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Romeo and Juliet Summary

Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, Italy, where there is an ongoing feud between the
Montague and Capulet families. The play opens with servants from both houses engaged in a
street brawl that eventually draws in the family patriarchs and the city officials,
including Prince Escalus. The Prince ends the conflict by issuing a decree that prohibits
any further fighting at the risk of great punishment.
Meanwhile, Romeo, a young man from the Montague house, laments his unrequited love for
a woman named Rosaline, who has vowed to remain chaste for the rest of her life. Romeo and
his friend Benvolio happen to stumble across a Capulet servant, Peter, who is trying to read
a list of invitees to a masked party at the Capulet house that evening. Romeo helps Peter read
the list and decides to attend the party because Rosaline will be there. He plans to wear a
mask so that he will nobody will recognize him as a Montague.
Romeo arrives at the Capulets' party in costume. He falls in love with young Juliet Capulet
from the moment he sees her. However, Juliet's cousin Tybalt recognizes Romeo and wants
to kill him on the spot. Lord Capulet intervenes, insisting that Tybalt not disturb the party
because it will anger the Prince. Undeterred, Romeo quietly approaches Juliet and confesses
his love for her. After exchanging loving words, they kiss.
Afterwards, Juliet's Nurse tells Romeo that Juliet is a Capulet, which upsets the smitten
youngster. Meanwhile, Juliet is similarly distraught when she finds out that Romeo is a
Montague. Later that night, Romeo climbs the garden wall into Juliet's garden. Juliet emerges
on her balcony and speaks her private thoughts out loud. She wishes Romeo could shed his
name and marry her. Upon hearing her confession, Romeo appears and tells Juliet that he
loves her. She warns him to be true in his love, and he swears by his own self that he will be.
Before they part, they agree that Juliet will send her Nurse to meet Romeo at nine o'clock the
next day, at which point he will set a place for them to be married.
The Nurse carries out her duty, and tells Juliet to meet Romeo at the chapel where Friar
Laurence lives and works. Juliet meets Romeo there, and the Friar marries them in secret.
Benvolio and Mercutio (another one of Romeo's friends) are waiting on the street later that
day when Tybalt arrives. Tybalt demands to know where Romeo is so that he can challenge
him to a duel, in order to punish him for sneaking into the party. Mercutio is eloquently
vague, but Romeo happens to arrive in the middle of the verbal sparring. Tybalt challenges
him, but Romeo passively resists fighting, at which point Mercutio jumps in and draws his
sword on Tybalt. Romeo tries to block the two men, but Tybalt cuts Mercutio and runs away,
only to return after he hears that Mercutio has died. Angry over his friend's death, Romeo
fights with Tybalt and kills him. Then, he decides to flee. When Prince Escalus arrives at the
murder scene, he banishes Romeo from Verona forever.
The Nurse tells Juliet the sad news about what has happened to Tybalt and Romeo. Juliet is
heart-broken, but she realizes that Romeo would have been killed if he had not fought Tybalt.
She sends her Nurse to find Romeo and give him her ring.

That night, Romeo sneaks into Juliet's room, and they consummate their marriage. The next
morning, he is forced to leave when Juliet's mother arrives. Romeo travels to Mantua, where
he waits for someone to send news about Juliet or his banishment.

During Romeo and Juliet's only night together, however, Lord Capulet decides that Juliet
should marry a young man named Paris, who has been asking for her hand. Lord and Lady
Capulettell Juliet of their plan, but she refuses, infuriating her father. When both Lady
Capulet and the Nurse refuse to intercede for the girl, she insists that they leave her side.
Juliet then visits Friar Laurence, and together they concoct a plan to reunite her with Romeo.
The Friar gives Juliet a potion that will make her seem dead for at least two days, during
which time Romeo will come to meet her in the Capulet vault. The Friar promises to send
word of the plan to Romeo.

Juliet drinks the Friar's potion that night. The next morning, the day of Juliet and Paris'
wedding, her Nurse finds her "dead" in bed. The whole house decries her suicide, and Friar
Laurence insists they quickly place her into the family vault.

Unfortunately, Friar John has been unable to deliver the letter to Romeo informing him of the
plan, so when Romeo's servant brings him news in Mantua that Juliet has died, Romeo is
heart-broken. He hurries back to Verona, but first, buys poison from an Apothecary and
writes a suicide note detailing the tragic course of events. As soon as Friar Laurence realizes
that his letter never made it to Romeo's hands, he rushes to the Capulet tomb, hoping to arrive
before Romeo does.
Romeo arrives at the Capulet vault and finds it guarded by Paris, who is there to mourn the
loss of his betrothed. Paris challenges Romeo to a duel, and Romeo kills him quickly. Romeo
then carries Paris' body into the grave and sets it down. Upon seeing Juliet's "dead" body
lying in the tomb, Romeo drinks the poison, gives her a last kiss - and dies.

Friar Laurence arrives to the vault just as Juliet wakes up. He tries to convince her to flee, but
upon seeing Romeo's dead body, she takes her own life as well.

The rest of the town starts to arrive at the tomb, including Lord Capulet and Lord
Montague. Friar Laurence explains the whole story, and Romeo's letter confirms it. The two
families agree to settle their feud and form an alliance despite the tragic circumstances.

Character List

Romeo and Juliet Character List


Romeo
Sixteen-year-old Romeo Montague falls in love with Juliet Capulet at a masquerade, thus
igniting their tragic affair. Romeo is defined by a self-indulgent melancholy at the beginning
of the play, but later becomes a much more active and committed character, which is clear
when he kills Tybalt. Romeo's final act of passion is when, believing his beloved Juliet is
dead, he takes his own life. Throughout the play, Romeo embraces an idealistic view of love,
which explains why he falls for Juliet so quickly and passionately.
Lord Montague
Romeo's father and a mortal enemy of the Capulets.
Lady Montague
Romeo's mother, who dies from a broken heart after Romeo is banished from Verona.
Benvolio
Romeo's cousin, and a staunch pacifist.
Abram
A Montague servingman involved in the street brawl in 1.1.
Balthasar
Romeo's servant, who is involved in the street fight of 1.1, and later assists Romeo in the final
Act.
Friar Laurence
A older man and a friend to Romeo. He officiates the wedding of Romeo and Juliet, hoping to
gain political peace through the union. When that doesn't work out, he concocts the plan to
reunite the star-crossed lovers by giving Juliet a sleeping potion - but the plan backfires.
Juliet
Juliet Capulet is a thirteen-year-old girl who falls in love with Romeo Montague. She has a
strong will and a rebellious streak - she knows what she wants. Defined by a shrewd
intelligence and pronounced agency, Juliet is in many ways a more masculine character than
Romeo is, even if the patriarchy of her family limits her power. Her final decision to kill
herself speaks to her pronounced focus and commitment.
Lord Capulet
Juliet's father and a temperamental bully who initially pretends to consider his daughter's
welfare while arranging her marriage, but later demands her quick union with Count Paris.
Her father's pressure is a catalyst in the final sequence of events that ends in Juliet's suicide.
Lady Capulet
Juliet's mother is submissive to her husband, and refuses to intercede for Juliet when their
daughter expresses concern over the arranged marriage to Count Paris.
Tybalt
Juliet's hot-headed cousin, whose penchant for violence leads to the Act III street fight -
ending in his own death as well as Mercutio's.
Pertruccio
Tybalt's page
Nurse
Juliet's nurse is ostensibly the young girl's confidante, but also harbors a certain amount of
resentment that makes her useless when it comes to saving the girl. Nurse often makes trouble
for Juliet by refusing to give her information quickly, and later turns into a traitor by arguing
Juliet should marry Paris, even though she knows about her secret marriage to Romeo.
Peter
A Capulet servingman who serves as great comic relief in Act I when he is unable to read the
list of invitees to the Capulet ball.
Sampson
A Capulet servingman who is involved in the street brawl in 1.1.
Gregory
A Capulet servingman who is involved in the street brawl in 1.1.
Prince Escalus
The ruler of Verona who provides for and represents law and order in the city. He frequently
attempts to cede the violence between the Montagues and Capulets, but he finds himself
powerless against true love.
Mercutio
Romeo's friend, a kinsman of the Prince, and one of the play's most colorful characters. In the
early Acts, Mercutio displays a pronounced wit and colorful language. However, by Act III,
as he lies dying after the street fight, he delivers a damning speech on the feuding houses.
Mercutio's death marks the play's turn into tragedy.
Paris
Count Paris is Juliet's suitor - Lord Capulet supports the union but Juliet despises him.
Though never as insidious as Lord Capulet, Paris behaves arrogantly once the marriage date is
set. He confronts Romeo in Act V, which leads to the Count's death in battle.
Apothecary
Shakespeare describes the apothecary of Mantua as a skeleton - so he appears to personify
Death itself. A poor man, he is easily convinced to sell Romeo the poison that he uses to kill
himself.
Citizens of the Watch
These unspeaking characters often arrive at the scene of a street brawl, representing the forces
of law and order that combat the disorder wrought by the family feud.

