What Is Romeo and Juliet About?

The Romeo and Juliet Story


One of William Shakespeare’s earliest tragedies, Romeo and Juliet tells the story of the ill-fated young lovers, who with their deaths finally settle the feud between their warring families. Romeo and Juliet was one of William Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies during the playwright’s lifetime, and is still among one of his most commonly performed works. Today, the characters of Romeo and Juliet are considered the epitome of young lovers.

Romeo and Juliet fits within a long tradition of doomed love stories that date back to ancient times. The plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy is rooted in an Italian story, which was translated into poetry by Arthur Brooke in 1562 as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. The tale was also told by William Painter in 1567 with Palace of Pleasure. With his Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare drew from both stories, but also developed a few characters of his own, including Paris and Mercutio. Scholars believe Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was written sometime between 1591 and 1595. It was published for the first time in a quarto in 1597, yet this edition was not of good quality, and the play was modified in later editions, aligning it with Shakespeare’s original version.

William Shakespeare’s ability in Romeo and Juliet to switch between humor and tragedy to amplify tension, his development of supporting characters, and his skill at using sub-plots to enhance his story, is applauded as an early indication of his dramatic talents. Shakespeare assigns different poetic styles to different characters, even changing the poetic form of a single character as he or she develops. The character of Romeo, for instance, becomes more skilled at the sonnet as the play goes on.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been the subject of countless adaptations in film, opera, and for the stage. During the English Restoration, Romeo and Juliet was brought back, albeit seriously modified, by William Davenant. Other versions include David Garrick’s 18th century adaptation, which altered numerous scenes that were deemed inappropriate, and Georg Benda’s opera that excluded a great deal of action and inserted a happy ending. On the other hand, adaptations in the 19thcentury revived William Shakespeare’s original work and emphasized realism, including the version from Charlotte Cushman. The adaptation from John Gielgud in 1935 respected Shakespeare’s original text, and made use of the Elizabethan style in costumes and sets to embellish the play. More recent adaptations have been incredibly varied, including that of George Cukor’s authentic film, the 1996 modernized Romeo + Juliet from Baz Luhrmann and most recently, Carlo Carlei’s Romeo & Juliet, released in 2013.

Plot Summary


William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet begins with a duel between the servants of two feuding families of Verona: the Capulets and the Montagues. When the duel ends, Verona’s Prince appears to warn everyone that the next people involved in a fight will be killed.

At this time, we meet Romeo Montague, gushing about his love for Rosaline. In the meantime, Juliet Capulet has just been told that she has caught the eye of a wealthy and handsome suitor, Paris. Romeo and his friends decide to show up to the Capulet’s masquerade ball, Romeo with the hope that he will find Rosaline there. Yet, at the ball, Romeo and Juliet meet, and immediately fall in love. Even after discovering that they are from rival families, the two young lovers secretly decide to get married. Romeo meets with Friar Laurence to plan the wedding ceremony, and Juliet asks her Nurse to serve as a messenger, to help her communicate with Romeo in secret. The Nurse meets with Romeo and Mercutio – a friend of Romeo – in order to develop a plan to bring Juliet to Friar Laurence.

Meanwhile, Benvolio – Romeo’s cousin and best friend – encounters Tybalt, a cousin of Juliet. Tybalt is angry over the appearance of Romeo and his friends at the Capulet masquerade ball. Tybalt duels with Mercutio, fatally wounding him. Romeo then kills Tybalt and flees. Prince arrives and announces that Romeo has been banished.

Nurse informs Juliet about the duel, and that Romeo has killed her cousin Tybalt. Still, Juliet wants to move forward with the wedding plans. The Nurse finds Romeo, who has fled to Friar Laurence and is in hiding. Friar Laurence devises a plan for Romeo to marry Juliet, but then to leave Verona while the Friar tries to convince the Prince to pardon Romeo.

Juliet, upset over Romeo’s banishment, is informed by her father that he has arranged her marriage to Paris, which will take place in two days. Juliet, who unbeknownst to her parents is already married to Romeo, pleads with her father and mother to stop the marriage. When her parents dismiss her, she flees to Friar Laurence for help. The Friar gives Juliet a potion that will put her in a coma-like state for 42 hours, during which time she will appear to be dead. Friar Laurence then sends a message to Romeo to advise him of the plan, so that he can find Juliet in the Capulet tomb and join her when she wakes.

Yet, Friar Laurence’s message does not reach Romeo in time, and he receives the news of Juliet’s death, believing it to be true. With poison in hand, Romeo goes to Juliet’s grave to join her in death. He finds Paris at the crypt, and the two fight, ultimately with Romeo killing Paris. When he finds Juliet’s body, he drinks the poison, dying just as Juliet awakens. Juliet, seeing Romeo dead, kills herself with a dagger.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet ends as both families, along with the Prince, arrive at the crypt to find the two young lovers dead. Friar Laurence relays the story of Romeo and Juliet, and the families are so moved that they agree to end their bitter feud.

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