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-crossed lovers take their life, Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Doth with their death bury their parents' strife. The fearful passage of their death-marked love And the continuance of their parents' rage, Which, but their children's end, naught 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.
In the beautiful city of Verona, where our story takes place, a long-standing hatred between two families erupts into new violence, and citizens stain their hands with the blood of their fellow citizens. Two unlucky children of these enemy families become lovers and commit suicide. Their unfortunate deaths put an end to their parents' feud. For the next two hours, we will watch the story of their doomed love and their parents' anger, which nothing but the children's deaths could stop. If you listen to us patiently, we'll make up for everything we've left out in this prologue onstage.
What are the major themes of the play, as set out in the Prologue?
How are these themes explored through the thoughts, words, actions, interactions and circumstances of the play?
In what way do you relate to these themes?
The Prologue calls Romeo and Juliet "star-crossed lovers". Explore whether the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was a matter of fate (predetermined by the stars), or whether it was a series of human error.
What other major social, ethical or cultural themes are explored in the play?
A fight breaks out in the streets of Verona between servants of the Capulets and the Montagues. Prince Escalus stops the fight and threatens death to anyone who fights in the streets again.
Lord and Lady Montague express concern about Romeo. They ask his friend and cousin, Benvolio, to find out why he is so sad.
Romeo reveals that he is lovesick for Rosaline.
Paris asks Capulet for Juliet's hand in marriage. Although Paris would be a good match, Capulet feels that Juliet is too young (she is 13!!!!!!!), and asks Paris to wait for two years.
The Capulets are hosting a masked ball. He sends out a servant (who cannot read) to invite the guests. The servant asks Romeo for help, and when Romeo sees that Rosaline has been invited, he decides to gatecrash to ball.
Lady Capulet and the Nurse tell Juliet about Paris's marriage proposal. Juliet is not very enthusiastic about the idea but promises to take a look at him during the ball.
Romeo and his friends meet to go to the ball. Mercutio relates his dream (in the famous "Queen Mab" speech). Romeo also recounts his dream in which his death is foretold.
At the ball, Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight. (No, girls, this does NOT happen in real life!)
Tybalt is outraged when he recognises Romeo, but his uncle, Lord Capulet, forbids him to cause a scene. Tybalt decides to challenge Romeo the next time he sees him.
Romeo and Juliet are devastated to find out that they are are from enemy families.
After the ball, Romeo hides from his friends because he wants to see Juliet again. At great personal risk to himself, he climbs over the wall into the Capulet's garden.
Juliet appears on her balcony. Unaware that Romeo is near, she confesses her feelings for him and despairs that he is a Montague. Romeo, who cannot contain himself, calls out that he loves her too.
They agree to get married the next day, and Juliet promises to send a messenger to hear of the plans that Romeo has made.
Romeo meets with Friar Lawrence and asks him to marry them. Initially, the Friar is skeptical because of Romeo's 'love' for Rosaline. However, upon reflection, he believes that a wedding between the two enemies might heal the wounds.
Romeo meets up with his friends in town. When Juliet's Nurse appears (her messenger), Mecutio teases her.
Romeo tells the Nurse that Juliet must pretend to go to confession that afternoon, where Romeo will meet her and the Friar will marry them. He plans for them to spend their wedding night in her room.
The Nurse delivers the message to Juliet, but not before teasing her by making her wait.
Everything goes according to plan, and Romeo and Juliet are wed.
Tybalt, who is still upset about Romeo's behaviour the previous night, sees him and challenges him to a duel.
Given that Romeo has just married Tybalt's cousin, he has no desire to fight and refuses the challenge. Mercutio is horrified and cannot let the challenge go unmet. He stands in for Romeo, fighting to defend his friend's honour.
When Romeo steps in to separate them, Tybalt takes advantage of the distraction and stabs Mercutio.
He dies, cursing both families.
Romeo is outraged. He pursues and kills Tybalt.
Although Romeo should have received the death penalty (as Lady Capulet is quick to point out), Prince Escalus rules that Romeo should be banished since he was avenging the death of Mercutio.
Juliet is distraught at the news of Tybalt's death and confused about Romeo's part in it. She finds herself caught inbetween two loyalties:
Nurse: "Are you going to say good things about the man who killed your cousin?"
Juliet: "Am I supposed to say bad things about my own husband?"
Juliet wants Romeo to spend their wedding night with her, and sends the Nurse to find him.
Romeo hides in Friar Lawrence's chambers. He feels very sorry for himself and laments that banishment is worth than death. Friar Lawrence calms him down by pointing out how fortunate he is within his misfortunes.