Romeo and Juliet Glossary


bauble
a small, showy trinket or decoration; something of no importance or worth
bedeck
to decorate
by rote
by habit or memorized behavior, without any thought or consideration
fie
an exclamation used to express disgust or outrage
forsworn
having agreed to give up or do without something
maidenhead
virginity
nought
nothing
Phoebus
another name for the Greek sun god Apollo
portentous
suggesting that something momentous or calamitous is likely to happen.
profaner
a person who desecrates or defiles
purged
rid of an unwanted feeling, memory, or condition, typically giving a sense of cathartic release
rancour
resentment: a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will
rank
often means something offensive or unpleasant
sirrah
a phrase used as a term of address for a man or boy, esp. one younger or of lower status than
the speaker
unattainted
unbiased
usurer
one who practices usury, the art of money-lending, which was considered shameful and
exploitative
wherefore
in the context of this play, an interrogative meaning "why"
whither
an interrogative meaning "where"
withal
in addition to; with
zounds
an interjection expressing surprise or indignation

Romeo and Juliet Themes


Love
Though Romeo and Juliet is arguably the most archetypal love story in the English
language, it portrays only a very specific type of love: young, irrational, passionate love. In
the play, Shakespeare ultimately suggests that the kind of love that Romeo and Juliet feel
leads lovers to enact a selfish isolation from the world around them. Romeo and Juliet eschew
their commitments to anyone else, choosing to act selflessly only towards one another.
Sexuality does pervade the play, both through bawdy jokes and in the way that Romeo and
Juliet anticipate consummating their marriage, but it does not define their love. Instead, their
youthful lust is one of many reasons why their relationship grows so intense so quickly.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare only describes Romeo and Juliet's love as a short-term
burst of youthful passion. In most of his work, Shakespeare was more interested in exploring
the sparks of infatuation than long-term commitment. Considering that no other relationships
in the play are as pure as that between Romeo and Juliet, though, it is easy to see that
Shakespeare respects the power of such a youthful, passionate love but also laments the
transience of it.
Death
In Romeo and Juliet, death is everywhere. Even before the play shifts in tone
after Mercutio's death, Shakespeare makes several references to death being Juliet's
bridegroom. The threat of violence that pervades the first acts manifests itself in the latter half
of the play, when key characters die and the titular lovers approach their terrible end. There
are several ways in which the characters in Romeo and Juliet consider death. Romeo
attempts suicide in Act III as an act of cowardice, but when he seeks out the Apothecary in
Act V, it is a sign of strength and solidarity. The Chorus establishes the story's tragic end at
the beginning of the play, which colors the audience's experience from the start - we know
that this youthful, innocent love will end in tragedy. The structure of the play as a tragedy
from the beginning makes Romeo and Juliet's love even more heartbreaking because the
audience is aware of their impending deaths. The journey of the play is the cycle from love to
death - and that is what makes Romeo and Julie so lasting and powerful.
Age
Throughout Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare establishes the ideological divide that often
separates youths from adults. The characters in the play can all be categorized as either young,
passionate characters or older, more functional characters. The youthful characters are almost
exclusively defined by their energy and impulsiveness – like Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio,
and Tybalt. Meanwhile, the older characters all view the world in terms of politics and
expediency. The Capulet and Montague patriarchs are certainly feisty competitors, but think
in terms of victory as a concept, ignoring the potential emotional toll of their feud. Friar
Laurence, who ostensibly represents Romeo and Juliet's interests, sees their union in terms
of its political outcome, while the young lovers are only concerned with satisfying their
rapidly beating hearts. While Shakespeare does not posit a moral to the divide between young
and old, it appears throughout the play, suggesting that the cynicism that comes with age is
one of the many reasons that humans inevitably breed strife amongst themselves. It also
implicitly provides a reason for young lovers to seek to separate themselves from an 'adult'
world of political violence and bartering.
Identity
Romeo and Juliet suggests that individuals are often hamstrung by the identities forced
upon them from outside. Most notably, this theme is manifest in Juliet's balcony soliloquy, in
which she asks, "Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" (2.1.75). The central
obstacle of the play is that the two passionate lovers are separated by a feud based on their
family names. The fact that their love has little to do with their given identities means nothing
to the world around them, and so they must choose to eschew those identities while they are
together. Unfortunately, this act of rejection also means Romeo and Juliet must ignore the
world outside their comfortable cocoon, and, as a result, the violent forces ultimately crash
down upon them. A strong sense of identity can certainly be a boon in life, but in this play, it
only forces separation between the characters. Even Mercutio, who is not actually a
Montague, is killed for his association with that family. The liveliest characters in Romeo
and Juliet die not because of who they are, but because of the labels that the outside world
has foisted upon them.
Gender
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare upends certain gender expectations while simultaneously
reminding his audience that these defined roles do exist. Romeo arguably displays feminine
characteristics, at least as defined by his peers. He ignores all calls to action, and has little use
for the aggression that most males around him exhibit. His pensive nature is cause for his
friends' mockery. Even after he falls in love, Romeo is far less prone to action than Juliet, who
in fact shows a tendency towards efficient maneuvering that is otherwise exhibited by male
characters in the play. She makes quick decisions, like her idea that she and Romeo should
wed, and is not easily discouraged by bad news. In these two protagonists, Shakespeare is
certainly reversing what his Elizabethan audience would have expected, as he frequently did
with his heroines. However, the pressures on Juliet to get married – especially from Lord
Capulet, who is interested only in a good match and uninterested in love – remind the
audience that such atypical strength in a woman can be threatening to a patriarchal society.
Juliet's individualism is quickly quashed by her father's insistence on a marriage to Paris, and
though she ultimately outwits him, his demands are a reminder that the world of Romeo and
Juliet did not value reversals of gender roles as much as the audience might have.
Revenge
Romeo and Juliet suggests that the desire for revenge is both a natural and a devastating
human quality. From the moment that the play spirals towards disaster in Act III, most of the
terrible events are initiated by revenge. Tybalt seeks out Romeo and kills Mercutio from a
half-cooked desire for revenge over Romeo's attendance at the masquerade ball, and Romeo
kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio. Romeo's desire for revenge is so overpowering that he does
not pause to think about how his attack on Tybalt will compromise his recent marriage to
Juliet. Of course, the basic set-up of the play is contingent on a long-standing feud between
the Montagues and Capulets, the cause of which no longer matters. All that matters is that
these families have continued to avenge forgotten slights for generations. Though Shakespare
rarely, if ever, moralizes, Romeo and Juliet certainly presents revenge as a senseless action
that always causes more harm than good.
Marriage
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare does not paint an attractive picture of the institution of
marriage. The only positive portrayal of matrimony – between the titular lovers – can only be
conducted in secret, and even Friar Laurence slightly disapproves because Romeo and Juliet
have decided to wed so quickly. Shakespeare seems to be suggesting that marriage based on
pure love does not belong in a world that abuses the sacred union. The manner in which Lord
Capulet insists upon Juliet's marriage to Paris suggests both the way he views his daughter as
object and the way in which marriage can serve as a weapon against a rebellious young
woman. Even the religious figure, Friar Laurence, sees marriage as political; he marries
Romeo and Juliet to gain the political power end the feud between their families, and not
because he necessarily approves of their love. Ultimately, the central marriage in Romeo
and Juliet ends in death, showing that this kind of passionate, irrational union cannot exist in
a world fueled by hate and revenge.
Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis of Act 1
Summary

Prologue
The chorus introduces the play and establishes the plot that will unfold. They explain how two
families in Verona – the Capulets and the Montagues - have reignited an ancient feud, and
how two lovers, one from each family, will commit suicide after becoming entangled in this
conflict. These lovers are JulietCapulet and Romeo Montague. Only after the suicides will
the families decide to end their feud.

Act One, Scene One


Two Capulet servants – Sampson and Gregory – loiter on the street, waiting for some
Montague servants to pass. They banter, using sexual innuendo and raunchy puns to joke
about women, and speak with animosity about the Montagues. They lament that the law
prohibits fighting, and wonder how to start a battle legally.
When the Montague servants – Abram and Balthasar – arrive, Sampson bites his thumb at
them (which is rude but not illegal). Insulted, Abram confronts Sampson and a fight begins.
Benvolio, Romeo's cousin, arrives to discover the fight in progress. Drawing his sword, he
commands them to stop. Then, Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, walks onto the street. Upon seeing his
rival, Benvolio, Tybalt also draws his sword, reigniting the altercation.
Lord Capulet – the patriarch of the family – arrives at the battle, and demands a sword so
that he might join in. However, Lady Capulet restrains him, even after Lord
Montague emerges ready to fight.
It turns out that the Citizens of the Watch have spread word of the street fight, and Prince
Escalus arrives before anyone is killed. The Prince chides the Montagues and the Capulets
for their mutual aggression, which he believes is making the streets of Verona unsafe. The
Prince then orders everyone to return home and cease hostilities at the risk of great
punishment. He personally accompanies the Capulets home.
The Montagues and Benvolio remain on stage. The family asks Benvolio where Romeo is,
and he tells them that the boy has been in a strange mood lately. When a somber Romeo
finally appears, the Montagues ask Benvolio to determine the cause of his melancholy, after
which they depart.

When Benvolio asks Romeo about the source of his gloom, Romeo explains that he is pining
for a woman named Rosaline, who plans to remain chaste for the rest of her life. This
unrequited love is the cause of Romeo's depression.

Act One, Scene Two


Paris Lord Capulet for permission to marry Juliet, but Capulet insists that Paris should be
patient, since Juliet is only thirteen. However, Capulet does grant Paris permission to woo
Juliet and thereby win her approval. Capulet suggests to Paris that he should try to impress
Juliet at a masked ball that the Capulets are hosting that evening. Capulet then hands his
servant Peter a list of names and orders the man to invite everyone on the list to the party.
Out on the streets, Peter runs into Romeo and Benvolio, who are talking about Rosaline. Peter
cannot read, so he asks them to help him interpret the list. Romeo and Benvolio comply, and
upon reading the list, they discover that Rosaline will be at the Capulets' party. They decide to
attend - even though it is a Capulet party, they will be able to disguise their identities by
wearing masks.

Act One, Scene Three


At the Capulet home, Lady Capulet asks the Nurse to call for Juliet. While they await the
girl’s arrival, the Nurse laments the fact that Juliet will be fourteen in under two weeks. When
Juliet arrives, the Nurse tells a rambling, embarrassing story about how her late husband had
once made an inappropriate sexual joke about Juliet when she was an infant. The Nurse keeps
telling her endless tale until Juliet orders her to stop.
Lady Capulet tells Juliet about Paris’s intention to marry her. The mother describes Paris as
beautiful, comparing him to a fine book that only lacks a cover. Juliet does not promise
anything to her mother, but she does agree to study Paris that night.

Act One, Scene Four


Romeo, Benvolio, and their friend Mercutio walk through the streets to the Capulets' party.
Romeo remains depressed over Rosaline, so Mercutio tries to cheer him up with a story about
Queen Mab, a fictitious elf who infiltrates men's dreams. Romeo hushes his friend, admitting
his concern about the attending a party at the home of his rivals.

Act One, Scene Five


At the party, Romeo mopes in the corner, away from the dancing. From this vantage point, he
notices Juliet, and falls in love with her immediately.

Tybalt overhears Romeo asking a servingman about Juliet, and recognizes the masked man's
voice. However, before Tybalt can create a scene, Lord Capulet reminds him of the prince’s
prohibition of public fighting, and orders the boy to stand down.

