Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene...
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.
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2
Late at night after the party, Romeo’s friends Mercutio and Benvolio try to find him, but he is nowhere to be found. They leave and Romeo reveals that he is hiding outside Juliet’s window, waiting for a glimpse of her. Juliet appears at her window and, without knowing Romeo is watching her, declares her love for him. Romeo jumps out of his hiding spot and declares his love for her as well. After testing each other on the truth of their sudden feelings of love, they decide to marry the very next day.
Romeo visits Friar Lawrence to tell him about his new love for Juliet. The Friar does not initially believe Romeo, given his recent obsession with Rosaline. Romeo explains to the Friar that his love for Juliet is real and far greater than anything he ever felt for Rosaline. He asks that the Friar marry them that day. While the Friar is overcome with shock at such a suggestion, he decides to perform the wedding in the hopes that the marriage might bring forth a truce between the Montagues and Capulets.
Romeo returns to his friends, but does not mention the wedding or Juliet. Juliet’s Nurse arrives and seeks Romeo out – she confirms the details for the wedding that afternoon. Romeo agrees and the Nurse gives a joyful Juliet the good news. Romeo and Juliet are married by the Friar.
O, I am fortune's fool!
Romeo, Act 3, Scene 1
Later that afternoon, Romeo encounters Tybalt who is still furious that Romeo was at the Capulet party and tries to pick a fight with him. When Romeo refuses to fight, secretly protecting his new wife, this angers Tybalt. Mercutio is amazed that Romeo will not stand up to Tybalt, and fights with Tybalt on Romeo’s behalf. Romeo tries to intervene but in the scuffle, Tybalt stabs Mercutio and he is killed. Enraged by the death of his friend, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Prince then banishes Romeo to a town called Mantua, and says that he must never return to Verona again.
Unaware of this, Juliet prepares to receive Romeo in her room for their wedding night. The Nurse enters and tells her the news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. At his cell, Friar Lawrence instils courage in the broken Romeo and tells him he should spend his final night in Verona with Juliet, then escape to Mantua at dawn where he will arrange for Juliet to follow. The Friar hopes that they may then start a new life together, away from Verona and the feuding families.
Romeo makes his way in secret to Juliet’s bedroom and they spend the night together, before he leaves early in the morning for Mantua.
Juliet is distraught, and her parents mistake her weeping for Romeo for grief about Tybalt’s death. To bring her some joy, Lord Capulet decides to arrange Juliet’s immediate marriage to Paris. Juliet reacts in disbelief and anger, appealing to her father and mother to delay the wedding. Lord Capulet violently threatens to disown his daughter if she does not agree to the marriage. Juliet asks the Nurse for her advice, and she tells Juliet to marry Paris and forget Romeo. After the Nurse leaves, Juliet decides to cut all ties with her and to visit the Friar for his advice.
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
Juliet, Act 4, Scene 3
Paris visits Friar Lawrence to discuss his upcoming wedding to Juliet. When Juliet arrives at the Friar’s cell, Paris leaves. Juliet tells the Friar of her desperation and implores that he find a solution to her predicament. Friar Lawrence gives her a potion to drink that will make her appear dead for 42 hours, but will actually put her in a deep sleep. He promises to send a letter to Romeo in Mantua with the plan, telling him to come and fetch Juliet from the Capulet vault, where her family will lay her. Juliet returns home and, after some initial fears, drinks the potion. In the morning, the Nurse, her parents and Paris arrive to find her supposedly dead. Friar Lawrence arrives and feigns surprise and grief. He arranges for her body to be taken to the Capulet vault.
… all are punished.
Prince Escalus, Act 5, Scene 3
In Mantua where he is exiled, Romeo has had a strange dream about Juliet. His friend Balthasar arrives and tells Romeo that Juliet is dead, and that he has seen her being taken to the Capulet vault. Romeo is overcome with grief and decides to travel back to Verona and die beside Juliet. He purchases a lethal poison from an apothecary and begins his journey.
Meanwhile, Friar Lawrence discovers that his letter explaining the plan to Romeo never arrived. Having sent another Friar to deliver it, they were quarantined because of the plague and so never left Verona. Panicked, Friar Lawrence rushes to the Capulet vault before Juliet wakes.
Romeo travels by night and arrives at the Capulet tomb where he encounters Paris, who is mourning for Juliet. They fight and Paris is killed. Romeo breaks into the Capulet vault and sees Juliet, believing her to be dead. He drinks the poison and dies beside her. Friar Lawrence arrives at the vault and discovers the bodies of both Paris and Romeo. Juliet wakes and the Friar tells her what has happened, and that Romeo is dead. He urges Juliet to leave with him immediately. But Juliet refuses to leave Romeo, and hearing the approach of others outside, the Friar flees. Wanting only to follow Romeo, Juliet stabs herself with his dagger and dies.
Prince Escalus arrives with the Montague and Capulet families where they find Romeo and Juliet dead. Friar Lawrence explains what has happened. The families finally realise the devastating impact of their generational war and prejudice. The Montagues and Capulets say they will reconcile, once and for all.