Romeo and Juliet Summary

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is a timeless tale of star crossed lovers whose passionate relationship and tragic fate ultimately restore a semblance of peace and civility between their feuding households. This Romeo and Juliet summary will cover the entire plot of the play.
Believed to have been penned by the Bard between 1591 and 1596, this, one of the greatest Shakespeare plays, wouldn’t reach publication until 1597. Corrections were necessary after the initial publication due to quality, and the final edition was completed for the First Folio in 1623. 
There are many speculations as to the inspiration for the Romeo and Juliet story. The theme of forbidden love and tragedy resembling that of Shakespeare’s play is common in several variations from the 1400s and beyond. 
Masuccio Salernitano (1410-1475) is one of the first known authors to weave the web of forbidden love and feuding with his story of Mariotto and Giannoza
 
Two lovers in Italy from feuding families whose secret marriage and miscommunication end in their deaths. Sound familiar? 
The author thought to have influenced Shakespeare the most, however, was the monk Matteo Bandello (1480-1562). He provided the last names of Capulet and Montague, as well as several events present in Shakespeare’s work. 
Closely following Bandello’s tale was a version by Pierre Boaistuau that was then translated by Arthur Brooke as a poem in 1562 titled “The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet.” This poem actually made it to Shakespeare’s desk. 
In the contemporary world, the Shakespearean tragedy of Romeo and Juliet lives on in several modern stage and film adaptations, showcasing the ongoing fascination with the idea of forbidden love and its consequences.

Romeo and Juliet Characters

Romeo and Juliet Timeline of Key Plot Events

Romeo and Juliet Summary

Romeo and Juliet Setting

In the opening, a Chorus appears and begins to describe the topic of the play. At its base, it’s a Romeo and Juliet summary, and it tells the audience exactly what’s going to happen. The prologue is set as a 14-line Shakespearean sonnet performed by the Chorus.

Beginning by setting the scene in Verona, Italy, the Chorus describes two households, both of high nobility, that hold a deep and very old grudge against each other. The two families have been the cause of much violence and bloodshed over the years and are sworn enemies.

Verona, Italy - Romeo and Juliet Setting
Verona, Italy – Romeo and Juliet Setting

However, the Chorus states that from the opposing houses, two young lovers will appear. The two lovers are destined to die as a result of their forbidden relationship and their families’ hatred of the other.

Their death will serve as a bridge to mend the long-standing quarrel between the two families as they realize the harm and destruction their actions have caused.

Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 Summary

In the streets of Verona, two servants from the Capulet family run into two servants of the Montague household. As they begin to fight, Benvolio appears and attempts to stop them. 

Tybalt arrives and, refusing to back down, attempts to force Benvolio into a duel. Eventually, Lords Montague and Capulet get involved in the street brawl. The Prince of Verona puts the fight to a halt and grows so angered at the two families he decrees that if there is another bout of violence between them then they will pay with their lives. 

As everyone departs, Lady Montague, noticing Romeo’s odd behaviour, has Benvolio go check on him. Romeo confesses that he is in love with Rosaline, but his affections aren’t returned. 

At the Capulet household, Count Paris requests Juliet’s hand in marriage; however, Lord Capulet thinks she is too young and bids him to wait two more years. He then agrees to let Paris attempt to woo her at the family ball.

Romeo and Benvolio run into a servant of the Capulets that has a guest list for the ball, and when Romeo sees Rosaline’s name on the list, he agrees to sneak in, with some persuasion.

Juliet’s nurse and Lady Capulet try to convince her to accept the proposal and marry Paris, wishing her to be happy.

Romeo, accompanied by Benvolio and his friend Mercutio, attend the ball together. Romeo expresses his melancholy to his friends and Mercutio teases him, saying he has been enchanted by Queen Mab.

As the party continues, Romeo notices Juliet and is immediately entranced by her beauty. Tybalt sees him and in rage goes to attack, but Lord Capulet demands he be peaceful and not disturb the party.

Romeo and Juliet fall in love instantly as they kiss, and after Juliet returns to her mother the Nurse reveals to each of them the identity of the other, causing them both distress at the news.

Romeo and Juliet, Act 2 Summary

In the Prologue of act two, the Chorus tells in another sonnet that Romeo and Juliet are unable to meet easily, but their love allows them to find a way. 

Romeo sneaks away from his friends as they leave, and he arrives at Juliet’s home. She speaks of her love for Romeo and laments that he is a Montague. When he shows himself, they declare their love for each other and vow to be married. The two exchange several farewells and agree to plan more the next day. 