Romeo approaches Juliet and touches her hand. They speak together in a sonnet, and Romeo
eventually earns Juliet's permission for a kiss. However, before they can talk further, the
Nurse calls Juliet to see her mother. After Juliet leaves, Romeo asks the Nurse her name, and
is shocked to learn that his new object of desire is a Capulet.

As the party winds down, Juliet asks her Nurse about Romeo. When she learns about
Romeo’s identity, she is heartbroken to find out that she has fallen in love with a "loathed
enemy" (1.5.138).

Analysis
Though Romeo and Juliet is ostensibly a tragedy, it has endured as one of Shakespeare’s
most renowned masterpieces because of its magnificent blend of styles and remarkable, multi-
faceted character development. The play often veers from meticulous plot into more free-form
explorations, making it difficult to categorize. However, these are singularly Shakespearean
qualities that are apparent from the play’s first Act. Romeo and Juliet begins with a
Chorus, which establishes the plot and tone of the play. This device was hardly new to
Shakespeare, and in fact mirrors the structure of Arthur Brooke's The Tragical History of
Romeus and Juliet, from which Shakespeare adapted Romeo and Juliet.
Additionally, the Chorus poses the question of whether or not Romeo and Juliet is a
tragedy. During Shakespeare's time, it was typical for a tragedy to begin with a Chorus.
In Romeo and Juliet, the opening sonnet presents dire enough circumstances to support that
convention. However, tragedy in its strictest form presupposes certain formal conceits. Most
important is the idea that an individual (or individuals) is (or are) defeated by forces beyond
his or her control; tragedies most often celebrate human willpower in the face of bad luck or
divine antagonism. And yet, the forces at play in Romeo and Juliet are hardly beyond
human control. Instead, the Montagues and Capulets have allowed their feud to fester. This is
evident from the first scene, when even the patriarchs of both families enter the public street
fight, ready to kill. The Chorus introduces Shakespeare's unique approach to tragedy by
introducing certain established tropes of that genre but by refusing to lay the blame at the
universe’s feet.
In addition, the Chorus also introduces certain sources of dramatic tension that re-appear
throughout the rest of the play. For example, the diametric opposition between order and
disorder is central to to Romeo and Juliet. In the Prologue, the Chorus speaks in sonnet
form, which was usually reserved for a lover addressing his beloved. The sonnet is a very
structured form of poetry, which indicates a level of order. However, the content of this
sonnet – two families who cannot control themselves, and hence bring down disaster on their
heads – suggests incredible disorder. The conflict between order and disorder resonates
through the rest of Act I. Immediately following the Sonnet is the introduction of Sampson
and Gregory, two brutish men whose appearance lays the groundwork for a disordered street
brawl. Furthermore, the disorder within the play is evidenced by inverted circumstances.
Servants start the quarrel, but soon draw the noblemen into it. The young men enter the fight,
but the older men soon try to defy their aged bodies by participating. Moreover, the fact that
the near disaster takes place in broad daylight in a public place undermines any expectation of
security in Verona.
This underlying theme of disorder is also manifest in the hybrid of styles that Shakespeare
employs. The Chorus establishes the fact that the story is meant to be tragic, and yet, Abram
and Gregory are typically comic characters, both because of their low status and the
lighthearted nature of their speech. While they do discuss their aggression towards the
Capulets, they also make numerous sexual puns, undoubtedly intended to amuse the audience.
That these sexual innuendos often slide into violent talk of rape only underscores the
difficulty of categorizing Shakespeare’s tonal intentions.

It is important to note that Shakespeare wanted Romeo and Juliet to be recognized as


tragedy, even though he subverts the genre in many ways. There are a few motifs in Romeo
and Julietthat reveal this intention. The first is the recurring motif of death. In Act I, there
are several moments where the characters foreshadow the death to come. After she meets
Romeo, Juliet states, "If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (1.5.132).
When Benvolio tries to stop the street fight, he remarks, "Put up your swords. You know not
what you do" (1.1.56). The phrasing of Benvolio's line is a Biblical allusion because it evokes
Jesus’s insistence that his apostles cease fighting the Roman guards during his arrest. This
symbolism foreshadows Juliet’s death, which occurs after her resurrection.
The Nurse also makes two references that foreshadow Juliet’s death. In the story she tells to
Lady Capulet, the Nurse speaks of Juliet’s fall when she was a child. The story foreshadows
the fact that Juilet will fall, evoking the medieval and Renaissance concept of the wheel of
fortune. Over the course of the play, Juliet indeed rises (appearing at her balcony to speak to
Romeo) and falls (her death in the vault). The Nurse also foreshadows the tragedy when she
tells Juliet, "An I might live to see thee married once" (1.3.63). Alas, this is exactly what will
occur, and Juliet dies barely one day after her marriage. So even as he veers between styles
and forms, Shakespeare does ensure that Romeo and Juliet a tragic story.
Even more impressive than his stylistic virtuosity is Shakespeare’s carefully calibrated
character development. Almost every character in Romeo and Juliet reveals his or her inner
nature through action. For instance, we learn in Act 1 that Benvolio is a pacifist, while Tybalt
is hot-headed. Other characters that Shakespeare introduces in Act 1 reveal a glimmer of their
inner desires even if they do not yet have a chance to express them. For instance, in the scene
between Lord Capulet and Paris, the patriarch introduces his desire to control his daughter.
While theoretically defending Juliet's youthful freedom, he also reveals his tendency to think
of her as an object by granting Paris the opportunity to woo her. Lord Capulet's attitude
towards Juliet will later force the final, tragic turn of events.
Eminent literary critic Harold Bloom believes that, along with Juliet, Mercutio and the Nurse
are Shakespeare’s most marvelous creations in the play. The Nurse is intriguing because of
her self-deceit. While she claims to care deeply for young Juliet, it becomes evident that she
selfishly wishes to control the girl. Her story about Juliet's fall and sharing her late husband's
sexual joke are wildly inappropriate comments, and reveal the Nurse's self-obsession and her
fascination with sex. For such a functional character, the Nurse is particularly memorable, and
a shining example of Shakespeare's ability to create multi-faceted personalities, even for his
supporting characters.

Similarly, Shakespeare reveals a lot about Mercutio's character in the young man's Queen
Mab speech. At first glance, the speech (and the preceding scene) paint Mercutio as a
colorful, sexually-minded fellow, who prefers transient lust over committed love. However, as
his speech continues, Mercutio portrays a level of intensity that Romeo lacks. Queen Mab is a
rather vicious figure who forces sexuality upon women in a largely unpleasant and violent
way. While he shares this story, Mercutio's tone becomes so passionate that Romeo must
forcefully quieten him. This speech serves as an indication that Mercutio is a far more mature
and insightful figure than his behavior immediately suggests.

In contrast, Prince Escalus and the Citizens of the Watch are largely two-dimensional
characters. They serve a merely functional purpose, representing law and order in Verona.
While the Prince frequently exhibits strong authority - declaring street fighting illegal and
later, banishing Romeo - his decrees only produce minimal results, and the law is never as
powerful as the forces of love in the play. Meanwhile, the Citizens of the Watch, though
silent, are a nod to the society's attempts to protect itself. Shakespeare regularly indicates that
the Citizens are always nearby, which emphasizes the ongoing conflict between the feuding
families and society's attempts to restore order.

Though Romeo and Juliet has become an archetypal love story, it is in fact a reflection of
only one very specific type of love – a young, irrational love that falls somewhere between
pure affection and unbridled lust. Sexuality is rampant throughout the play, starting with the
servants' bawdy jokes in the first scene. Also, the lovers do not think of their passion in
religious terms (a religious union would have signified a pure love to a Renaissance audience)
Meanwhile, Romeo is a far less complex character than Juliet – indeed, in Shakespeare’s
work, the heroines are often more multi-dimensional than their male counterparts. In Act 1,
Romeo's most pronounced qualities are his petulance and capriciousness. His friends (and
potentially, the audience) find Romeo's melancholy mood to be grating, and are confused
when he quickly forgets Rosaline to fall madly in love with Juliet. However, Romeo stands
apart from the other men in Act 1. Even Benvolio, the eternal pacifist, has recognized the
violent nature of the world, and most of the other men quickly turn to anger and aggression as
solutions to their problems. Romeo, on the other hand, exhibits qualities that could be
considered feminine by Shakespearean standards – he is melancholy and introverted,
choosing to remain distant from both the feud and the violence in Verona.

Juliet, on the other hand, is pensive and practical. When her mother insists she consider Paris
as a potential mate, Juliet is clearly uninterested, but understands that a vocal refusal will gain
her nothing. Her act of innocent submission will allow her to be devious later on, to her
advantage. In Act 1, Juliet is already showing her powers of deception by asking her Nurse
about two other men before asking after Romeo because she does not want to arouse her
chaperone’s suspicions.

Romeo and Juliet's quick attraction to one other must be viewed through the lens of their
youth. Even when Romeo is lusting after Rosaline, he is more interested in her sexuality than
her personality, and he is upset to learn that she has chosen a life of chastity. Romeo feels
sparks of desire for Juliet before they even speak, reinforcing the young man's quick passions.
Shakespeare further underscores Romeo's sexual motivation by associating his and Juliet's
love with darkness. For example, Romeo compares Juliet to "a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear"
when he first sees her (1.5.43). The darkness is central to their love, as they can only be
together when the day is over. Throughout the play, Shakespeare associates daytime with
disorder – not only does the Act I street fight occur in the daytime, but Romeo also kills
Tybalt during the day – while order appears within the secrecy afforded by nighttime.

However, the love between Romeo and Juliet is not frivolous. In the fifth scene, the lovers
speak in a sonnet that invokes sacrilegious imagery of saints and pilgrims. This indicates the
way in which these lovers can only be together when they are completely separated from the
flawed morality and complications of the world around them. This disorder is ultimately the
obstacle that keeps the apart - and they will eventually decide to withdraw from the world in
order to be together. Both Romeo and Juliet believe in the purity of their love - their future
may be uncertain, but in the moment, their passion is all-consuming.

Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis of Act 2


Summary

Act Two, Introduction


The Chorus explains that Romeo has traded his old desire for a new affection, and
that Juliet has also fallen in love. Though their secret romance puts Romeo and Juliet at
risk, their passion drives them to meet, regardless of the danger.

