Romeo and Juliet Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 5 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Beauty and Danger of Love and Dreams and Illusions.
Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare’s best-known plays. First performed before 1597 (the date of its earliest known printing), it has been popular and influential ever since.
This summary refers to the 2011 Folger Shakespeare Library edition. Your edition’s line numbers may vary slightly.
A feud between two noble families, the Montagues and the Capulets, is tearing apart the city of Verona. Young men allied with these households fight each other in the streets. At last, the violence gets so bad that the city’s Prince declares that any member of these clans caught fighting will be exiled from the city.
Meanwhile, Romeo, the romantic young son of the Montagues, is suffering: He’s lovelorn over a girl named Rosaline, who doesn’t return his affections. His friends Benvolio and Mercutio persuade him to crash a masked ball thrown by the Capulets, in the hopes that he’ll spot another girl to fall in love with there. This plan works all too well: The disguised Romeo falls instantly in love with Juliet, the Capulets’ daughter. This is inconvenient, to say the least. Not only are the lovers’ parents locked in a feud, Juliet is considering a marriage proposal from the eligible young Count Paris. However, Romeo and Juliet’s love overwhelms all such considerations, and when Romeo comes in secret to Juliet’s garden in the night, they vow to marry.
Romeo’s friends take a dim view of this plan. Benvolio points out that Romeo was desperately in love with another girl five minutes ago; Mercutio will only make sex jokes; and Friar Lawrence, Romeo’s priestly friend and mentor, warns him that “these violent delights have violent ends” (2.6.9). However, Friar Lawrence also sees the young lovers as an opportunity to heal the rift between Montagues and Capulets, and agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet in secret.
Before any good can come of this clandestine marriage, tragedy strikes when the rash and flamboyant Mercutio gets into a street fight with Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. Mercutio is killed, and a grief-stricken Romeo murders Tybalt in revenge. Though it means leaving behind his new bride, Romeo must flee Verona to avoid punishment at the hands of the Prince.
Juliet is horrified when she learns that her new husband has killed her cousin, and even more horrified when she learns that the “choice” her parents offered her about whether to marry Count Paris was not so much a choice. She bravely decides to stand by Romeo and goes to Friar Lawrence for help. He concocts an elaborate plan to reunite the newlyweds: He’ll give Juliet a drug that makes her seem as if she’s dead, when in fact she’ll just be in a brief, deathlike coma. While her family entombs her, Friar Lawrence will send a message to Romeo to come and find her.
Juliet goes through with this plan, but Friar Lawrence’s part in the proceedings doesn’t go so well. News of Juliet’s “death” reaches Romeo in Mantua before Friar Lawrence’s explanatory message makes it there. Romeo rushes to Verona, where he finds and kills the mourning Paris outside the Capulet tomb. He descends into the dark and, finding what seems to be Juliet’s corpse, poisons himself.
Friar Lawrence arrives at the tomb to care for Juliet as she awakes, only to find her discovering Romeo’s still-warm body lying next to her. The priest tries to convince Juliet to come away, but she refuses, and he flees at the sound of approaching footsteps. Left alone, Juliet stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger. In the wake of these horrors, the Montagues and Capulets, having lost the hope of their future heirs, are forced to make a tragic peace.