Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare early in his career about two young Italian star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with Hamlet, is one of his most frequently performed plays. Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal young lovers.
Romeo and Juliet belongs to a tradition of tragic romances stretching back to antiquity. The plot is based on an Italian tale translated into verse as The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet by Arthur Brooke in 1562 and retold in prose in Palace of Pleasure by William Painter in 1567. Shakespeare borrowed heavily from both but expanded the plot by developing a number of supporting characters, particularly Mercutio and Paris. Believed to have been written between 1591 and 1595, the play was first published in a quarto version in 1597. The text of the first quarto version was of poor quality, however, and later editions corrected the text to conform more closely with Shakespeare’s original.
Shakespeare’s use of his poetic dramatic structure (especially effects such as switching between comedy and tragedy to heighten tension, his expansion of minor characters, and his use of sub-plots to embellish the story) has been praised as an early sign of his dramatic skill. The play ascribes different poetic forms to different characters, sometimes changing the form as the character develops. Romeo, for example, grows more adept at the sonnet over the course of the play.
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Romeo and Juliet has been adapted numerous times for stage, film, musical, and opera venues. During the English Restoration, it was revived and heavily revised by William Davenant. David Garrick’s 18th-century version also modified several scenes, removing material then considered indecent, and Georg Benda’s Romeo und Julie omitted much of the action and used a happy ending. Performances in the 19th century, including Charlotte Cushman’s, restored the original text and focused on greater realism. John Gielgud’s 1935 version kept very close to Shakespeare’s text and used Elizabethan costumes and staging to enhance the drama. In the 20th and into the 21st century, the play has been adapted in versions as diverse as George Cukor’s 1936 film Romeo and Juliet, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version Romeo and Juliet, and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 MTV-inspired Romeo + Juliet.
The play, set in Verona, Italy, begins with a street brawl between Montague and Capulet servants who, like their masters, are sworn enemies. Prince Escalus of Verona intervenes and declares that further breach of the peace will be punishable by death. Later, Count Paris talks to Capulet about marrying his daughter Juliet, but Capulet asks Paris to wait another two years and invites him to attend a planned Capulet ball. Lady Capulet and Juliet’s Nurse try to persuade Juliet to accept Paris’s courtship.
Meanwhile, Benvolio talks with his cousin Romeo, Montague’s son, about Romeo’s recent depression. Benvolio discovers that it stems from unrequited infatuation for a girl named Rosaline, one of Capulet’s nieces. Persuaded by Benvolio and Mercutio, Romeo attends the ball at the Capulet house in hopes of meeting Rosaline. However, Romeo instead meets and falls in love with Juliet. Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, is enraged at Romeo for sneaking into the ball but is only stopped from killing Romeo by Juliet’s father, who does not wish to shed blood in his house. After the ball, in what is now called the “balcony scene”, Romeo sneaks into the Capulet orchard and overhears Juliet at her window vowing her love to him in spite of her family’s hatred of the Montagues. Romeo makes himself known to her, and they agree to be married. With the help of Friar Laurence, who hopes to reconcile the two families through their children’s union, they are secretly married the next day.
Tybalt, meanwhile, still incensed that Romeo had sneaked into the Capulet ball, challenges him to a duel. Romeo, now considering Tybalt his kinsman, refuses to fight. Mercutio is offended by Tybalt’s insolence, as well as Romeo’s “vile submission”, and accepts the duel on Romeo’s behalf. Mercutio is fatally wounded when Romeo attempts to break up the fight. Grief-stricken and racked with guilt, Romeo confronts and slays Tybalt.
Benvolio argues that Romeo has justly executed Tybalt for the murder of Mercutio. The Prince, now having lost a kinsman in the warring families’ feud, exiles Romeo from Verona, under penalty of death if he ever returns. Romeo secretly spends the night in Juliet’s chamber, where they consummate their marriage. Capulet, misinterpreting Juliet’s grief, agrees to marry her to Count Paris and threatens to disown her when she refuses to become Paris’s “joyful bride”. When she then pleads for the marriage to be delayed, her mother rejects her.
Juliet visits Friar Laurence for help, and he offers her a potion that will put her into a deathlike coma or catalepsy for “two and forty hours”. The Friar promises to send a messenger to inform Romeo of the plan so that he can rejoin her when she awakens. On the night before the wedding, she takes the drug and, when discovered apparently dead, she is laid in the family crypt.
The messenger, however, does not reach Romeo and, instead, Romeo learns of Juliet’s apparent death from his servant, Balthasar. Heartbroken, Romeo buys poison from an apothecary and goes to the Capulet crypt. He encounters Paris who has come to mourn Juliet privately. Believing Romeo to be a vandal, Paris confronts him and, in the ensuing battle, Romeo kills Paris. Still believing Juliet to be dead, he drinks the poison. Juliet then awakens and, discovering that Romeo is dead, stabs herself with his dagger and joins him in death. The feuding families and the Prince meet at the tomb to find all three dead. Friar Laurence recounts the story of the two “star-cross’d lovers”. The families are reconciled by their children’s deaths and agree to end their violent feud. The play ends with the Prince’s elegy for the lovers: “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Romeo and Juliet borrows from a tradition of tragic love stories dating back to antiquity. One of these is Pyramus and Thisbe, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which contains parallels to Shakespeare’s story: the lovers’ parents despise each other, and Pyramus falsely believes his lover Thisbe is dead. The Ephesiaca of Xenophon of Ephesus, written in the 3rd century, also contains several similarities to the play, including the separation of the lovers, and a potion that induces a deathlike sleep.