Act Two, Scene One


Out in the street, Romeo escapes from Mercutio and Benvolio. Mercutio calls to him, using
lots of obscene wordplay. Benvolio finally gets tired of searching for Romeo, and they leave.
(Please note that some editions of Romeo and Juliet end Scene One here to begin a new
one. Others, including the Norton Shakespeare, which this note is based on, continue the
scene as follows.)
Meanwhile, Romeo has succeeded in leaping over the Capulets' garden wall and is hiding
beneath Juliet's balcony. He wants to determine whether her attraction is equal to his own.
She soon appears and delivers her famous soliloquy, asking "Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore
art thou Romeo?" (2.1.75). She wishes that Romeo’s name were different, so that they would
not be enemies. Romeo overhears her speech, which confirms his own feelings. He interrupts
Juliet to confess his own love.

Juliet warns Romeo to speak truthfully, since she has fallen in love with him and does not
want to be hurt. Romeo swears his feelings are genuine, and Juliet laments the fact that she
cannot fall in love with him again. The Nurse calls to Juliet, who disappears momentarily.
She comes back out and insists that if Romeo truly loves her, he should propose marriage and
plan a meeting place for them. The Nurse calls Juliet a second time, and she exits. Romeo is
about to leave when his love emerges yet a third time, and calls him back for some final
words of parting.

Act Two, Scene Two


At the chapel, Friar Laurence is collecting herbs. Romeo arrives and confesses his new love
for Juliet. He asks the Friar to marry them. Though the Friar is surprised that Romeo has
forgotten Rosaline so quickly, he is nonetheless delighted, because Romeo and Juliet's union
presents an opportunity to quell the raging feud between the Montagues and Capulets.

Act Two, Scene Three


Out in the street the next day, Benvolio tells Mercutio that Romeo has not yet returned home.
He also reveals that Tybalthas sent Romeo a threatening message. When Romeo joins them,
Mercutio mocks him, but Romeo matches his wit. Impressed, Mercutio notes,"Now art thou
sociable, now art thou Romeo" (2.3.77).
Juliet’s Nurse and Peter arrive and ask to speak with Romeo. Mercutio makes sexual jokes
about the Nurse, but eventually exits with Benvolio. The Nurse explains that Juliet will meet
Romeo and marry him. Romeo proposes they meet that afternoon at Friar Laurence’s chapel.

Act Two, Scene Four


Back in the Capulet orchard, Juliet eagerly awaits news from the Nurse. When the Nurse
eventually arrives, she comically refuses to give Juliet any information about Romeo until she
has received a back rub. Finally, the Nurse tells Juliet about the plan for her to meet Romeo at
Friar Laurence’s chapel.

Act Two, Scene Five


At the chapel, Romeo and Friar Laurence await Juliet’s arrival. The Friar cautions Romeo to
"love moderately" (2.5.9). Juliet soon appears, and Friar Laurence brings them into the church
to be married.
Analysis
Act 2 is more focused than Act 1, in that it mostly serves to establish the marriage which will
become the root of the play's dramatic conflict. However, within the the streamlined plot,
Shakespeare explores the complications of love. The theme of love is central to Act 2
of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet fall in love instantly, and marry one day later,
sealing their future. The balcony scene is crucial to understanding their relationship because it
allows Romeo and Juliet to test their initial passion and gain the courage to move forward
with a marriage plan.
The love that Romeo and Juliet share is the opposite of the selfish love that Shakespeare
references in the opening acts of the play. Shakespeare compares Juliet to the sun, and she is
one of the most generous characters in the play. She reveals her selflessness when she
declares, "My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep. The more I give thee / The
more I have, for both are infinite" (2.1.175-177). Rosaline, on the other hand, prefers to keep
her beauty to herself. Shakespeare heightens this contrast when Romeo describes Rosaline as
a Diana (the goddess of the moon) and tells Juliet, "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon"
(2.1.46).

In the balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet recognize this selfish brand of love and then transcend
it. The garden setting is more than just a secretive meeting place – it invokes images of a
pastoral Eden, which symbolizes both purity and virginity. Romeo and Juliet's connection is
simultaneously rooted in pure love and unbridled passion. At the beginning of the balcony
scene, Romeo invades Juliet's privacy without her invitation, which becomes doubly apparent
when he overhears her soliloquy. Here, Shakespeare breaks the convention of the soliloquy,
which is traditionally a speech where a character shares his or her inner thoughts only with the
audience. That Romeo overhears Juliet's soliloquy is an invasion, on one hand, but also serves
as a reminder of the cost of intimacy. That Juliet both allows and cherishes Romeo's
interruption reminds the audience that true love requires two people to open their hearts to one
another.

Shakespeare underscores the idea that lovers must abandon their selfishness by having Romeo
and Juliet swear to themselves, rather than to other bodies. For instance, when Romeo tries to
swear by the moon, Juliet remarks that the moon waxes and wanes, and is too variable.
Instead, she says, "Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self" (2.1.155). Shakespeare often
has characters encourage one another to be true to themselves first, and only then can they be
true to others. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, the characters must accept their unique
identities (and transcend their family names) in order to experience the purest kind of love.

Shakespeare also implies that when people fall in love, they can grow. Juliet's behavior
changes after she meets Romeo. She is used to obeying the Nurse's authority, and during the
balcony scene, she disappears twice. However, she also defies authority twice in order to
reappear and continue her conversation with Romeo. This is a sure sign of her emerging
independence, which explains her quick decision to marry Romeo and defy her parents. Juliet
also reveals her practical intelligence by understanding the need for a plan for them to meet
and by insisting on marriage, which is a reversal of Elizabethan gender roles. Romeo, while
less active than Juliet, also becomes more confident after their meeting, eschewing his
juvenile melancholy for a more gregarious personality that impresses Mercutio.

Shakespeare introduces the theme of identity in Act 2. In her soliloquy, Juliet wishes that
Romeo could transcend his name. Her famous declaration – "What's in a name? that which we
call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" – expresses the idea that people can be
more than their societal roles. Juliet understands that if she and Romeo are to be together, they
must defy the limitations of society and follow their individual passions.

In this act, Shakespeare also introduces Friar Laurence a multifaceted character who
understands the need for personal autonomy. Because of his underlying motivations, however,
the Friar is an imperfect religious figure. He is willing to compromise the religious sanctity of
marriage for the sake of a political goal. He clearly finds Romeo’s new passion suspect, but
agrees to perform the marriage ceremony so that he can end the feud between the Montagues
and Capulets. Friar Laurence's actions represent the dichotomy between societal convention
and individual desire.

Finally, Shakespeare continues to explore the contrasts that he introduced in Act I,


particularly the disparity between night and day (or darkness and light). Benvolio states,
"Blind is his love, and best befits the dark," in reference to Romeo's newfound passion
(2.1.32). When Romeo finally sees Juliet at her balcony, he wonders, "But soft, what light
through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. / Arise, fair sun, and kill
the envious moon" (2.1.44-46). Romeo then invokes the darkness as a form of protection from
harm: "I have night's cloak to hide me from their eyes" (2.1.117). Unfortunately, the disorder
of the day eventually overcomes the passionate and protective night - destroying both lovers
in the process.

Shakespeare also underlines the contrast between youth and old age. Friar Laurence acts as
Romeo's confidante, and the Nurse advises Juliet. However, both these adults offer advice that
seems strangely out of place given the circumstances of the play. For instance, Friar Laurence
says to Romeo, "Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast" (2.2.94). He also advises
Romeo to "Therefore love moderately" (2.5.9). The Friar's advice for Romeo to love
"moderately", however, comes too late. In fact, by the end of the play we even see Friar
Laurence rejecting his own advice and stumbling to reach Juliet's grave before Romeo can
find her. "How oft tonight have my old feet stumbled at graves?" (5.3.123).

Finally, Shakespeare introduces the contrast between silver and gold in this act through his
use of imagery. Romeo says, "How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night" and "Lady,
by yonder blessed moon I vow, / That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops" (2.1.210, 149-
50). Shakespeare often employs silver as a symbol of love and beauty. On the other hand, he
uses gold as a sign of greed or desire. Rosaline is immune to showers of gold, an image that
evokes the selfishness of bribery. Later, when Romeo is banished, he comments that
banishment is a "golden axe," meaning that his punishment is merely a glossed- over
equivalent of death. And finally, the erection of the golden statues at the end a sign of the fact
that neither Capulet nor Montague has really learned anything from Romeo and Juliet's
deaths.

Act 3

Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis of Act 3


Summary

Act Three, Scene One


Outside on the Verona street, Benvolio and Mercutio wait around for Romeo to meet
them. Tybalt and Petruccio see them first, and start a quarrel. Tybalt makes it clear that he is
looking for Romeo, whom he wants to punish for sneaking into the Capulets' masked party
the previous day.
When Romeo arrives, overjoyed with his recent marriage, he is deferential to Tybalt, insisting
he harbors no hatred for the Capulet house. Tybalt is unsure how to deal with Romeo.
However, Mercutio challenges Tybalt to a duel, so he draws his sword and attacks Mercutio.
Romeo attempts to intervene, holding Mercutio back. While Romeo is restraining him, Tybalt
stabs Mercutio and then exits quickly.

Mercutio is mortally wounded, and chastises the Montagues and Capulets for encouraging
such violence before allowing Benvolio to lead him offstage. Benvolio soon returns with
news that Mercutio has died. Romeo vows revenge on Tybalt, who soon reappears. Romeo
and Tybalt duel, and Romeo kills Tybalt. He then flees quickly after Benvolio warns him that
the Prince will come soon.

The Prince, followed by the Montague and Capulet families, arrives on the scene. Benvolio
tells him the entire story, but the Prince refuses to hold Romeo blameless. Instead, he banishes
Romeo from Verona, insisting the boy will die if he does not obey.

Act Three, Scene Two


As she waits in her room for Romeo to arrive, Juliet delivers one of the play’s most elegant
soliloquies about her beloved. The Nurse enters, distraught and speaking unclearly; Juliet can
only discern that someone has died and that someone has been banished. As she did in the
previous scene, the Nurse refuses to tell Juliet what she knows. Instead, she allows Juliet to
believe that it is Romeo who has been killed.
When the Nurse finally reveals the truth, Juliet immediately chides Romeo over his pretense
of peace and contradictory violence. She then recants the accusation, and asks the Nurse,
"Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?" (3.2.97). Overcome, Juliet laments Romeo’s
banishment, and claims that she would rather have both her parents killed then see Romeo
suffer such indignity.

