Your 5-minute guide



We’ve done the research, so you can bluff your way through. Here’s a quickfire guide to all the thrills, spills, and chills of Romeo and Juliet. Compiled by Andy McLean.


  1. The set up: A violent, long-running feud between two families (the Capulets and the Montagues) is causing chaos on the streets of Verona. Exasperated, the city’s ruling Prince outlaws public brawling. Meanwhile, Romeo, a young Montague, is mooning about the place swearing undying love for a girl named Rosaline.
  2. The point of no return: Egged on by his mates, Romeo goes behind enemy lines in search of Rosaline; he gatecrashes a Capulet party where he bumps into Juliet, a young Capulet. Romeo and Juliet are instantly smitten and, soon after, secretly get married (complicated by the fact that, all the while, Juliet’s family want her to wed a rich guy called Paris).
  3. The stakes are raised: A street fight breaks out where Juliet’s cousin Tybalt slays Romeo’s friend Mercutio. Blinded with grief and anger, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Prince exiles Romeo from Verona but, before fleeing the city, Romeo spends one precious night in the arms of Juliet. At daybreak, they bid a tearful goodbye.
  4. The wires get crossed: In Romeo’s absence, Juliet cooks up a ruse where she will fake her own death and then flee the city to start a new life with Romeo. A message is despatched to tell Romeo of the plan, but it never reaches him. Juliet takes a potion that makes her appear dead and her distraught family place her body in the Capulet family crypt.
  5. The bloody end: Romeo hears word that Juliet is dead and gallops back to Verona. He arrives at her crypt, only to find a mournful Paris standing in his way. Romeo slays Paris, and having seen Juliet apparently dead, Romeo kills himself. When Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead, she also takes her own life. United in sorrow and remorse, the Capulets and Montagues agree to end their feud.


Juliet The young, wide-eyed daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. Juliet is way smarter than she is given credit for, and like most teenagers, she’s fed up with being told what to do.

Romeo Oh Romeo, Romeo. Where do we even start with Romeo? The teenage son of Montague and Lady Montague is impulsive, idealistic, and prone to wild bouts of passion.

Benvolio Cool, calm, and collected, Benvolio is Romeo’s cousin and BFF. (He’s a bit like a little angel sitting on Romeo’s shoulder.)

Mercutio Bang on cue, here comes the little devil sitting on Romeo’s other shoulder. Mischievous Mercutio is neither Capulet nor Montague, but he always brings the party.

Tybalt Of all the Capulets, Tybalt probably has the most beef with the Montagues. Always spoiling for a fight.

The Nurse Like a surrogate mother to Juliet, the Nurse has her heart in the right place, her head in the clouds, and her sense of humour in the gutter.

Prince Escalus The top dog in Verona has had a gutful of the strife between the Montagues and Capulets.

Count Paris The Prince’s kinsman is Verona’s most eligible bachelor. Squeaky clean and keen to please. (Try saying that fast five times.)

Capulet and Lady Capulet Juliet’s parents command the Capulet clan and loathe the Montagues. They’re eager to earn some brownie points with the Prince and marry their daughter off to Count Paris.

Friar Laurence Slightly naïve but well-intentioned, the Friar wishes everyone could just get along. Also dabbles in alternative medicine.


If you’re one of those people who starts a novel by flicking to the final page to find out how it ends (gasp! How could you?), then Romeo and Juliet is your jam. This play is so famous that most people know how it ends, even if they’ve never seen it.

And that’s exactly what Shakespeare would have wanted. He made certain that every audience member knows the ending, right from the start. The play opens with a prologue that tells us exactly what we’re about to see: a family feud that ends after two young lovers perish.

As the play unfolds, even some of the characters seem to know what’s coming. To pick just two examples: Romeo says he has a hunch that attending the Capulet ball will lead to his “vile forfeit of untimely death”. And later in the play, when the lovers part ways, Juliet has a premonition of Romeo “as one dead in the bottom of a tomb”.

By giving the audience all these spoiler alerts, Shakespeare is toying with us. We are unable to intervene and are forced to watch, helpless, as events spiral out of control. We witness everything – from romance to heroism, from violence to comedy – in the certain knowledge that this will only end one way: tragedy.


  • ‘Wild-goose chase’
  • ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’
  • ‘You kiss by the book’
  • ‘Fool’s paradise’
  • ‘Star-crossed lovers’
  • ‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’
  • ‘Did my heart love till now?’
  • ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other word would smell as sweet’
  • ‘A plague on both your houses’
  • ‘What must be shall be’
  • ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?’


  1. Growing up fast: A lot happens in a short space of time in this play. Professor Paul Prescott, from the University of California, Merced, points out that on Monday alone, Romeo does all these things for the first time in his life: Gets married, kills someone, gets banished, attempts suicide (“sort of”), and loses his virginity!
  2. Pandemic plot twist: In his death throes, Mercutio hurls a famous curse at the Montagues and Capulets: “A plague on both your houses.” His words turn out to be prophetic. Later in the play, a messenger is quarantined due to plague, preventing him from delivering crucial information that could have saved Romeo and Juliet’s lives.
  3. Not stealing, just borrowing: While most people associate Romeo and Juliet with William Shakespeare, he did not actually come up with the original story himself. In Italy, stories about a tragic couple named Romeo and Juliet date back at least as far as 1476. But Shakespeare’s version of the tale is widely considered to be the greatest and is certainly the most famous.
  4. Spare a thought for Rosaline: Having proclaimed undying love for Rosaline, Romeo quickly forgets her when he meets Juliet. Curious about Rosaline’s fate, Bell Shakespeare’s own Joanna Erskine wrote an entire play devoted to her (Rosaline, staged in 2019). Last year, a Hollywood movie of the same name also speculated about Rosaline’s story.
  5. Laughing at himself: Many scholars believe that, while writing Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare was also crafting A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and in the process, he poked fun at himself. In the latter play, Shakespeare included a slapstick, melodramatic spoof where two confused lovers take their own lives.