Romeo and Juliet

Two star-crossed lovers from warring families marry in secret, amid a culture of violence and prejudice.

Did my heart love til now?

Romeo, Act 1, Scene 5

An ancient grudge exists between the Montagues and the Capulets, two noble and powerful families in Verona, Italy.

Their ongoing and violent feud has been outlawed by Prince Escalus, who forbids any more blood to be spilled. One night, two young members of the families, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, meet at the Capulet’s masquerade ball. Before realising each other’s true identity, they fall in love.

Romeo and Juliet decide to marry in secret and they enlist the help of Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s Nurse in their plans. But despite their newfound love, the families’ feud rages on. Romeo's friend Mercutio is killed by Juliet’s cousin Tybalt. In retaliation, Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished. Romeo and Juliet make a plan to escape Verona and start a new life together, but when the plan fails, they take their own lives. After their deaths, their parents discover their children’s union and the families pledge to reconcile once and for all.

Often regarded as the most famous love story of all time, Shakespeare adapted the plot of Romeo and Juliet from a 1562 poem by Arthur Brooke. Where Brooke’s story took place over many months and served as a didactic warning for young people who chose not to follow parental advice, Shakespeare condensed the story to less than a week and placed the narrative in the hands and hearts of the young lovers.

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Kelly Paterniti as Juliet (2016, photo: credit)

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Damien Strouthos as Mercutio and Tom Stokes as Tybalt (2016, photo: credit)

SYNOPSIS

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Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...

Prologue

There is a violent brawl on the streets of Verona, Italy, arising from the long-simmering tension between two noble families, the Montagues and the Capulets. Tired of seeing them endanger the populace, Prince Escalus bans further confrontation on pain of death. The young heir of the Montague family, Romeo, cares little for the ongoing feud. He is consumed with love for a girl called Rosaline who does not return his feelings. His cousin Benvolio and friend Mercutio attempt to cheer him up. They encounter a servant of the Capulet household who unwittingly shows them an invitation to a masquerade ball at the Capulet house that night. When they read that Rosaline is attending the party, Benvolio and Mercutio suggest they all attend the party in disguise. They tell Romeo that he can then compare Rosaline with other young women, and discover there are many more women in the world to desire. Romeo doesn’t want to attend at first as he has had a foreboding dream, but Mercutio cleverly makes light of his fears and Romeo decides to go to the party.

At the Capulet household, Paris, a young relative of the Prince and an eligible bachelor, expresses interest in marrying the Capulet’s only child, Juliet. Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, shows Paris respect but expresses that he feels Juliet is too young to marry just yet – she is only thirteen. However, he tells Paris to woo Juliet and invites him to meet her at the party. Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet, approves of the union, and she and Juliet’s Nurse tell Juliet about Paris’ intentions and plan for marriage. They encourage her to meet Paris at the party and see what she thinks of him. Juliet does not show interest in Paris or the idea of marriage at all, but promises to give Paris a chance, with her parent’s approval.

At the ball, Juliet’s hot-headed cousin, Tybalt, recognises Romeo and wants to confront him. Lord Capulet forbids Tybalt from fighting, and Tybalt swears revenge on Romeo for a later date. Across the room, Romeo and Juliet see each other for the first time and are instantly attracted. They share witty banter and have their first kiss, before even finding out who the other is. It is only later that they discover each other’s true identity and that they are from rival families.

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Famous lines

A plague o' both your houses!
They have made worms’ meat of me!

Mercutio, Act 3, Scene 1

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Historical background

Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare’s second tragedy and was most likely written between 1594 and 1596.

Fast facts

Shakespeare wasn’t the originator of the Romeo and Juliet story.

There were several earlier versions and references, but Shakespeare’s closest source material was a long-form poem by Arthur Brooke (which was in itself a translation of other previous versions of the story).

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Romeo and Juliet Map

Geography

It would have taken
Romeo 8 hours to
walk from Mantua
back to Verona

Debatable points

Is Romeo and Juliet's love real?

Possibly the most debatable point that has consistently been asked of the play is whether Romeo and Juliet’s love is real or whether it is simply an intense childhood crush. Some argue that the all-consuming nature of their attraction to one another speaks more of infatuation than any true feelings of deep, true love.

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