One of the earliest references to the names Montague and Capulet is from Dante’s Divine Comedy, who mentions the Montecchi (Montagues) and the Cappelletti (Capulets) in canto six of Purgatorio:
Come and see, you who are negligent,
Montagues and Capulets, Monaldi and Filippeschi
One lot already grieving, the other in fear.
However, the reference is part of a polemic against the moral decay of Florence, Lombardy, and the Italian Peninsula as a whole; Dante, through his characters, chastises German King Albert I for neglecting his responsibilities towards Italy (“you who are negligent”), and successive popes for their encroachment from purely spiritual affairs, thus leading to a climate of incessant bickering and warfare between rival political parties in Lombardy. History records the name of the family Montague as being lent to such a political party in Verona, but that of the Capulets as from a Cremonese family, both of whom play out their conflict in Lombardy as a whole rather than within the confines of Verona. Allied to rival political factions, the parties are grieving (“One lot already grieving”) because their endless warfare has led to the destruction of both parties, rather than a grief from the loss of their ill-fated offspring as the play sets forth, which appears to be a solely poetic creation within this context.
The earliest known version of the Romeo and Juliet tale akin to Shakespeare’s play is the story of Mariotto and Ganozza by Masuccio Salernitano, in the 33rd novel of his Il Novellino published in 1476. Salernitano sets the story in Siena and insists its events took place in his own lifetime. His version of the story includes the secret marriage, the colluding friar, the fray where a prominent citizen is killed, Mariotto’s exile, Ganozza’s forced marriage, the potion plot, and the crucial message that goes astray. In this version, Mariotto is caught and beheaded and Ganozza dies of grief.
Luigi da Porto (1485–1529) adapted the story as Giulietta e Romeo and included it in his Historia novellamente ritrovata di due nobili amanti (A Newly-Discovered History of two Noble Lovers), written in 1524 and published posthumously in 1531 in Venice. Da Porto drew on Pyramus and Thisbe, Boccaccio’s Decameron, and Salernitano’s Mariotto e Ganozza, but it is likely that his story is also autobiographical: He was a soldier present at a ball on 26 February 1511, at a residence of the pro-Venice Savorgnan clan in Udine, following a peace ceremony attended by the opposing pro-Imperial Strumieri clan. There, Da Porto fell in love with Lucina, a Savorgnan daughter, but the family feud frustrated their courtship. The next morning, the Savorgnans led an attack on the city, and many members of the Strumieri were murdered. Years later, still half-paralyzed from a battle-wound, Luigi wrote Giulietta e Romeo in Montorso Vicentino (from which he could see the “castles” of Verona), dedicating the novella to the bellisima e leggiadra (the beautiful and graceful) Lucina Savorgnan. Da Porto presented his tale as historically factual and claimed it took place at least a century earlier than Salernitano had it, in the days Verona was ruled by Bartolomeo della Scala (anglicized as Prince Escalus).
Da Porto presented the narrative in close to its modern form, including the names of the lovers, the rival families of Montecchi and Capuleti (Cappelletti) and the location in Verona. He named the friar Laurence (frate Lorenzo) and introduced the characters Mercutio (Marcuccio Guertio), Tybalt (Tebaldo Cappelletti), Count Paris (conte (Paride) di Lodrone), the faithful servant, and Giulietta’s nurse. Da Porto originated the remaining basic elements of the story: the feuding families, Romeo—left by his mistress—meeting Giulietta at a dance at her house, the love scenes (including the balcony scene), the periods of despair, Romeo killing Giulietta’s cousin (Tebaldo), and the families’ reconciliation after the lovers’ suicides. In da Porto’s version, Romeo takes poison and Giulietta keeps her breath until she dies.
In 1554, Matteo Bandello published the second volume of his Novelle, which included his version of Giuletta e Romeo, probably written between 1531 and 1545. Bandello lengthened and weighed down the plot while leaving the storyline basically unchanged (though he did introduce Benvolio). Bandello’s story was translated into French by Pierre Boaistuau in 1559 in the first volume of his Histories Tragiques. Boaistuau adds much moralising and sentiment, and the characters indulge in rhetorical outbursts.
In his 1562 narrative poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, Arthur Brooke translated Boaistuau faithfully but adjusted it to reflect parts of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde. There was a trend among writers and playwrights to publish works based on Italian novelle—Italian tales were very popular among theatre-goers—and Shakespeare may well have been familiar with William Painter’s 1567 collection of Italian tales titled Palace of Pleasure. This collection included a version in prose of the Romeo and Juliet story named “The goodly History of the true and constant love of Romeo and Juliett”. Shakespeare took advantage of this popularity: The Merchant of Venice, Much Ado About Nothing, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Romeo and Juliet are all from Italian novelle. Romeo and Juliet is a dramatization of Brooke’s translation, and Shakespeare follows the poem closely but adds detail to several major and minor characters (the Nurse and Mercutio in particular).
Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander and Dido, Queen of Carthage, both similar stories written in Shakespeare’s day, are thought to be less of a direct influence, although they may have helped create an atmosphere in which tragic love stories could thrive.