The Nurse promises to find Romeo – whom she knows is hiding with Friar Laurence - and
bring him to Juliet's bed that night. Juliet gives the Nurse a ring for Romeo to wear when he
comes to see her.

Act Three, Scene Three


In the chapel, where Romeo is hiding, Friar Laurence informs the boy about his punishment,
adding that he should be happy that the Prince commuted the death sentence. Romeo
considers banishment a fate worse than death, since it will separate him from his beloved
Juliet. When the Friar tries to console him, Romeo says, "Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy
love.../ Then mightst thou speak" (3.3.65-68).
The Nurse arrives to find Romeo collapsed on the ground, weeping. She orders him to stand,
but he is so upset that he prepares to stab himself. She snatches away his dagger, and Friar
Laurence begs Romeo to look at the bright side - at least he and Juliet are both still alive. The
Friar then convinces Romeo to visit Juliet that night, and to escape to Mantua in the morning.

Act Three, Scene Four


At the Capulet household, the elder Capulets and Paris prepare for bed; they have been up all
night mourning Tybalt’s death. They discuss Juliet's extreme despair which they believe to be
the result of losing her cousin, Tybalt.
Partly because he believes it will assuage her sadness, Lord Capulet decides right then that
Juliet will marry Paris, and that the wedding will take place later that week. He comments, "I
think she will be ruled / In all respects by me" (3.4.13-14). He orders Lady Capulet to
inform Juliet about the matter, and then leaves for bed.

Act Three, Scene Five


The next morning, Romeo and Juliet lie in her bed, pretending the night has not actually
passed. The Nurse arrives with news that Juliet’s mother is approaching, so Romeo descends
from the balcony and says goodbye.
Lady Capulet tells Juliet about the plans for her marriage, believing it will cheer her daughter
up. However, Juliet refuses, insisting she would rather marry Romeo Montague than marry
Paris. (Obviously, her mother thinks this simply a rhetorical statement, since Romeo is
Tybalt’s murderer.)

Then, Lord Capulet enters, and grows furious at her refusal. He calls Juliet "young baggage,"
and demands she prepare for marriage on the upcoming Thursday (3.5.160).

Lady Capulet refuses to intercede for Juliet, and even the Nurse betrays her, insisting that
Paris is a fine gentleman worthy of her hand. Juliet orders the Nurse to leave, and prepares to
visit Friar Laurence for advice. As the Nurse leaves, Juliet calls her, "Ancient damnation!"
(3.5.235).

Analysis
One of the most unique qualities of Romeo and Juliet is the stylistic variation within the
play. Some scholars criticize the play as uneven, while others applaud Shakespeare’s
willingness to explore both tragic and comedic conventions. In Act III, the play's tone moves
away from the largely comic romance of the first two acts. Mercutio’s death creates
insurmountable obstacles for Romeo and Juliet's well-laid plans, and negates the likelihood of
any true peace between the Montagues and Capulets.
Harold Bloom considers Mercutio one of the play’s most expressive and unique characters.
Mercutio provides much of the play’s early humor through his pronounced wit and clever
cynicism. However, in Act 3, his energy takes a darker turn, as he cries out "A plague o' both
your houses" (3.1.101). The true horror of the feud is manifest in the way Mercutio uses his
dying breaths to scream this phrase three times - making it sound like an actual curse.
Additionally, Mercutio's death forces Romeo's transition from childhood into adulthood.
Whereas before, Romeo was able to separate himself from his family's grudge, his decision to
avenge Mercutio's death by killing Tybalt instead fuels the feud he had once hoped to escape.
The Nurse's first appearance Act 3 reinforces the shift to tragedy. Her inability (or refusal) to
expediently share her news with Juilet echoes the earlier scene (II.iv), when she teased Juliet.
However, whereas that scene was played for comedy, the same device becomes infuriating
and cruel under the tragic circumstances. These parallel scenes establish the tonal shift of the
play. As a side note, the parallel also reveals the complexities of the Nurse’s character.
Though Shakespeare could have written her as simply a functional character, he instead gives
her layers - she is defined by her service to a young woman whom she also resents.

The recurring disparity between order and disorder also reappears in Act 3. Juliet delivers one
of the play’s most beautiful soliloquies, when she begs for nightfall - which Shakespeare has
established as a time of order and protection. Juliet says, "Come, gentle night; come, loving,
black-browed night, / Give me my Romeo, and when he shall die / Take him and cut him out
in little stars, / And he will make the face of heaven so fine / That all the world will be in love
with night / And pay no worship to the garish sun" (3.2.20-25). The dramatic irony of her
speech – the audience knows at this point that Romeo has killed Tybalt and will soon be
punished, while Juliet does not – only underscores the intensity of the separation between
order and disorder at this point. Every remaining scene set in the dark – the bedroom and then
the vault – will be marked by the characters' tragic awareness that once the sun rises, they will
be subject to chaos and pain.

The argument that that Romeo and Juliet is not a classical tragedy gains some credence
with the circumstances surrounding the terrible events that occur in Act 3. Though Mercutio
and Tybalt's deaths and Romeo's banishment are undoubtedly disastrous, they are avoidable
occurrences instead of being mandated by fate - which would be the case in a classical
tragedy. Instead, these deaths are the result of an avoidable feud. The dual mortalities occur
after the characters randomly run into each other on the street, but the bloodshed is enabled by
specific human decisions. Romeo chooses to pursue vengeance on Tybalt, not for a moment
considering how his actions will affect his new wife. The emotionally charged circumstances,
though tragic, present a choice, not an inevitability. Especially considering how Romeo has
avoided violence and aggression thusfar in the play, it is easy to argue that he is largely to
blame for the play’s tragic turn.
Conversely, one could argue that the tragic forces at work are immovable even though they
are man-made. The feud between the Montagues and the Capulets is more powerful than the
love between Romeo and Juliet - and thus, it eventually defeats them. Romeo originally has
little interest in involving himself in his family's affairs, but Mercutio's death directly affects
him. Further, one could argue that the “plague” Mercutio places on the houses is the reason
for the lovers' deaths. In the final act of Romeo and Juliet, Friar John explains his inability
to deliver the letter to Romeo: "the searchers of the town, / Suspecting that we both were in a
house / Where the infectious pestilence did reign, / Sealed up the doors, and would not let us
forth" (5.2.8-11). The fact that an actual “plague” detoured the letter suggests that greater
forces had a role in the tragic ending.
Regardless of classical conventions, Shakespeare leaves little doubt over his tragic intentions
through the play’s focus on death. For instance, he introduces the image of the wheel of
fortune in Act 1 when the Nurse speaks of how Juliet has grown from a humble daughter into
a strong woman, while in Act 3, she tells Romeo that the girl "down falls again" (3.3.101).
Later, Juliet takes this image even further, saying, "Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low /
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb" (3.5.55-6). Juliet's character arc follows her growing
confidence in the early acts, but quickly descends into tragedy as the play comes to an end.
Furthermore, Shakespeare once again employs the image of death as Juliet’s bridegroom.
Lady Capulet comments about Juliet's refusal to marry Paris: "I would the fool were married
to her grave" (3.5.140). This phrase comes true, because Juliet dies while she is still married
to Romeo.

The intense love between Romeo and Juliet, however, is a counterpoint to the tragedy that
swirls around them. In Act 3, the lovers look forward to consummating their relationship.
However, sex, a conduit to new life, tragically marks the beginning of the sequence that will
end in Romeo and Juliet's deaths. In Act 3, Shakespeare continues to define love as a
condition wherein lovers can explore selfless devotion by the selfish act of retreating into a
private cocoon. For instance, Juliet's dedication to her marriage is strong throughout the Act.
Though she initially derides Romeo for killing Tybalt, she quickly corrects herself, asking,
"Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?" (3.2.97). She cold-heartedly insists that she
would sacrifice ten thousand Tybalts and her own parents to be with Romeo. While Juliet's
proclamation reinforces the depth of her love, it also reminds the audience that true love exists
in private realm, separated from moral codes and expectations.

Romeo also demonstrates the depth of his commitment to his beloved, though not with the
same determination as his wife. Whereas Juliet derives strength from her grief, Romeo
immediately resigns himself to misery. He proclaims, "Then 'banished' / Is death mistermed.
Calling death 'banished' / Thou cutt'st my head off with a golden axe" (3.3.20-22). Both Friar
Laurence and the Nurse chide Romeo his pessimism, since he and Juliet are both still alive –
but his solipsism is such that he lacks any broader perspective.

Shakespeare subverts gender roles once more by having Juliet demonstrate a more stoic
resolve than her husband. When the Nurse insists that Romeo “stand, an you be a man," she is
implicitly suggesting that he has been acting in a feminine manner (III.iii.88). Shakespeare
also reminds the audience of the existing patriarchy through Lord Capulet, who sees Juliet
simply as an object to be bartered. Though Capulet initially claims to have his daughter's
welfare in mind, he quickly turns cruel when she defies him. Juliet's strength is admirable to
the audience, but is anathema to men, like her father, whose power she is threatening.

The conflict between Juliet and her father is another example of the disparity between young
and old, which appears several times in Act 3. Romeo speaks of Friar Laurence’s ignorance of
his love for Juliet, saying that the Friar could never understand because he is not “young.”
Furthermore, the final scene reveals how adults can no longer understand youthful passion.
Lady Capulet refuses to consider Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris, and even the Nurse speaks of
Paris as a virtuous man worthy of her hand (thus revealing her underlying resentment of her
young charge). In response to the Nurse’s patronizing description of Paris, Juliet shouts,
"Ancient damnation!" (3.5.235). This serves as both reference to the Nurse's age and to the
problems she must deal with, all of which have been created by a feud that has its roots in the
older generation. Romeo and Juliet are two young people, who have fallen inescapably in love
- only to butt up against the political machinations of their elders - a quandary that has
resonated emotionally with teenagers for generations.

Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis of Act 4


Summary

Act Four, Scene One


At the chapel, Paris speaks to Friar Laurence about his impending wedding to Juliet.
Aware of the complications that will arise from this new match, the Friar is full of misgivings.
Juliet, in search of Romeo, arrives at the chapel and finds Paris there. She is forced to speak
with him, and he behaves arrogantly now that their wedding is set. However, Juliet rebuffs
him with her vague answers, and then finally asks Friar Laurence if she might speak to him
alone. When the Friar assents, Paris is forced to leave.
Friar Laurence proposes a complicated plan to help Juliet reunite with Romeo. The Friar will
give Juliet a special potion that will effectively kill her for 48 hours; she will exhibit no signs
of life. Following their family tradition, her parents will place her body in the Capulet vault.
Meanwhile, Friar Laurence will send a letter to Romeo, instructing him of the plan so that the
boy can meet Juliet in the tomb and then lead her away from Verona. Juliet approves of the
plan.

Act Four, Scene Two


Happy to know that she will be reunited with Romeo, Juliet returns home and apologizes to
her father for her disobedience. He pardons her, and instructs her to prepare her clothes for the
wedding, which is now going to happen the next day. Lord Capulet then sets out to find
Paris to deliver the good news about Juliet's change of heart.

Act Four, Scene Three


Juliet convinces Lady Capulet and the Nurse to let her sleep alone that night. Juliet keeps a
knife nearby in case the potion should fail. She then drinks the Friar's potion and falls to her
bed, motionless.

Act Four, Scene Four


(Please note that some editions of the play separate this scene into two different scenes.)

When the Nurse arrives to fetch Juliet the next morning, she finds the young girl's lifeless
body. Lady Capulet soon follows, and is understandably devastated over her daughter's
apparent suicide. When Lord Capulet finds out his daughter is dead, he orders the the wedding
music to shift into funeral dirges. The grieving family prepares to move Juliet's body to the
Capulet tomb as soon as possible.

Analysis
As noted in the previous Analysis sections, Shakespeare foreshadows Romeo and Juliet's
tragic ending by peppering the whole play with images of death. In Act 4, death finally comes
to the forefront. Even though the audience understands that Juliet's death is a ploy, watching
her plan and execute her suicide is an emotional moment - the extreme measures Juliet and
Romeo are willing to take to be together are proof of their tragic desperation.
In Act 4, Juliet summons all of her internal strength, which is manifest in her willingness to
engage in the Friar's rash and precarious plan. Romeo does not appear in this Act; which
makes it feel like Shakespeare wanted to draw attention to Juliet's unwavering devotion
towards solving their problem. Where Romeo's reacted to his banishment by actually
attempting suicide in Act 3, Juliet looks at the problem logically, choosing to feign suicide in
order to reunited with her lover. These parallel decisions suggest Juliet's superior courage and
cleverness, and indicate the power of love in Romeo and Juliet.
Juliet's actions emphasize the recurring division between the young and the old in the play.
Her decision to comply with the Friar's plan might be rash, but it is unquestionably brave. On
the other hand, the adults in Act 4 act almost exclusively out of resignation and self-interest.
Paris is no longer trying to charm or woo Juliet but, upon hearing the news that she has
accepted his hand, becomes arrogant and obnoxious. Juliet's parents no longer concern
themselves with her well-being once she claims to accept her betrothal to Paris, and even the
Nurse (who knows the depth of her passion for Romeo) allows her to sleep alone. Only the
young lovers know the triumph and the heartbreak of true love, whereas their older
counterparts stoically accept the status quo, favoring ease and expediency. Juliet's parents are
so happy that she has agreed to the profitable match with Paris that they never question why
she has changed her mind about him so quickly.

From the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence seems more like a politician than
a holy man. He knows that Romeo and Juliet's marriage is hasty and irrational but sees it as a
way to negotiate peace between the Montagues and the Capulets. In the first scene of Act 4,
Friar Laurence makes no attempt to interfere with Paris's marriage plans, even though the
Friar knows that Juliet is already married. He lacks the courage to state the truth, even though
he knows that Juliet and Paris' marriage would be complete sacrilege. Furthermore, the Friar
allows Juliet to use the sacrament of penance to get rid of Paris, which is another example of
his disrespect for religious conventions. Finally, the Friar's outrageous plan makes him seem
more like a mad scientist than a priest. He could have helped Romeo and Juliet to simply run
away, but had he done so, he would have lost an opportunity to reconcile the feud between the
Montagues and Capulets. By engineering a false tragedy and playing with death, Friar
Laurence reveals his priorities - his own desire for political influence is more important than
the lovers' happiness or his own religious vows.
Finally, the Friar's convoluted plan calls the play's tragic categorization into further question.
While the ending of Romeo and Juliet is undeniably sad, it keeps moving further away
from the tropes of classical tragedy. The fact that Juliet agrees the Friar's wild plan instead of
simply running away (which is a realistic option, especially since Romeo has already been
banished) suggests that the characters' choices play a major role in the lovers' ultimate demise.
In a classical tragedy, fate and other immovable forces lead to catastrophic events. However,
in the Friar and Juliet's plan, it seems that Juliet cannot fully relinquish her life in Verona –
she wants to claim victory over her parents. She is too headstrong to wonder whether her
youthful bravado might have its own negative consequences.

Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis of Act 5


Summary

Act Five, Scene One


Romeo wanders the streets of Mantua, mulling over a dream he had the night before
where Juliet was dead. Then, Balthasararrives from Verona with the news of Juliet's
apparent suicide.
Romeo immediately orders Balthasar to prepare a horse so he can rush to Verona and see
Juliet's body. Meanwhile, he writes a letter for Balthasar to give to Lord Montague,
explaining the situation. Finally, before he leaves Mantua, Romeo buys some poison from a
poor Apothecary.

Act Five, Scene Two


Back in Verona, Friar John, who was supposed to deliver the letter to Romeo telling him
about the plan, apologizes to Friar Laurence for his inability to complete the task.
Apparently, during his journey, some people believed that Friar John carried the pestilence
(the plague) and locked him in a house.
Friar Laurence realizes that this new wrinkle derails his plan, so he immediately orders a
crowbar so that he can rescue Juliet from the Capulet tomb.

Act Five, Scene Three


Mournful Paris and his Page stand guard at Juliet’s tomb so that no one will rob the vault.
Romeo and Balthasar arrive, and Paris tries to restrain Romeo, who is focused on breaking
into the tomb. Paris recognizes Romeo as the man who killed Tybalt, and believes that he
has come to desecrate Juliet's corpse. Their argument escalates into a sword fight, and Romeo
kills Paris. Paris' Page rushes away to fetch the City Watchmen.
Romeo opens the tomb and finds Juliet's body. Understandably devastated, he sits next to his
beloved and drinks the Apothecary’s poison, kisses Juliet, and then dies. Meanwhile, Friar
Laurence arrives at the Capulet tomb to find Paris’s body outside the door.

As planned, the potion wears off and Juliet awakens in the tomb, finding Romeo's dead body
beside her. When she sees the poison, she realizes what has happened. She kisses Romeo in
hopes that the poison will kill her as well, but it doesn't work. From outside the tomb, Friar
Laurence begs Juliet to exit the vault and flee, but she chooses to kill herself with Romeo’s
dagger.

Soon thereafter, Prince Escalus arrives, accompanied by the City Watchmen and the
patriarchs of the feuding families. Lord Montague announces that Lady Montague has died
from a broken heart as a result of Romeo's banishment. Friar Laurence then explains what has
happened to Romeo and Juliet, and Balthasar gives the Prince the letter from Romeo,
which confirms the Friar's tale.
To make amends for Juliet's death, Lord Montague promises to erect a golden statue of her for
all of Verona to admire. Not to be outdone, Capulet promises to do the same for Romeo. The
Prince ends the play by celebrating the end of the feud, but lamenting the deaths of the
young lovers, claiming, "For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her
Romeo" (5.3.308-9).
Analysis
As the plot of Romeo and Juliet spirals to its mournful end, it is easy to forget that the story
takes place over a few days. Regardless, Romeo and Juliet are so certain of their love that they
choose to accept death rather than being separated. As noted in the Analysis for Act 3, Romeo
and Juliet mature considerably over the course of the play, and learn to accept the tragic edge
of life more fully than their parents can.
Death is the most prominent theme in Act 5, although Shakespeare has foreshadowed the
tragic turn of events throughout the play. However, Shakespeare ultimately frames death as a
heroic choice. For example, Romeo’s eventually commits suicide because of his unwavering
devotion to Juliet, which is a contrast to the cowardly motivations for his suicide attempt in
Act 3. When Romeo hears of Juliet's death, he makes an active choice, ordering Balthasar to
prepare a horse immediately. Despite the desperate circumstances, Romeo shows that he has
learned from Juliet's forward planning by purchasing the poison before going to Verona. He
wants to embrace death as Juliet has, and plans to take his life in a show of solidarity with his
beloved.

When Romeo buys his poison, Shakespeare describes the scene as if Romeo were purchasing
the poison from Death himself - most notably in his description of the Apothecary: "Meagre
were his looks. / Sharp misery had worn him to the bones" (5.1.40-1). Symbolically, Romeo is
actively seeking out death. Shakespeare shows that death will not come upon Romeo
unawares, but is willing to work in service of the heartbroken young man. In this way,
Shakespeare aligns Romeo with the classical archetype of the tragic hero who accepts his
terrible fate head on. Much in the way that the characters in Richard IIIdream about their
fates in the final act of that play, Romeo also has a dream which foretells his fate. He says, "I
dreamt my lady came and found me dead" (5.1.6). The dream both foreshadows the ending
and suggests that greater forces – perhaps the “plague” that Mercutio tried to bring forth –
have come together to ensure a tragic ending.
The events of Act 5 do not provide a clear answer to the question of whether Romeo and
Juliet is a tragedy of fate. Instead, one could continue to argue that the tragic ending is the
result of individual decisions - most notably, Friar Laurence's complicated plan. The success
of this plan is highly contingent on timing and circumstance. What if Friar John had not been
waylaid? What if Romeo had arrived at the Capulet tomb two hours later, or if Friar Laurence
had arrived one hour earlier? Fate is not typically so contingent on human actions, which
suggests that the most powerful force at work in Romeo and Juliet is actually the
psychology of the characters. The uncertainty in these final scenes makes the play less
classically tragic and yet more unique for not being fully aligned any one form.
Friar Laurence continues to advocate for moderation in the final scenes of Romeo and
Juliet. Many scholars believe that Shakespeare meant for his audience to take away the
message that a lack of moderation is the reason for Romeo and Juliet's demise. Some believe
that Romeo and Juliet acted too quickly and intensely on their youthful passion, and allowed
it to consume them. However, this moral reading feels like an oversimplification, and ignores
the complexities of their love. Instead, the idea of caution is arguably more applicable to
Romeo and Juliet's families, who have allowed their feud to get out of control.
Shakespeare also uses the recurring motif of gold and silver to criticize the childishness of the
feuding adults. Gold continues to represent wealth and jealousy, the vices that keep Romeo
and Juliet apart. When Romeo pays the Apothecary in gold, he remarks, "There is thy gold -
worse poison to men's souls" (5.1.79). Gold, as a symbol, underlies the family feuding. Even
after Romeo and Juliet are dead and their families supposedly agree to peace, they still try to
outdo one another by creating commemorative gold statues. Romeo recognizes the power of
gold and yet repudiates it, allowing Shakespeare to create a distinction between the kinds of
people who value money and those who value true love.

