and Juliet is confused, thinking both Romeo and Tybalt are dead. The Nurse explains that Romeo killed Tybalt and he is exiled, and this makes Juliet just as upset at first - now at Romeo. She uses a series of oxymorons to describe him-
O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
Suddenly, Juliet seems to remember that Romeo is her husband and curses herself for speaking ill of him. She now focuses her attention to Romeo’s exile (or perhaps just pretends to) and declares that his exile is worse than ten thousand deaths of Tybalt. Just as she is ready to go into her bed to mope, the nurse tells her that she will bring Romeo to her, as she knows he is hiding in Friar Laurence’s cell.
Scene Three is set in Friar Laurence’s cell.
Romeo, come forth; come forth, thou fearful man:
Affliction is enamour'd of thy parts,
And thou art wedded to calamity.
The Friar calls Romeo, who seems to be hiding within the cell. Romeo, probably very frightened, immediately asks him what his fate is - what Prince Escalus ordered as punishment. The Friar tells him that it is banishment - and Romeo reacts oddly. He tells the Friar that being banished is far worse than being killed, which is what he expected.
This is dear mercy, and thou seest it not.
The Friar consoles him, and explains that this is much better than death. Romeo complains that leaving Verona would be like leaving his world - especially as Juliet is in Verona. Romeo, grief-stricken complains endlessly and says that the Friar cannot possibly understand the situation he is in.
Just as Romeo is lying on the floor in a pretend grave, someone knocks at the door. The Friar tells Romeo to go hide, and he will not. The Friar tries to tell the person at the door to wait, and tells Romeo to hide. Eventually, the Friar asks who is at the door.
Let me come in, and you shall know
I come from Lady Juliet.
It is Juliet’s nurse who is at the door, so the Friar lets her in, even as Romeo is on the ground in his pretend grave, weeping - much like a small child. Romeo asks how Juliet is, and the nurse tells him that she is in basically the same shape that he is in. Romeo asks the Friar what part of his body his name is in, and draws his sword to cut it off.
The Friar stops Romeo from killing himself, and then criticizes him sharply for crying like a woman and acting like a beast. He then plans for Romeo to go to Juliet’s bedroom and comfort her, then leave for Mantua and wait until they can find an appropriate time to announce their marriage. Then they will beg for the Prince to allow him back into Verona.
The Nurse admires Friar Laurence’s wisdom, and tells Romeo to go the Juliet quickly - it is getting late. The nurse then exits. The Friar tells Romeo that he must leave Juliet before the night watchmen take their posts, or leave at the break of dawn in a disguise. He will send a messenger to Mantua with news. Romeo says his farewell, and the scene ends.
Scene Four is a brief, but important one. In it, Lord Capulet, Lady Capulet and Count Paris speak at the Capulet home.
Things have fall'n out, sir, so unluckily,
That we have had no time to move our daughter:
Look you, she loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly,
And so did I:--Well, we were born to die.
Capulet explains that they have not had enough time to make Juliet want to marry Paris. He hints that it is late and he is about to go to bed, so Paris decides to leave. Just as he starts to go, Capulet hastily agrees to marry Juliet to Paris and he is certain that she will obey. They will be married next Thursday (it is Monday when this is taking place). The plans are in place now, and the scene ends.
Scene Five picks up after Romeo and Juliet have had their first night together as husband and wife. Romeo is prepared to go, as it is morning, but Juliet does not want this8. Juliet envisions the lights as a meteor the sun sent to light Romeo’s way to Mantua, and not the light of day.
Farewell, farewell! one kiss, and I'll descend.
Romeo eventually departs, as Juliet’s mother is about to come in the room. Lady Capulet enters just after Romeo leaves, and Juliet barely has enough time to lament about him leaving and weep. Lady Capulet assumes Juliet is crying about Tybalt’s death, though Juliet is crying over Romeo’s departure. She tells Juliet that it is not smart to grieve this much over a death. However, the subject soon turns to Romeo, the man that killed cousin Tybalt.