Romeo and Juliet Balcony Scene
Romeo and Juliet “Balcony Scene”

Romeo visits Friar Laurence and asks for his help in marrying them. The Friar agrees, hoping that their union will end the feud between their families. 

Later, Benvolio and Mercutio talk about how Tybalt has challenged Romeo to a duel and worry for their lovesick friend. When Romeo meets them, they tease him about his love. 

The Nurse comes to Romeo to inquire about the plan, and Romeo tells her that the marriage will take place at Friar Laurence’s that afternoon.

The Nurse then returns and gives the message to Juliet, after teasing her, and Juliet leaves immediately. When she arrives at Friar Laurence’s cell, the marriage takes place.

Romeo and Juliet, Act 3 Summary

In the street, Benvolio and Mercutio encounter Tybalt, and Mercutio attempts to lure him into a fight. When Romeo finds them, Tybalt insults him and publicly challenges him to a duel, only for Romeo to refuse and express an odd desire for them to be friends. 

Mercutio is angry at Romeo’s apparent cowardice and draws his sword to attack Tybalt. In the midst of their combat, Romeo tries to separate them, resulting in Mercutio being slain by Tybalt. 

Death of Mercutio
Death of Mercutio

Tybalt flees, and when he returns after Mercutio has been carried away, Romeo kills him. Benvolio urges Romeo to run, and when the Prince appears he questions Benvolio about what happened. Judging Romeo to be more guilty, Prince Escalus banishes him from Verona, rather than giving him a death sentence for killing Tybalt. 

Juliet anxiously awaits the arrival of Romeo at night; however, the Nurse brings her the news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. Juliet is overcome with grief and despair and contemplates suicide. The Nurse leaves Juliet to search for Romeo to bring him back to her.

Romeo, who is hiding at Friar Laurence’s cell, hears of the Prince’s ruling and claims that death would be better than being without Juliet.

The Nurse comes to him and tells him of Juliet’s anguish, and in his grief, he talks of suicide. The Friar scolds him and they form the plan for Romeo to flee to Mantua until the feud is resolved and he is pardoned.

As the dawn arrives, Romeo must leave for mantua. Lady Capulet comes to inform Juliet that she is to marry Paris in three days. She refuses, causing both of her parents to grow angry with her. Juliet, having also lost the support of the Nurse, seeks the Friar’s help.

Romeo and Juliet, Act 4 Summary

Paris is at the Friar’s cell, talking of his approaching wedding. Juliet comes to ask the Friar for assistance, and coldly avoids Paris’s advances. 

With Paris gone, Juliet confides her thoughts of suicide, and thus gives the Friar an idea. He gives her a potion that will make her appear to be dead, and when she wakes up in her family’s tomb, Romeo will meet her there so they can escape. 

Juliet returns home and apologizes to her mother and father, agreeing to the marriage. Capulet moves the wedding to the next morning. 

Finally alone in her room, Juliet contemplates what could go wrong with the plan, wondering if the potion actually will kill her, and is repulsed at the idea of awaking alone surrounded by her deceased family members. She strengthens her resolve and drinks the potion. 

The next day, the Nurse tries to wake Juliet, and when she is unable to, she raises the alarm that Juliet is dead. Her parents and Paris grieve, and Friar Laurence ordains her interment in the family vault.

Feigned death of Juliet
The Feigned Death of Juliet

Romeo and Juliet, Act 5 Summary

Before news of the Friar and Juliet’s plan reaches Romeo, Balthasar brings news of her death. Romeo plans a quick return and buys a fast-acting poison from an apothecary, planning to join his love in death. Friar Laurence receives word that the letter wasn’t delivered to Romeo, and decides to bring Juliet from the tomb to his cell. 

At the tomb, Paris has a page standing lookout, and Paris hides as Romeo approaches. Romeo sends Balthasar with a letter to Montague and breaks into the tomb. 

Paris steps up and challenges Romeo to a duel. Paris is killed, and Romeo goes to Juliet’s body, believing her to be truly dead, and vows to remain with her forever. Romeo then drinks the poison and dies. 

The Friar arrives as Juliet is waking up and he begs her to leave after telling her what happened. She refuses to go, and after kissing her love one last time, she takes his dagger and stabs herself.

The Watchmen, having been alerted by Paris’s page, appear and arrest Balthasar and the Friar. The Prince, Capulets, and Montagues enter the tomb and the Friar tells them of the two lovers’ marriage, Juliet’s fake death, and the miscommunication. The Friar’s story is supported by Balthasar and Romeo’s letter.

Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets
Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets

The Prince tells the families that their feuding led to this moment and they abandon their hostile relationship and agree to make a gold statue of the two young lovers.

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