Though death is paramount in Act 5, love is still a major theme as well. In particular,
Shakespeare employs erotic symbolism, especially in the death scene. Romeo drinks from a
chalice, a cup shaped like a woman’s torso. Meanwhile Juliet says, "O happy dagger, / This is
thy sheath! There rust, and let me die" (5.3.169). The dagger she speaks of is Romeo's, thus
highlighting the sexual overtones of her proclamation. Additionally, Shakespeare uses the
word "die" ambiguously. In Shakespeare's time, "To die" could either refer to real death or
sexual intercourse. Thus, even at the very end of the play, the audience could interpret Juliet's
final statement as her intention to commit suicide or her desire to engage with Romeo
sexually. The sexual nature of their relationship stands in stark contrast to Juliet's arranged
marriage to Paris, which is based on politics and greed, not love.

It is important to note that in Romeo and Juliet, the moral conventions of marriage,
religion, and family are all stained by human folly. The purity of Romeo and Juliet's love has
no place in a world filled with moral corruption. Shakespeare frames Romeo and Juliet's 'tale
of woe' as a tragic lesson to their their families, which makes an impact on the audience as
well. The Montagues and Capulets reconcile over a shared sense of loss, rather than moral or
societal pressure. The audience comes away from the play hoping that these families have
learned from the tragic events.
However, one analysis of Friar Laurence suggests the issue is a bit more complicated. As
noted previously, the Friar is more of a shrewd politician than a pious clergyman. He
manipulates a love-and-death situation for the sake of political peace. He does this by creating
a potion that has remarkable powers - as if he is playing God. By giving Juliet the potion,
Friar Laurence puts her in a Christ-like position (since they both ‘died’ and then were
resurrected from a tomb). Friar Laurence's failure could be read as a criticism of hubris, as
well as punishment for an earthly man trying to enact divine power - thus reinforcing the
secular nature of the play.

Romeo and Juliet About Shakespearean Theater


Before Shakespeare's time (and even during his early childhood), it was common for troupes
of actors to perform wherever they could - staging plays in halls, courts, courtyards, or any
other available open spaces. However, in 1574, when Shakespeare was ten years old, the
Common Council passed a law that required all plays and theaters in London to be licensed.
In 1576, James Burbage, an actor and future Lord Chamberlain's Man, built the first
permanent theater, called "The Theatre," outside London's city walls. After this, many more
theaters were established, including the Globe Theatre, which was where most of
Shakespeare's plays premiered.

Elizabethan theaters were generally modeled on the design of the original Theatre. These
theaters were built of wood and comprised three tiers of seats in a circular shape around a
stage area on one side of the circle. There was a roof over a section of the audience seating,
but much of the main stage and the standing room in front of it were subject to the elements.
About 1,500 audience members could pay extra money to sit in the covered seating areas,
while about 800 "groundlings" paid less money to stand in the open area directly in front of
the stage.
The stage itself was divided into three levels: a main stage area with doors at the rear and a
curtained area in the back for "discovery scenes"; an upper, canopied area called "heaven", for
balcony scenes; and an area under the stage called "hell," which could be accessed by a trap
door in the stage. There were dressing rooms located behind the stage, but no curtain in the
front of it, which meant that scenes had to flow into each other, and "dead bodies" had to be
dragged off.

Performances took place during the day, and the open plan theater allowed for the use of
natural light. Since there could be no dramatic lighting and there was very art direction
(scenery and props), audiences relied on the actors' lines and stage directions to supply the
time of day and year, as well as the weather, location, and mood of the scenes. Shakespeare
developed creative and entertaining ways to supply this information. For example,
in Hamlet, the audience learns within the first twenty lines of dialogue where the scene takes
place ("Have you had quiet guard?"), what time of day it is ("'Tis now strook twelf"), what the
weather is like ("'Tis bitter cold"), and what mood the characters are in ("and I am sick at
heart").
One important difference between plays written in Shakespeare's time and those written today
is that Elizabethan plays were published after their performances, sometimes even after their
authors' deaths, and were in many ways a record of what happened on stage during these
performances rather than directions for what should happen. Actors were allowed to suggest
changes to scenes and dialogue, and had much more freedom with their parts than actors do
today.

During Shakespeare's life, his plays were published in various forms, and with a wide range
of accuracy. The discrepancies between different versions of his plays from one publication to
the next make it difficult for editors to put together authoritative editions of his works. Plays
could be published in large anthologies called Folios (the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays
contains 36 plays), or in smaller Quartos. Folios were so named because of the way their
paper was folded in half to make chunks of two pages each, which were sewn together to
make a large volume. Quartos were smaller, cheaper books containing only one play. Their
paper was folded twice, making four pages. In general, the First Folio have lasted better than
the quartos. Therefore, plays that are printed in the First Folio are in better condition and
therefore, much easier for editors to compile.

Although Shakespeare's language and classical references seem archaic to some modern
readers, his audiences would have understood every word. Shakespeare's audience would
have represented a variety of social classes, and appropriately, his plays appealed to all kinds
of sensibilities - from his "highbrow" tales of kings and queens to the "lowbrow" blunderings
of clowns and servants. Even his most tragic plays include clown characters for comic relief
and to provide lucid commentary on the story. Audiences would have been familiar with his
numerous references to classical mythology and literature, since these stories were staples of
the Elizabethan knowledge base. While Shakespeare's plays appealed to all levels of society
and included familiar story lines and themes, they also expanded his audiences' vocabularies.
He coined many phrases and words that we use today, like "amazement," "in my mind's eye,"
and "the milk of human kindness". His plays contain a greater variety and number of words
than almost any other body of work in the English language, showing that he a brilliant
innovator, had a huge vocabulary, and was interested developing new phrases and words.
While Shakespeare's theater work was entirely representative of his time, it has remained
timeless because of his timeless stories and memorable characters.
Romeo and Juliet Essay Questions
1. 1
In what way do Romeo and Juliet break gender conventions? How do
these roles fluctuate throughout the play?
At the beginning of the play, the young lovers' behavior reverses common
gender conventions – Romeo acts in a way that his friends call feminine,
while Juliet exhibits masculine qualities. Romeo is by no means an
archetypal Elizabethan man; he is disinterested in asserting his physical
power like the other male characters in the play. Instead, Romeo chooses to
stew in his pensive melancholy. On several instances, Romeo's companions
suggest that his introspective behavior is effeminate. On the other hand,
Juliet exhibits a more pronounced sense of agency than most female
characters in Shakespeare's time. While the women around her, like her
mother, blindly act in accordance with Lord Capulet's wishes, Juliet proudly
expresses her opinion. Even when she has lost a battle (like when Lord
Capulet insists she consider marrying Paris), she demonstrates a shrewd
ability to deflect attention without committing to anything. In her
relationship with Romeo, Juliet clearly takes the lead by insisting on
marriage and proposing the plan to unite them. As the play progresses,
Romeo starts to break out of his pensive inaction to the point that Mercutio
notices this change. Romeo also makes a great shift from his cowardly
attempt at suicide in Act III to his willful decision in Act V. Overall, Romeo
and Juliet are arguably a good match because they are so distinct. Juliet is
headstrong, while Romeo is passive until passion strikes and inspires him to
action.

2. 2
Contrast Romeo's attempted suicide in Act 3 with his actual suicide in
Act 5. How do these two events reveal changes in his character and an
evolving view of death?
Romeo considers suicide in both Act 3 and Act 5. In Act 3, Romeo's desire
to take his own life is a cowardly response to his grief over killing Tybalt.
He is afraid of the consequences of his actions and would rather escape the
world entirely than face losing Juliet. Both Friar Laurence and the Nurse
criticize Romeo for his weakness and lack of responsibility - taking the knife
from his hands. In contrast, Romeo actually does commit suicide in Act V
because he sees no other option. He plans for it, seeking out the Apothecary
before leaving Mantua, and kills himself out of solidarity with Juliet, not
because he is afraid. While suicide is hardly a defensible action, Romeo's
dual attempts to take his life reveal his growing maturity and his
strengthened moral resolve.