We will have vengeance for it, fear thou not:
Lady Capulet promises that Romeo will be killed in Mantua by a poison. Juliet speaks about how she wants to see Romeo dead - which is obviously not wholly true, but Juliet is probably using this conversation as an excuse to vent some of the anger she really has for Romeo that she repressed in Scene Three. If this is the case, she went a bit far with saying the following (but the point still holds)
Indeed, I never shall be satisfied
With Romeo, till I behold him--dead--
Lady Capulet shifts the subject from this unhappy one to one that she thinks will excite her daughter. She tells Juliet that on Thursday morning, she will marry Count Paris at Saint Peter’s Church.
I will not marry yet; and, when I do, I swear,
It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
Rather than Paris. These are news indeed!
Juliet says that Paris will not make her a happy bride, as he has not even woo’ed her. She says that she would rather marry Romeo, who she hates (or so her mother thinks) than Paris. As this happens, Lord Capulet and the nurse arrive. Like Lady Capulet, the Lord says that Juliet is crying too much. However, it occurs to Capulet that she should be happy now, if the Lady had given her the good news about the marriage.
Have you deliver'd to her our decree?
Lady Capulet explains that Juliet is not going for the idea, to the Lord’s surprise. He expected Juliet to be overjoyed about the prospect of marrying a gentleman such as Paris. Juliet is not willing to be married, but is thankful to her father for arranging it, as she knows he had the best intentions.
The Lord is unwilling to argue though, and tells her that she will go to be married to Paris on Thursday or he will drag her there. Lady Capulet believes her husband is overreacting, and is acting mad. Juliet asks for permission to speak one word, but Capulet threatens to slap her (’My fingers itch’).
The nurse stands up for the frightened Juliet at this point, and is shouted at in turn by Capulet. Capulet yells about how hard he worked to find a suitable husband to marry Juliet (and from the information given so far, it appears that Paris is indeed a suitable husband), but she is ungrateful and says no. Capulet rants on, probably at the top of his lungs. He eventually leaves though.
Is there no pity sitting in the clouds,
That sees into the bottom of my grief?
O, sweet my mother, cast me not away!
Juliet asks her mother to help, to delay the wedding, as she would sooner die than marry Paris. She gets no sympathy, or help from her mother. Lady Capulet exits.
Juliet decides to turn to her faithful nurse for comfort, and she thinks she has a solution. Marry Paris! Forget Romeo - Paris is more handsome and a better husband anyway. Not that Juliet is likely to see her husband again anyway! He’s as good as dead.
Juliet is shocked that her nurse does not really understand the situation. She thinks over the situation, and tells the Nurse that she has been helpful, and to tell her parents that she is going to Friar Laurence’s cell to make a confession about how she treated her father.
Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!
Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn,
Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue
Which she hath praised him with above compare
So many thousand times? Go, counsellor;
Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain.
I'll to the friar, to know his remedy:
If all else fail, myself have power to die.
Juliet, without the Nurse to help her, is alone, and the only person to advise her now is Friar Laurence. If that does not work, she dramatically tells the audience that she will kill herself. And the scene ends.
Scene One begins as Friar Laurence and Count Paris speak. We assume that Paris has asked Laurence to perform the wedding ceremony between himself and Juliet, as the Friar’s opening words are-
On Thursday, sir? the time is very short.
Paris explains that Lord Capulet wants it this way, and he (Paris) does not have any reason to disagree. Friar Laurence, having already performed a wedding for Juliet earlier, tries to talk Paris out of marrying her. Laurence says-
You say you do not know the lady's mind:
Uneven is the course, I like it not.
Paris tells the Friar that Capulet rushed the marriage in order to make Juliet feel better about the loss of her cousin Tybalt, because Capulet feels that Juliet is grieving too much. Just as the Friar is regretting getting involved in Juliet and Romeo’s marriage, Juliet appears.
Look, sir, here comes the lady towards my cell.
Paris and Juliet carry on a dialogue where Paris repeatedly tells Juliet that she belongs to him, and Juliet speaks in hidden meanings - appearing to say something friendly, but really saying something rather harsh. Paris finally gives the audience something to dislike him for9, in this scene, when he appears overconfident and arrogant.
Suddenly, Paris notices that Juliet has been crying. Juliet says that her face was bad enough before the tears came, which Paris disagrees with, and tells her that this lie about her face has done it more harm than the tears did. Juliet gets a bit pushy at this point, as says that she is the one who would know about her own face - it is, after all, hers. Paris claims ownership to Juliet’s face, though.