It is unknown when exactly Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s Nurse refers to an earthquake she says occurred 11 years ago. This may refer to the Dover Straits earthquake of 1580, which would date that particular line to 1591. Other earthquakes—both in England and in Verona—have been proposed in support of the different dates. But the play’s stylistic similarities with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and other plays conventionally dated around 1594–95, place its composition sometime between 1591 and 1595.[b] One conjecture is that Shakespeare may have begun a draft in 1591, which he completed in 1595.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was published in two quarto editions prior to the publication of the First Folio of 1623. These are referred to as Q1 and Q2. The first printed edition, Q1, appeared in early 1597, printed by John Danter. Because its text contains numerous differences from the later editions, it is labelled a so-called ‘bad quarto’; the 20th-century editor T. J. B. Spencer described it as “a detestable text, probably a reconstruction of the play from the imperfect memories of one or two of the actors”, suggesting that it had been pirated for publication. An alternative explanation for Q1’s shortcomings is that the play (like many others of the time) may have been heavily edited before performance by the playing company. However, “the theory, formulated by [Alfred] Pollard,” that the ‘bad quarto’ was “reconstructed from memory by some of the actors is now under attack. Alternative theories are that some or all of ‘the bad quartos’ are early versions by Shakespeare or abbreviations made either for Shakespeare’s company or for other companies.” In any event, its appearance in early 1597 makes 1596 the latest possible date for the play’s composition.
The superior Q2 called the play The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedie of Romeo and Juliet. It was printed in 1599 by Thomas Creede and published by Cuthbert Burby. Q2 is about 800 lines longer than Q1. Its title page describes it as “Newly corrected, augmented and amended”. Scholars believe that Q2 was based on Shakespeare’s pre-performance draft (called his foul papers) since there are textual oddities such as variable tags for characters and “false starts” for speeches that were presumably struck through by the author but erroneously preserved by the typesetter. It is a much more complete and reliable text and was reprinted in 1609 (Q3), 1622 (Q4) and 1637 (Q5). In effect, all later Quartos and Folios of Romeo and Juliet are based on Q2, as are all modern editions since editors believe that any deviations from Q2 in the later editions (whether good or bad) are likely to have arisen from editors or compositors, not from Shakespeare.
The First Folio text of 1623 was based primarily on Q3, with clarifications and corrections possibly coming from a theatrical prompt book or Q1. Other Folio editions of the play were printed in 1632 (F2), 1664 (F3), and 1685 (F4). Modern versions—that take into account several of the Folios and Quartos—first appeared with Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition, followed by Alexander Pope’s 1723 version. Pope began a tradition of editing the play to add information such as stage directions missing in Q2 by locating them in Q1. This tradition continued late into the Romantic period. Fully annotated editions first appeared in the Victorian period and continue to be produced today, printing the text of the play with footnotes describing the sources and culture behind the play.
Scholars have found it extremely difficult to assign one specific, overarching theme to the play. Proposals for a main theme include a discovery by the characters that human beings are neither wholly good nor wholly evil, but instead are more or less alike, awaking out of a dream and into reality, the danger of hasty action, or the power of tragic fate. None of these have widespread support. However, even if an overall theme cannot be found it is clear that the play is full of several small thematic elements that intertwine in complex ways. Several of those most often debated by scholars are discussed below.
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.”
—Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V
Romeo and Juliet is sometimes considered to have no unifying theme, save that of young love. Romeo and Juliet have become emblematic of young lovers and doomed love. Since it is such an obvious subject of the play, several scholars have explored the language and historical context behind the romance of the play.
On their first meeting, Romeo and Juliet use a form of communication recommended by many etiquette authors in Shakespeare’s day: metaphor. By using metaphors of saints and sins, Romeo was able to test Juliet’s feelings for him in a non-threatening way. This method was recommended by Baldassare Castiglione (whose works had been translated into English by this time). He pointed out that if a man used a metaphor as an invitation, the woman could pretend she did not understand him, and he could retreat without losing honour. Juliet, however, participates in the metaphor and expands on it. The religious metaphors of “shrine”, “pilgrim”, and “saint” were fashionable in the poetry of the time and more likely to be understood as romantic rather than blasphemous, as the concept of sainthood was associated with the Catholicism of an earlier age. Later in the play, Shakespeare removes the more daring allusions to Christ’s resurrection in the tomb he found in his source work: Brooke’s Romeus and Juliet.
In the later balcony scene, Shakespeare has Romeo overhear Juliet’s soliloquy, but in Brooke’s version of the story, her declaration is done alone. By bringing Romeo into the scene to eavesdrop, Shakespeare breaks from the normal sequence of courtship. Usually, a woman was required to be modest and shy to make sure that her suitor was sincere, but breaking this rule serves to speed along the plot. The lovers are able to skip courting and move on to plain talk about their relationship—agreeing to be married after knowing each other for only one night. In the final suicide scene, there is a contradiction in the message—in the Catholic religion, suicides were often thought to be condemned to Hell, whereas people who die to be with their loves under the “Religion of Love” are joined with their loves in Paradise. Romeo and Juliet’s love seems to be expressing the “Religion of Love” view rather than the Catholic view. Another point is that, although their love is passionate, it is only consummated in marriage, which keeps them from losing the audience’s sympathy.