The Nurse enters and extends Juliet's invitation which Romeo readily accepts.
It is Monday evening.
Lord Capulet accepts Paris's marriage proposal and arranges the wedding for Thursday.
The day starts off well for Romeo and Juliet, who are lying in each others arms. Romeo promises Juliet that they will see each other again, and that their troubles will give them stories to tell each other later in life.
Things then take a turn for the worse when Lady Capulet informs Juliet that she is marry the "gallant, young, and noble gentleman", Count Paris!
Lord Capulet is enraged when Juliet refuses to marry Paris and threatens to disown her, and leave her to "beg, starve, die in the streets".
When her father leaves, Juliet turns to her Nurse for advice. She tells Juliet to forget about Romeo and marry Paris. Juliet rejects the Nurse's advice and vows not to tell her anything anymore. Instead, she will appeal to the Friar for help.
Juliet goes to confession to talk to the Friar. She runs into Paris at the church.
The Friar comes up with a plan to get her out of marrying Paris: He gives her a herbal potion that will make her appear dead for 42 hours. She is to take this the night before her wedding. The Friar will send word to Romeo, and he and Romeo will watch over her at the Capulet family tomb until she awakes. Then, Romeo and Juliet travel to Mantua, to begin their life together.
As part of the plan, Juliet asks forgiveness of her father for refusing to marry Paris, and agrees to go through with it.
Lord Capulet is so delighted that he decides to bring the wedding forward by one day. Juliet is to marry Paris the next morning!
Juliet is terrified of waking up in the tomb where "at some hours in the nigh spirits resort". Still, she takes the potion, drinking to Romeo.
Scene 4 provides some respite from the tension by focusing on the wedding preparations.
The Nurse enters to find Juliet 'dead'.
Her parents are devastated. Lady Capulet calls it an "accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day", because, as Lord Capulet declares, "Death lies on her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of all the field."
The wedding turns into a funeral.
Romeo, in Mantua, awaits news from the Friar. Instead, he received the aweful news of Juliet's death from a servant, Balthasar, who saw her being buried.
Romeo gives up all will to live, and visits an apothecary (Clicks Phamacy!) to buy a poison so strong, that even if you had the strength "of twenty men, it would dispatch you straight". He plans to kill himself at Juliet's grave.
Friar John, who had been sent to Romeo with a letter informing him of the plan, returns to Friar Lawrence.
He had been held in quarantine after an outbreak of the plague, and could not deliver the letter Romeo.
Given that Juliet is set to wake up within 3 hours, Friar Lawrence panics! He grabs a iron crowbar and sets off to the tomb.
He plans to break into the tomb, comfort Juliet as she awakes, then hide her in his chambers until Romeo can return.
Romeo arrives at Juliet's tomb and gives Balthasar a letter to his father with the instructions to deliver it in the morning.
Paris, who has come to Juliet's tomb to scatter flowers, confronts Romeo, and tries to arrest him. They fight, and Romeo kills him. His dying wish is that he be buried with Juliet.
The fight was witnessed by Paris's page, who goes to get help.
Romeo enters the tomb and sees the 'corpse' of Juliet. He drinks his poison and dies.
Shortly thereafter, Friar Lawrence arrives, just as Juliet awakes. He urges her to leave with him but she insists: "Go, get thee hence, for I will not away."
So Friar Lawrence leaves her!
She finds the body of Romeo, and stabs herself with his dagger. She dies.
The Chief Watchman finds the gruesome sight and, holding Paris's Page, Balthasar and the Friar in custody, he calls for the Prince, as well as the Capulets and Montagues.
Friar Lawrence explains to the group exactly what had happened over the last few days. This is confirmed in the letter that Romeo had written to his father.
As a result of the tragedy, the Montagues and Capulets make peace. To seal the peace, they decide to erect gold statues of Romeo and Juliet.
Compare and contrast the characters of Romeo and Juliet. How do they develop throughout the play? What makes them fall in love with one another?
Does Romeo's infatuation with Rosealine weaken the credibility of his love for Juliet?
Discuss the relationships between parents and children in Romeo and Juliet. How do Romeo and Juliet interact with their parents? Are they rebellious, in the modern sense? How do their parents feel about them?
Compare Paris to Romeo.
Who is to blame for the lovers' death?
How do you think the mariage would have turned out if the Friar's plan had succeeded?
What responsibility should Friar Lawrence bear for the tragedy, and what do you think should be done with him?
What effect does the accelerated time scheme have on the play’s development? Is it plausible that a love story of this magnitude could take place so quickly?