Juliet is tired of this discussion, and asks if Friar Laurence has time to hear a confession. Juliet excuses herself to go to confession, and Paris kisses her goodbye, then leaves. As soon as Paris is gone, Juliet becomes very emotional again. She wants the Friar to help her with the problem she faces. The Friar says that he cannot find any way to delay the wedding.
If, in thy wisdom, thou canst give no help,
Do thou but call my resolution wise,
And with this knife I'll help it presently.
Juliet declares that if the situation cannot be helped, she will simply help it with a knife (by killing herself). Specifically if the Friar can’t help her, she’ll kill herself. The Friar desperately promises a desperate plan to help her. If Juliet is willing to kill herself, she should surely be willing to try this plan. Juliet agrees - saying that she would do anything rather than marry Paris, as long as it lets her live with Romeo peacefully.
The Friar lays out a grand plan. She will go home and be cheery and agree to marry Paris. On Wednesday night, she should sleep alone, and take a potion (which he supplies her with). He describes the effect this will have-
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest;
The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade
To paly ashes, thy eyes' windows fall,
Like death, when he shuts up the day of life;
Each part, deprived of supple government,
Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death:
And in this borrow'd likeness of shrunk death
Thou shalt continue two and forty hours,
And then awake as from a pleasant sleep.
In other words, upon taking the potion, she will appear to be dead, for 42 hours. After 42 hours, she will wake up, as if she was only waking from a pleasant sleep. While she is asleep, Paris will try to take her to the wedding on Thursday morning, and will think that she is dead.
Juliet will be laid in the Capulet vault, and Romeo (who will be informed of this through some letters) will come and take Juliet to Mantua after she awakes. The Friar will guard her while she is asleep. After the plan is laid out, the Friar promises to send another Friar to Romeo to inform him of the plan. Juliet finally ends the scene by saying-
Love give me strength! and strength shall help afford.
Farewell, dear father!
Scene Two is set in the Capulet’s home. Lord Capulet rushes around, giving orders to servants - sending one servant to hire cooks, and another off with a guest list.
Capulet finds that his daughter has gone to Friar Laurence to speak with, and the nurse observes Juliet coming back with a cheery look. Juliet apologizes profusely for her actions, and refusing to marry Paris. Capulet is very happy by this, and decides to move the wedding up to Wednesday morning (it is Tuesday as he is saying this). This is significant, because now Romeo has to get into Verona and into the Capulet tomb much sooner. Juliet doesn’t seem to realize this, and says that she spoke with Paris and gave him her love.
Juliet and the Nurse go off to look in her closet for clothes for the wedding. Lady Capulet protests that there won’t be enough time to prepare for the wedding, but Capulet says that everything will be fine. The audience is left wondering whether there will be enough time to execute Friar Laurence’s plan.
Scene Three begins in Juliet’s bedroom. Juliet and the nurse are looking at clothes, and Juliet pretends to be interested. She asks the Nurse to leave her alone tonight, as she has a lot of praying to do.
Lady Capulet enters, willing to help her daughter select clothes. She finds that Juliet needs no help, and Juliet promptly and politely asks to be left alone. The Nurse and the Lady do leave.
Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.
Juliet wishes her mother and Nurse farewell, unsure if they will ever see each other again. Juliet is scared, and fears death. She feels cold, and wants her nurse and mother back, but thinks better of it. Then she worries about whether the potion Laurence gave her will work - but she trusts it.
Oddly, she then thinks that maybe Friar Laurence (who is really the only true and honest person in the story) really gave her a poison, because he did not want to be dishonoured by marrying the same woman twice. But Juliet realizes that the Friar is a holy man, and would not kill her. She starts jumping from one worry to the next - what if she awakens before she is supposed to? What if she awakens at night and has to stay with her dead family?
Her imagination becomes even more wild, and she imagines a ghost of Tybalt rising from dead and trying to kill Romeo. With that, she decides to end the madness and drinks the potion, while saying-
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
Scene Four is again in the Capulet house, opening with Lady Capulet and the Nurse. There is an atmosphere of bustle and hurrying, and the Nurse is running errands.