The play arguably equates love and sex with death. Throughout the story, both Romeo and Juliet, along with the other characters, fantasise about it as a dark being, often equating it with a lover. Capulet, for example, when he first discovers Juliet’s (faked) death, describes it as having deflowered his daughter. Juliet later erotically compares Romeo and death. Right before her suicide, she grabs Romeo’s dagger, saying “O happy dagger! This is thy sheath. There rust, and let me die.”
“O, I am fortune’s fool!”
—Romeo, Act III Scene I
Scholars are divided on the role of fate in the play. No consensus exists on whether the characters are truly fated to die together or whether the events take place by a series of unlucky chances. Arguments in favour of fate often refer to the description of the lovers as “star-cross’d”. This phrase seems to hint that the stars have predetermined the lovers’ future. John W. Draper points out the parallels between the Elizabethan belief in the four humours and the main characters of the play (for example, Tybalt as a choleric). Interpreting the text in the light of humours reduces the amount of plot attributed to chance by modern audiences. Still, other scholars see the play as a series of unlucky chances—many to such a degree that they do not see it as a tragedy at all, but an emotional melodrama. Ruth Nevo believes the high degree to which chance is stressed in the narrative makes Romeo and Juliet a “lesser tragedy” of happenstance, not of character. For example, Romeo’s challenging Tybalt is not impulsive; it is, after Mercutio’s death, the expected action to take. In this scene, Nevo reads Romeo as being aware of the dangers of flouting social norms, identity, and commitments. He makes the choice to kill, not because of a tragic flaw, but because of circumstance.
“O brawling love, O loving hate,
O any thing of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!”
—Romeo, Act I, Scene I
Scholars have long noted Shakespeare’s widespread use of light and dark imagery throughout the play. Caroline Spurgeon considers the theme of light as “symbolic of the natural beauty of young love” and later critics have expanded on this interpretation. For example, both Romeo and Juliet see the other as light in a surrounding darkness. Romeo describes Juliet as being like the sun, brighter than a torch, a jewel sparkling in the night, and a bright angel among dark clouds. Even when she lies apparently dead in the tomb, he says her “beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light.” Juliet describes Romeo as “day in night” and “Whiter than snow upon a raven’s back.” This contrast of light and dark can be expanded as symbols—contrasting love and hate, youth and age in a metaphoric way. Sometimes these intertwining metaphors create dramatic irony. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s love is a light in the midst of the darkness of the hate around them, but all of their activity together is done in night and darkness while all of the feuding is done in broad daylight. This paradox of imagery adds atmosphere to the moral dilemma facing the two lovers: loyalty to family or loyalty to love. At the end of the story, when the morning is gloomy and the sun hiding its face for sorrow, light and dark have returned to their proper places, the outward darkness reflecting the true, inner darkness of the family feud out of sorrow for the lovers. All characters now recognise their folly in light of recent events, and things return to the natural order, thanks to the love and death of Romeo and Juliet. The “light” theme in the play is also heavily connected to the theme of time since light was a convenient way for Shakespeare to express the passage of time through descriptions of the sun, moon, and stars.
“These times of woe afford no time to woo.”
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
—Paris, Act III, Scene IV
Time plays an important role in the language and plot of the play. Both Romeo and Juliet struggle to maintain an imaginary world void of time in the face of the harsh realities that surround them. For instance, when Romeo swears his love to Juliet by the moon, she protests “O swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.” From the very beginning, the lovers are designated as “star-cross’d”[c] referring to an astrologic belief associated with time. Stars were thought to control the fates of humanity, and as time passed, stars would move along their course in the sky, also charting the course of human lives below. Romeo speaks of a foreboding he feels in the stars’ movements early in the play, and when he learns of Juliet’s death, he defies the stars’ course for him.
Another central theme is haste: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet spans a period of four to six days, in contrast to Brooke’s poems spanning nine months. Scholars such as G. Thomas Tanselle believe that time was “especially important to Shakespeare” in this play, as he used references to “short-time” for the young lovers as opposed to references to “long-time” for the “older generation” to highlight “a headlong rush towards doom”. Romeo and Juliet fight time to make their love last forever. In the end, the only way they seem to defeat time is through a death that makes them immortal through art.
Time is also connected to the theme of light and dark. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were most often performed at noon or in the afternoon in broad daylight.[d] This forced the playwright to use words to create the illusion of day and night in his plays. Shakespeare uses references to the night and day, the stars, the moon, and the sun to create this illusion. He also has characters frequently refer to days of the week and specific hours to help the audience understand that time has passed in the story. All in all, no fewer than 103 references to time are found in the play, adding to the illusion of its passage.
The earliest known critic of the play was diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” Poet John Dryden wrote 10 years later in praise of the play and its comic character Mercutio: “Shakespear show’d the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forc’d to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him.” Criticism of the play in the 18th century was less sparse but no less divided. Publisher Nicholas Rowe was the first critic to ponder the theme of the play, which he saw as the just punishment of the two feuding families. In mid-century, writer Charles Gildon and philosopher Lord Kames argued that the play was a failure in that it did not follow the classical rules of drama: the tragedy must occur because of some character flaw, not an accident of fate. Writer and critic Samuel Johnson, however, considered it one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing” plays.