3. 3
Several characters criticize Romeo for falling in love too quickly. Do you
believe this is true? Does his tendency towards infatuation give the
audience occasion to question Romeo's affection for Juliet?
This question obviously asks for a student opinion, but there is evidence to
support both sides of the argument. In Act 2, Friar Laurence states his
opinion that Romeo does indeed fall in love too quickly. Romeo is arguably
in love with being in love more than he is in love with any particular woman.
The speed with which his affections shift from Rosaline to Juliet – all before
he ever exchanges a word with the latter – suggests that Romeo's feelings of
'love' are closer to lust than commitment. This interpretation is supported by
the numerous sexual references in the play, which are even interwoven with
religious imagery in Romeo and Juliet's first conversation. However, it also
possible to argue that Romeo's lust does not invalidate the purity of his
love. Romeo and Juliet celebrates young, passionate love, which includes
physical lust. Furthermore, whereas Romeo was content to pine for Rosaline
from afar, his love for Juliet forces him to spring into action. He is
melancholy over Rosaline, but he is willing to die for Juliet. Therefore, a
possible reading is that Romeo and Juliet's relationship might have been
sparked by physical attraction, but it grew into a deep, spiritual connection.
4. 4
Examine the contrast between order and disorder in Romeo and Juliet.
How does Shakespeare express this dichotomy through symbols, and
how do those motifs help to underline the other major themes in the
play?
The contrast between order and disorder appears from the Prologue, where
the Chorus tells a tragic story using the ordered sonnet form. From that point
onwards, the separation between order and disorder is a common theme.
Ironically, violence and disorder occurs in bright daylight, while the serenity
of love emerges at night. The relationship between Romeo and Juliet is
uncomplicated without the disorderly feud between their families, which has
taken over the streets of Verona. The contrast between order and disorder
underscores the way that Shakespeare presents love - a safe cocoon in which
the lovers can separate themselves from the unpredictable world around
them. At the end of the play, it becomes clear that a relationship based on
pure love cannot co-exist with human weaknesses like greed and jealousy.

5. 5
Many critics note a tonal inconsistency in Romeo and Juliet. Do you find
the shift in tone that occurs after Mercutio's death to be problematic?
Does this shift correspond to an established structural tradition or is it
simply one of Shakespeare's whims?
After the Prologue until the point where Mercutio dies in Act III, Romeo and
Juliet is mostly a comic romance. After Mercutio dies, the nature of the play
suddenly shifts into tragedy. It is possible that this extreme shift is merely
the product of Shakespeare's whims, especially because the play has many
other asides that are uncharacteristic of either comedy or tragedy. For
example, Mercutio's Queen Mab speech is dreamy and poetic, while the
Nurse's colorful personality gives her more dimension than functional
characters generally require. However, it is also possible to see the parallels
between this tonal shift and the play's thematic contrast between order and
disorder. Shakespeare frequently explored the human potential for both
comedy and tragedy in his plays, and it is possible that in Romeo and Juliet,
he wanted to explore the transition from youthful whimsy into the
complications of adulthood. From this perspective, the play's unusual
structure could represent a journey to maturity. Romeo grows from a
petulant teenager who believes he can ignore the world around him to a man
who accepts the fact that his actions have consequences.
6. 6
Eminent literary critic Harold Bloom considers Mercutio to be one of
Shakespeare's greatest inventions in Romeo and Juliet. Why do you
agree or disagree with him? What sets Mercutio apart?
One of Shakespeare's great dramatic talents is his ability to portray
functional characters as multi-faceted individuals. Mercutio, for example,
could have served a simple dramatic function, helping the audience get to
know Romeo in the early acts. Then, his death in Act 3 is a crucial plot point
in the play, heightening the stakes and forcing Romeo to make a life-
changing decision. Mercutio barely appears in Arthur Brooke's Romeus and
Juliet, which Romeo and Juliet is based on. Therefore, Shakespeare made a
point of fleshing out the character. In Mercutio's Queen Mab speech,
Shakespeare has the opportunity to truly delve into the bizarre and often
dangerous sexual nature of love. Further, Mercutio's insight as he dies truly
expresses the horrors of revenge, as he declares a plague on both the
Montague and Capulet families. He is the first casualty of their feud - and
because he transcends functionality, the audience mourns his untimely death
and can relate to Romeo's capricious revenge.
7. 7
How does Shakespeare use symbols of gold and silver throughout the
play? What does each element represent?
Shakespeare uses gold and silver as symbols to criticize human folly. He
often invokes the image of silver to symbolize pure love and innocent
beauty. On the other hand, he uses gold as a sign of greed or desire. For
example, Shakespeare describes Rosaline as immune to showers of gold, an
image that symbolizes the selfishness of bribery. Later, when Romeo is
banished, he comments that banishment is a "golden axe," meaning that
banishment is merely a shiny euphemism for death. Finally, the erection of
the golden statues at the end of the play is a sign of the fact that neither Lord
Capulet nor Lord Montague has really learned anything from the loss of their
children. They are still competing to claim the higher level of grief. Romeo,
however, recognizes the power of gold and rejects it - through him,
Shakespeare suggests a distinction between a world governed by wealth and
the cocoon of true love.

8. 8
Do a character analysis of Friar Laurence. What motivates him? In
what ways does this motivation complicate his character?
Friar Laurence is yet another character who transcends his functional
purpose. When Romeo first approaches the Friar to plan his marriage to
Juliet, the older man questions the young man's sincerity, since Romeo
openly pined for Rosaline only a few days before. However, the Friar shows
a willingness to compromise by agreeing to marry the young lovers
nevertheless. What ultimately motivates Friar Laurence is his desire to end
the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, and he sees Romeo and
Juliet's marriage as a means to that end. While his peaceful intentions are
admirable, his devious actions to achieve them – conducting a marriage that
he explicitly questions – suggests he is more driven by politics than by an
internal moral compass. The fact that a religious figure would compromise
one of the Church's sacraments (marriage) further suggests that the Friar
wants his power to extend beyond the confines of his Chapel. He also
displays his hubris by helping Juliet to fake her death, rather than simply
helping her get to Mantua to be with Romeo. While Friar Laurence is not an
explicit villain, his internal contradictions speak to Shakespeare's ability to
create multi-faceted characters.

9. 9
Should Romeo and Juliet be considered a classical tragedy (in which fate
destroys individuals)? Or is it more a tragedy of circumstance and
personality? Moreover, could the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet
have been avoided?
In classical tragedy, an individual is defeated by Fate, despite his or her best
efforts to change a pre-determined course of events. A classical tragedy both
celebrates an individual's willpower while lamenting the fact that the
universe cannot be bested by mankind. The tragic elements in Romeo and
Juliet are undeniable - two young lovers want nothing more than to be
together and fall victim to an ancient feud and rigid societal conventions.
However, while Romeo and Juliet's deaths result from human folly, the
immovable power of fate also has a hand in sealing their destinies. For
instance, Romeo and Juliet had many opportunities to simply run away
together instead of being separated after Romeo is banished from Verona.
Furthermore, many of the tragic occurrences are contingent on antagonistic
characters running into one another, and then choosing to pursue vengeance
rather than simply walk away. Based on this evidence, it is possible to read
Shakespeare's intent as suggesting that behavioral adjustment can often
prevent tragic events.
10.10
How is Romeo and Juliet a criticism of organized religion? Examine the
play's secularism to develop your answer.
While Romeo and Juliet does not present explicit attacks against religion,
Shakespeare reveals his skepticism of Christianity in subtle ways. In many
ways, Romeo and Juliet must reject the tenets of Christianity in order to be
together. In their first meeting, they banter, using religious imagery to share
their sexual feelings. In this exchange, the lovers acknowledge the
omnipresence of Christianity, but cheekily use religious images in an
unexpected context. Further, Christian tradition would have required Juliet
to submit to her father's desire, but instead, she manipulates his expectations
to distract him from her real agenda. Even Friar Laurence, an explicitly
religious figure, uses Christianity as a tool towards his own ends. In this
way, the play implicitly suggests that the rigid rules of religion often work in
opposition to the desires of the heart - and to pursue true happiness, one
must throw off the shackles of organized faith.

Romeo and Juliet Study Guide


Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's most famous tragedy and one of the world's most
enduring love stories, derives its plot from several sixteenth century sources. Shakespeare's
primary inspiration for the play was Arthur Brooke's Tragical History of Romeus
and Juliet (1562), a long and dense poem. Brooke's poem, in turn, was based on a French
prose version written by Pierre Boiastuau (1559), which was derived from an Italian version
written by Bandello in 1554. Bandello's poem, meanwhile, was an interpretation of Luigi da
Porto's 1525 version of a story by Masuccio Salernitano (1476).
The plot of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet remains mostly true to Brooke's poem, though
Shakespeare exercised artistic license in several instances. For example, as he often does,
Shakespeare telescopes the events from Brooke's poem (which took place over 90 days) into a
few days in the play. Additionally, Shakespeare's Juliet is thirteen, while Brooke wrote her as
sixteen. The time compression and the younger Juliet enhance the youthful nature of the
central relationship, emphasizing its passion and newness.
One of the most powerful aspects of Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare's use of language.
The characters curse, vow oaths, banish each other, and, in general, demonstrate great verbal
dexterity through an overuse of action verbs. In addition, the play is saturated with
oxymorons, puns, paradoxes, and double entendres. Shakespeare even calls the use of names
into question, most famously in Juliet's balcony soliloquy. Shakespeare also executed a rather
strong shift in the language spoken by both Romeo and Juliet after they fall in love. Whereas
Romeo is hopelessly normal in his courtship before meeting Juliet, after he falls in love, his
language becomes infinitely richer and stronger.
Romeo and Juliet also deals with the issue of authoritarian law and order. Many of
Shakespeare's plays feature characters that represent the unalterable force of the law, such as
the Duke in The Comedy of Errors and Prince Escalus in Romeo and Juliet. In this
play, the law attempts to stop the civil disorder, and even banishes Romeo at the midpoint.
However, as in The Comedy of Errors, the law is eventually overpowered by the forces of
love.
There are several different sources that inform the contemporary text of Romeo and
Juliet. Romeo and Juliet was first published in quarto in 1597, and republished in a new
edition only two years later. The second copy was used to created yet a third quarto in 1609,
from which both the 1623 Quarto and First Folio are derived. The first quarto is generally
considered a bad quarto, or an illicit copy created from the recollections of several actors
rather than from the writer's original material. The second quarto seems to be taken from
Shakespeare's rough draft, and thus has some inconsistent speech and some lines which
Shakespeare apparently meant to eliminate. Please see the "About Shakespearian Theater"
section of this note for more guidance as to these concepts.
Romeo and Juliet was popular during Shakespeare's time, but over the centuries it has
become nothing short of omnipresent. It is arguably the most-filmed play of all time, and has
been adapted 4 times to date - first by George Cukor in 1936, then by Franco Zeffirelli in
1968, Baz Luhrmann in 1996, and most recently, by Carlo Carlei in 2013. John Madden's
Academy-Award winning film Shakespeare in Love is a fictional account of Shakespeare's
life while writing the play. It was the basis for Prokofiev's famous ballet, and has inspired
numerous Operas, pop and jazz songs, books, games, and musicals.