Capulet enters, in a gentle and friendly mood. The nurse notes how late it is (three o’clock in the morning) and that Capulet should get to bed. There is a bit of joking, and several servants come bustling and Capulet speaks with them. It becomes apparent that he is generally in a good mood.
Suddenly, music announces the coming of Count Paris, and Capulet tells the nurse to go wake Juliet while he stalls Paris. They are about to discover that Juliet is ‘dead’.
Scene Five begins with the Nurse attempting to wake up Juliet. She teases Juliet for sleeping too much, and says that she really is in a deep sleep. She finds that she is wearing the same clothes she was wearing last night, and she touches her to wake her.
I must needs wake you; Lady! lady! lady!
Alas, alas! Help, help! my lady's dead!
O, well-a-day, that ever I was born!
At this point, the Nurse is probably crying and yelling, which attracts the interest of Lady Capulet, who then makes the same observation as the Nurse. She moans and cries over the apparent death of her daughter, as the Nurse did.
Suddenly, Lord Capulet enters and tells them to bring Juliet - because Paris is here. The Nurse and Lady Capulet tell him that she is dead, but he must examine her himself before he believes it. He reacts similarly to the Nurse and Lady, just before Friar Laurence and Paris and his musicians10 enters. The Friar, knowing very well what the answer is, asks-
Come, is the bride ready to go to church?
He asks this for two purposes - to see if the plan went as he hoped, and so that it appears he thinks nothing unordinary has happened. Paris, Lady Capulet, Lord Capulet and the Nurse all mourn together, and the nurse appears to take it especially hard - barely able to even say anything other than ’O woeful day!’.
After much grieving, Friar Laurence finally speaks up - he says that Juliet is now in heaven, and they should be happy for that. They tried to bring her some heaven with this marriage, but now she has the whole thing. The Friar also suggests that the intended wedding should now be a funeral. Capulet concurs, and orders for the joyous wedding to be changed into a solemn funeral. The Friar warns them not to sin - as this is probably punishment for a sin - and they all leave, except the musicians and the Nurse. The Nurse makes a final comment and walks off.
Faith, we may put up our pipes, and be gone.
The musicians decide to pack up their instruments, but Peter (a Capulet servant) comes in and asks the musicians to play ‘Heart’s Ease’. They refuse, and a somewhat amusing bout of word play and punning goes on for some time... but that is not really important now.
Scene One begins with Romeo at a street in Mantua.
If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
My bosom's lord sits lightly in his throne;
And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.
Romeo is happy again in Mantua, and recounts to himself a dream he had. He dreamt that he was dead, but Juliet kissed him, which revived him and made him an emporer. He takes this as a good sign, and again shows that he believes in the value of dreams. He is very cheery and happy, considering that he was just exiled from Verona (though we may assume that his happiness may have something to do with the night he spent with Juliet). Soon, however, his servant Balthasar comes to him. Romeo asks for news from Verona, especially about Juliet.
Her body sleeps in Capel's monument,
And her immortal part with angels lives.
Balthasar delivers news to Romeo that his Juliet has died, and that he saw her funeral. Romeo’s immediate reaction is odd - and he only reacts in one sentence. It is especially odd, as Shakespeare has been known to use more than a dozen lines on a dream about a fairy queen that infect’s people’s dreams. In any case, Romeo tells his servant to get him some horses and some ink and paper. Balthasar comments that Romeo looks a bit crazy, but Romeo brushes this comment off. He then asks if Balthasar had any letters from Friar Laurence, and he does not. The audience is now aware that the Friar’s plan has failed - Romeo heard that Juliet was dead before the Friar could explain that she was not.
Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night.
Once alone, Romeo plans to buy poison and lie dead with Juliet tonight. And as he is speaking about these plans, he makes his way to the apothecary. He offers the apothecary 40 gold coins for a dram of powerful poison - and he has to convince the apothecary to sell it to him, because Mantua law provides death to people who sell poison. The apothecary consents, though, because he is poor.
We assume that after this, Romeo begins his ride to Verona.
Scene Two opens with Friar John greeting Friar Laurence. Laurence asks John how Romeo is in Mantua and if he has any letters from him. However, Friar John says that he met another Friar in a home where he was visiting the sick, and the authorities would not let either Friar leave the house, and the letter was never sent to Romeo!