In the later part of the 18th and through the 19th century, criticism centred on debates over the moral message of the play. Actor and playwright David Garrick’s 1748 adaptation excluded Rosaline: Romeo abandoning her for Juliet was seen as fickle and reckless. Critics such as Charles Dibdin argued that Rosaline had been included in the play in order to show how reckless the hero was and that this was the reason for his tragic end. Others argued that Friar Laurence might be Shakespeare’s spokesman in his warnings against undue haste. At the beginning of the 20th century, these moral arguments were disputed by critics such as Richard Green Moulton: he argued that accident, and not some character flaw, led to the lovers’ deaths.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare employs several dramatic techniques that have garnered praise from critics, most notably the abrupt shifts from comedy to tragedy (an example is the punning exchange between Benvolio and Mercutio just before Tybalt arrives). Before Mercutio’s death in Act III, the play is largely a comedy. After his accidental demise, the play suddenly becomes serious and takes on a tragic tone. When Romeo is banished, rather than executed, and Friar Laurence offers Juliet a plan to reunite her with Romeo, the audience can still hope that all will end well. They are in a “breathless state of suspense” by the opening of the last scene in the tomb: If Romeo is delayed long enough for the Friar to arrive, he and Juliet may yet be saved. These shifts from hope to despair, reprieve, and new hope serve to emphasise the tragedy when the final hope fails and both the lovers die at the end.
Shakespeare also uses sub-plots to offer a clearer view of the actions of the main characters. For example, when the play begins, Romeo is in love with Rosaline, who has refused all of his advances. Romeo’s infatuation with her stands in obvious contrast to his later love for Juliet. This provides a comparison through which the audience can see the seriousness of Romeo and Juliet’s love and marriage. Paris’ love for Juliet also sets up a contrast between Juliet’s feelings for him and her feelings for Romeo. The formal language she uses around Paris, as well as the way she talks about him to her Nurse, show that her feelings clearly lie with Romeo. Beyond this, the sub-plot of the Montague–Capulet feud overarches the whole play, providing an atmosphere of hate that is the main contributor to the play’s tragic end.
Shakespeare uses a variety of poetic forms throughout the play. He begins with a 14-line prologue in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, spoken by a Chorus. Most of Romeo and Juliet is, however, written in blank verse, and much of it in strict iambic pentameter, with less rhythmic variation than in most of Shakespeare’s later plays. In choosing forms, Shakespeare matches the poetry to the character who uses it. Friar Laurence, for example, uses sermon and sententiae forms and the Nurse uses a unique blank verse form that closely matches colloquial speech. Each of these forms is also moulded and matched to the emotion of the scene the character occupies. For example, when Romeo talks about Rosaline earlier in the play, he attempts to use the Petrarchan sonnet form. Petrarchan sonnets were often used by men to exaggerate the beauty of women who were impossible for them to attain, as in Romeo’s situation with Rosaline. This sonnet form is used by Lady Capulet to describe Count Paris to Juliet as a handsome man. When Romeo and Juliet meet, the poetic form changes from the Petrarchan (which was becoming archaic in Shakespeare’s day) to a then more contemporary sonnet form, using “pilgrims” and “saints” as metaphors. Finally, when the two meet on the balcony, Romeo attempts to use the sonnet form to pledge his love, but Juliet breaks it by saying “Dost thou love me?” By doing this, she searches for true expression, rather than a poetic exaggeration of their love. Juliet uses monosyllabic words with Romeo but uses formal language with Paris. Other forms in the play include an epithalamium by Juliet, a rhapsody in Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, and an elegy by Paris. Shakespeare saves his prose style most often for the common people in the play, though at times he uses it for other characters, such as Mercutio. Humour, also, is important: scholar Molly Mahood identifies at least 175 puns and wordplays in the text. Many of these jokes are sexual in nature, especially those involving Mercutio and the Nurse.
Early psychoanalytic critics saw the problem of Romeo and Juliet in terms of Romeo’s impulsiveness, deriving from “ill-controlled, partially disguised aggression”, which leads both to Mercutio’s death and to the double suicide.[e] Romeo and Juliet is not considered to be exceedingly psychologically complex, and sympathetic psychoanalytic readings of the play make the tragic male experience equivalent with sicknesses. Norman Holland, writing in 1966, considers Romeo’s dream as a realistic “wish fulfilling fantasy both in terms of Romeo’s adult world and his hypothetical childhood at stages oral, phallic and oedipal” – while acknowledging that a dramatic character is not a human being with mental processes separate from those of the author. Critics such as Julia Kristeva focus on the hatred between the families, arguing that this hatred is the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s passion for each other. That hatred manifests itself directly in the lovers’ language: Juliet, for example, speaks of “my only love sprung from my only hate” and often expresses her passion through an anticipation of Romeo’s death. This leads on to speculation as to the playwright’s psychology, in particular to a consideration of Shakespeare’s grief for the death of his son, Hamnet.
Feminist literary critics argue that the blame for the family feud lies in Verona’s patriarchal society. For Coppélia Kahn, for example, the strict, masculine code of violence imposed on Romeo is the main force driving the tragedy to its end. When Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo shifts into this violent mode, regretting that Juliet has made him so “effeminate”. In this view, the younger males “become men” by engaging in violence on behalf of their fathers, or in the case of the servants, their masters. The feud is also linked to male virility, as the numerous jokes about maidenheads aptly demonstrate. Juliet also submits to a female code of docility by allowing others, such as the Friar, to solve her problems for her. Other critics, such as Dympna Callaghan, look at the play’s feminism from a historicist angle, stressing that when the play was written the feudal order was being challenged by increasingly centralised government and the advent of capitalism. At the same time, emerging Puritan ideas about marriage were less concerned with the “evils of female sexuality” than those of earlier eras and more sympathetic towards love-matches: when Juliet dodges her father’s attempt to force her to marry a man she has no feeling for, she is challenging the patriarchal order in a way that would not have been possible at an earlier time.
A number of critics have found the character of Mercutio to have unacknowledged homoerotic desire for Romeo. Jonathan Goldberg examined the sexuality of Mercutio and Romeo utilising queer theory in Queering the Renaissance (1994), comparing their friendship with sexual love. Mercutio, in friendly conversation, mentions Romeo’s phallus, suggesting traces of homoeroticism. An example is his joking wish “To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle … letting it there stand / Till she had laid it and conjured it down.” Romeo’s homoeroticism can also be found in his attitude to Rosaline, a woman who is distant and unavailable and brings no hope of offspring. As Benvolio argues, she is best replaced by someone who will reciprocate. Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets describe another young man who, like Romeo, is having trouble creating offspring and who may be seen as being a homosexual. Goldberg believes that Shakespeare may have used Rosaline as a way to express homosexual problems of procreation in an acceptable way. In this view, when Juliet says “…that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, she may be raising the question of whether there is any difference between the beauty of a man and the beauty of a woman.
The balcony scene was introduced by Da Porto in 1524. He had Romeo walk frequently by her house, “sometimes climbing to her chamber window”, and wrote, “It happened one night, as love ordained, when the moon shone unusually bright, that whilst Romeo was climbing the balcony, the young lady … opened the window, and looking out saw him”. After this they have a conversation in which they declare eternal love to each other. A few decades later, Bandello greatly expanded this scene, diverging from the familiar one: Julia has her nurse deliver a letter asking Romeo to come to her window with a rope ladder, and he climbs the balcony with the help of his servant, Julia and the nurse (the servants discreetly withdraw after this).
Nevertheless, in October 2014, Lois Leveen speculated in The Atlantic that the original Shakespeare play did not contain a balcony. The word, balcone, is not known to have existed in the English language until two years after Shakespeare’s death. The balcony was certainly used in Thomas Otway’s 1679 play, The History and Fall of Caius Marius, which had borrowed much of its story from Romeo and Juliet and placed the two lovers in a balcony reciting a speech similar to that between Romeo and Juliet. Leveen suggested that during the 18th century, David Garrick chose to use a balcony in his adaptation and revival of Romeo and Juliet and modern adaptations have continued this tradition.
Romeo and Juliet ranks with Hamlet as one of Shakespeare’s most performed plays. Its many adaptations have made it one of his most enduring and famous stories. Even in Shakespeare’s lifetime, it was extremely popular. Scholar Gary Taylor measures it as the sixth most popular of Shakespeare’s plays, in the period after the death of Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kyd but before the ascendancy of Ben Jonson during which Shakespeare was London’s dominant playwright.[f] The date of the first performance is unknown. The First Quarto, printed in 1597, reads “it hath been often (and with great applause) plaid publiquely”, setting the first performance before that date. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men were certainly the first to perform it. Besides their strong connections with Shakespeare, the Second Quarto actually names one of its actors, Will Kemp, instead of Peter, in a line in Act V. Richard Burbage was probably the first Romeo, being the company’s actor; and Master Robert Goffe (a boy), the first Juliet. The premiere is likely to have been at “The Theatre”, with other early productions at “The Curtain”. Romeo and Juliet is one of the first Shakespeare plays to have been performed outside England: a shortened and simplified version was performed in Nördlingen in 1604.
All theatres were closed down by the puritan government on 6 September 1642. Upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, two patent companies (the King’s Company and the Duke’s Company) were established, and the existing theatrical repertoire was divided between them.
Sir William Davenant of the Duke’s Company staged a 1662 adaptation in which Henry Harris played Romeo, Thomas Betterton Mercutio, and Betterton’s wife Mary Saunderson Juliet: she was probably the first woman to play the role professionally. Another version closely followed Davenant’s adaptation and was also regularly performed by the Duke’s Company. This was a tragicomedy by James Howard, in which the two lovers survive.
Thomas Otway’s The History and Fall of Caius Marius, one of the more extreme of the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare, debuted in 1680. The scene is shifted from Renaissance Verona to ancient Rome; Romeo is Marius, Juliet is Lavinia, the feud is between patricians and plebeians; Juliet/Lavinia wakes from her potion before Romeo/Marius dies. Otway’s version was a hit, and was acted for the next seventy years. His innovation in the closing scene was even more enduring, and was used in adaptations throughout the next 200 years: Theophilus Cibber’s adaptation of 1744, and David Garrick’s of 1748 both used variations on it. These versions also eliminated elements deemed inappropriate at the time. For example, Garrick’s version transferred all language describing Rosaline to Juliet, to heighten the idea of faithfulness and downplay the love-at-first-sight theme. In 1750, a “Battle of the Romeos” began, with Spranger Barry and Susannah Maria Arne (Mrs. Theophilus Cibber) at Covent Garden versus David Garrick and George Anne Bellamy at Drury Lane.