Laurence decides to break into the Capulet tomb and keep Juliet hidden in his cell until Romeo arrives. He will also write again to Romeo - not knowing that it is too late, and he has left for Verona.
Scene Three is the final scene of the play, set in the Capulet tomb. It is also very long. Paris stands at the Capulet tomb with his page, who stands guard. He wants to be alone to speak with Juliet. Paris grieves sentimentally, but it is interrupted when the Page signals that someone is coming.
What cursed foot wanders this way to-night,
To cross my obsequies and true love's rite?
Paris wonders what could be wandering around outside the tomb (Paris in in the inside), just as Romeo and Balthasar come into the scene. Romeo begins breaking into the Capulet tomb, and orders Balthasar to deliver a letter to his father in the morning (that’s what the ink and paper were for in Scene One of this act). He also orders Balthasar not to interrupt Romeo not matter what. Then, he opens the tomb.
This is that banish'd haughty Montague,
That murder'd my love's cousin, with which grief,
It is supposed, the fair creature died;
And here is come to do some villanous shame
To the dead bodies: I will apprehend him.
Paris sees Romeo, and thinks he is trying to continue the feud between the Montagues and Capulets here by vandalizing the bodies. He also notes that Romeo was banished, so he will apprehend him, and he tells him that he will die for returning to Verona.
I must indeed; and therefore came I hither.
Romeo agrees he must die. Then, he attempts to get Paris to leave the tomb without a fight. However, Paris refuses, and they fight. The page returns briefly to say that he’s going to call the watch. In the end (the fight probably would not last very long, in fact) Romeo slays Paris. The dying words of Paris are asking Romeo to lay him in the tomb with Juliet, and he agrees to. As he is bringing Paris into the tomb, he suddenly recognizes his foe as Paris, a relative of Mercutio and the would-be husband of Juliet. He never expresses any hate towards Paris - he was merely an obstacle in the way of Juliet, and he doesn’t really blame Paris for loving Juliet either.
Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark!
Here's to my love!
Romeo drinks the poison, and after kissing Juliet, he dies.
Just as Romeo dies, Friar Laurence comes into the graveyard. He finds Balthasar, who informs him that Romeo is in the Capulet tomb, and has been for a half an hour. Laurence begins to enter the tomb, and sees blood and a sword out. Then he sees the bodies.
Romeo! O, pale! Who else? what, Paris too?
And steep'd in blood? Ah, what an unkind hour
Is guilty of this lamentable chance!
The lady stirs.
He sees that Romeo and Paris are dead, and that Juliet is waking up11. She asks where Romeo is, because the Friar promised that he would be there when she woke up. The Friar notices some noise - from the watch that the page summoned - and tries to rush Juliet along. He tells her that his husband is dead and that Paris is dead in the same breath, and urges her to come with him. He will find her a home with some nuns.
Noise comes again from the watchmen, which frightens the Friar, and Juliet dismisses him, saying that she will not leave with him. He leaves. Then Juliet begins to try to kill herself-
What's here? a cup, closed in my true love's hand?
Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end:
O churl! drunk all, and left no friendly drop
To help me after? I will kiss thy lips;
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make die with a restorative.
She kisses him. But hears the watchmen, and realizes she needs to kill herself quickly. He takes Romeo’s dagger, declares that she is the dagger’s sheath, and stabs herself.
Just after this, the watch enters, guided by the page. They are stunned, and take note of all of the bodies. The watchman in charge has the Prince, the Capulets and the Montagues be brought here. The Friar and Balthasar are brought into the tomb and very quickly, the Prince and the Capulets come. Lord Montague comes, but not Lady Montague, because she died of grief because of Romeo’s exile.
The Friar, Balthasar and the Page all tell their stories, clearing up everything, and finally telling all that Romeo was married to Juliet. The Prince reads a letter aloud that Romeo gave to Balthasar, which confirms these stories. He then scolds the Montagues and Capulets-
Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.
Capulet and Montague, grieving over the loss of their daughter and son, make peace and become friends. They promise to make a gold statue of each others children over Verona. The Prince ends the play with these words-
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.