The earliest known production in North America was an amateur one: on 23 March 1730, a physician named Joachimus Bertrand placed an advertisement in the Gazette newspaper in New York, promoting a production in which he would play the apothecary. The first professional performances of the play in North America were those of the Hallam Company.
Garrick’s altered version of the play was very popular, and ran for nearly a century. Not until 1845 did Shakespeare’s original return to the stage in the United States with the sisters Susan and Charlotte Cushman as Juliet and Romeo, respectively, and then in 1847 in Britain with Samuel Phelps at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. Cushman adhered to Shakespeare’s version, beginning a string of eighty-four performances. Her portrayal of Romeo was considered genius by many. The Times wrote: “For a long time Romeo has been a convention. Miss Cushman’s Romeo is a creative, a living, breathing, animated, ardent human being.” Queen Victoria wrote in her journal that “no-one would ever have imagined she was a woman”. Cushman’s success broke the Garrick tradition and paved the way for later performances to return to the original storyline.
Professional performances of Shakespeare in the mid-19th century had two particular features: firstly, they were generally star vehicles, with supporting roles cut or marginalised to give greater prominence to the central characters. Secondly, they were “pictorial”, placing the action on spectacular and elaborate sets (requiring lengthy pauses for scene changes) and with the frequent use of tableaux. Henry Irving’s 1882 production at the Lyceum Theatre (with himself as Romeo and Ellen Terry as Juliet) is considered an archetype of the pictorial style. In 1895, Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson took over from Irving and laid the groundwork for a more natural portrayal of Shakespeare that remains popular today. Forbes-Robertson avoided the showiness of Irving and instead portrayed a down-to-earth Romeo, expressing the poetic dialogue as realistic prose and avoiding melodramatic flourish.
American actors began to rival their British counterparts. Edwin Booth (brother to John Wilkes Booth) and Mary McVicker (soon to be Edwin’s wife) opened as Romeo and Juliet at the sumptuous Booth’s Theatre (with its European-style stage machinery, and an air conditioning system unique in New York) on 3 February 1869. Some reports said it was one of the most elaborate productions of Romeo and Juliet ever seen in America; it was certainly the most popular, running for over six weeks and earning over $60,000 (equivalent to $1,000,000 in 2020).[g][h] The programme noted that: “The tragedy will be produced in strict accordance with historical propriety, in every respect, following closely the text of Shakespeare.”[i]
The first professional performance of the play in Japan may have been George Crichton Miln’s company’s production, which toured to Yokohama in 1890. Throughout the 19th century, Romeo and Juliet had been Shakespeare’s most popular play, measured by the number of professional performances. In the 20th century it would become the second most popular, behind Hamlet.
In 1933, the play was revived by actress Katharine Cornell and her director husband Guthrie McClintic and was taken on a seven-month nationwide tour throughout the United States. It starred Orson Welles, Brian Aherne and Basil Rathbone. The production was a modest success, and so upon the return to New York, Cornell and McClintic revised it, and for the first time the play was presented with almost all the scenes intact, including the Prologue. The new production opened on Broadway in December 1934. Critics wrote that Cornell was “the greatest Juliet of her time”, “endlessly haunting”, and “the most lovely and enchanting Juliet our present-day theatre has seen”.
John Gielgud’s New Theatre production in 1935 featured Gielgud and Laurence Olivier as Romeo and Mercutio, exchanging roles six weeks into the run, with Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet. Gielgud used a scholarly combination of Q1 and Q2 texts and organised the set and costumes to match as closely as possible the Elizabethan period. His efforts were a huge success at the box office, and set the stage for increased historical realism in later productions. Olivier later compared his performance and Gielgud’s: “John, all spiritual, all spirituality, all beauty, all abstract things; and myself as all earth, blood, humanity … I’ve always felt that John missed the lower half and that made me go for the other … But whatever it was, when I was playing Romeo I was carrying a torch, I was trying to sell realism in Shakespeare.”
Peter Brook’s 1947 version was the beginning of a different style of Romeo and Juliet performances. Brook was less concerned with realism, and more concerned with translating the play into a form that could communicate with the modern world. He argued, “A production is only correct at the moment of its correctness, and only good at the moment of its success.” Brook excluded the final reconciliation of the families from his performance text.
Throughout the century, audiences, influenced by the cinema, became less willing to accept actors distinctly older than the teenage characters they were playing. A significant example of more youthful casting was in Franco Zeffirelli’s Old Vic production in 1960, with John Stride and Judi Dench, which would serve as the basis for his 1968 film. Zeffirelli borrowed from Brook’s ideas, altogether removing around a third of the play’s text to make it more accessible. In an interview with The Times, he stated that the play’s “twin themes of love and the total breakdown of understanding between two generations” had contemporary relevance.[j]
Recent performances often set the play in the contemporary world. For example, in 1986, the Royal Shakespeare Company set the play in modern Verona. Switchblades replaced swords, feasts and balls became drug-laden rock parties, and Romeo committed suicide by hypodermic needle.
Neil Bartlett’s production of Romeo and Juliet themed the play very contemporary with a cinematic look which started its life at the Lyric Hammersmith, London then went to West Yorkshire Playhouse for an exclusive run in 1995. The cast included Emily Woof as Juliet, Stuart Bunce as Romeo, Sebastian Harcombe as Mercutio, Ashley Artus as Tybalt, Souad Faress as Lady Capulet and Silas Carson as Paris. In 1997, the Folger Shakespeare Theatre produced a version set in a typical suburban world. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet barbecue to meet Juliet, and Juliet discovers Tybalt’s death while in class at school.
The play is sometimes given a historical setting, enabling audiences to reflect on the underlying conflicts. For example, adaptations have been set in the midst of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, in the apartheid era in South Africa, and in the aftermath of the Pueblo Revolt. Similarly, Peter Ustinov’s 1956 comic adaptation, Romanoff and Juliet, is set in a fictional mid-European country in the depths of the Cold War. A mock-Victorian revisionist version of Romeo and Juliet’s final scene (with a happy ending, Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, and Paris restored to life, and Benvolio revealing that he is Paris’s love, Benvolia, in disguise) forms part of the 1980 stage-play The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Shakespeare’s R&J, by Joe Calarco, spins the classic in a modern tale of gay teenage awakening. A recent comedic musical adaptation was The Second City’s Romeo and Juliet Musical: The People vs. Friar Laurence, the Man Who Killed Romeo and Juliet, set in modern times.
In the 19th and 20th century, Romeo and Juliet has often been the choice of Shakespeare plays to open a classical theatre company, beginning with Edwin Booth’s inaugural production of that play in his theatre in 1869, the newly re-formed company of the Old Vic in 1929 with John Gielgud, Martita Hunt, and Margaret Webster, as well as the Riverside Shakespeare Company in its founding production in New York City in 1977, which used the 1968 film of Franco Zeffirelli’s production as its inspiration.
In 2013, Romeo and Juliet ran on Broadway at Richard Rodgers Theatre from 19 September to 8 December for 93 regular performances after 27 previews starting on 24 August with Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad in the starring roles.
The best-known ballet version is Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Originally commissioned by the Kirov Ballet, it was rejected by them when Prokofiev attempted a happy ending and was rejected again for the experimental nature of its music. It has subsequently attained an “immense” reputation, and has been choreographed by John Cranko (1962) and Kenneth MacMillan (1965) among others.
In 1977, Michael Smuin’s production of one of the play’s most dramatic and impassioned dance interpretations was debuted in its entirety by San Francisco Ballet. This production was the first full-length ballet to be broadcast by the PBS series “Great Performances: Dance in America”; it aired in 1978.
Dada Masilo, a South African dancer and choreographer, reinterpreted Romeo and Juliet in a new modern light. She introduced changes to the story, notably that of presenting the two families as multiracial.
“Romeo loved Juliet
Juliet, she felt the same
When he put his arms around her
He said Julie, baby, you’re my flame
Thou givest fever …”
—Peggy Lee’s rendition of “Fever”
At least 24 operas have been based on Romeo and Juliet. The earliest, Romeo und Julie in 1776, a Singspiel by Georg Benda, omits much of the action of the play and most of its characters and has a happy ending. It is occasionally revived. The best-known is Gounod’s 1867 Roméo et Juliette (libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré), a critical triumph when first performed and frequently revived today. Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi is also revived from time to time, but has sometimes been judged unfavourably because of its perceived liberties with Shakespeare; however, Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani, worked from Italian sources—principally Romani’s libretto for Giulietta e Romeo by Nicola Vaccai—rather than directly adapting Shakespeare’s play. Among later operas, there is Heinrich Sutermeister’s 1940 work Romeo und Julia.
Roméo et Juliette by Berlioz is a “symphonie dramatique”, a large-scale work in three parts for mixed voices, chorus, and orchestra, which premiered in 1839. Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture (1869, revised 1870 and 1880) is a 15-minute symphonic poem, containing the famous melody known as the “love theme”. Tchaikovsky’s device of repeating the same musical theme at the ball, in the balcony scene, in Juliet’s bedroom and in the tomb has been used by subsequent directors: for example, Nino Rota’s love theme is used in a similar way in the 1968 film of the play, as is Des’ree’s “Kissing You” in the 1996 film. Other classical composers influenced by the play include Henry Hugh Pearson (Romeo and Juliet, overture for orchestra, Op. 86), Svendsen (Romeo og Julie, 1876), Delius (A Village Romeo and Juliet, 1899–1901), Stenhammar (Romeo och Julia, 1922), and Kabalevsky (Incidental Music to Romeo and Juliet, Op. 56, 1956).
The play influenced several jazz works, including Peggy Lee’s “Fever”. Duke Ellington’s Such Sweet Thunder contains a piece entitled “The Star-Crossed Lovers” in which the pair are represented by tenor and alto saxophones: critics noted that Juliet’s sax dominates the piece, rather than offering an image of equality. The play has frequently influenced popular music, including works by The Supremes, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Lou Reed, and Taylor Swift. The most famous such track is Dire Straits’ “Romeo and Juliet”.
The most famous musical theatre adaptation is West Side Story with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It débuted on Broadway in 1957 and in the West End in 1958 and was adapted as a popular film in 1961. This version updated the setting to mid-20th-century New York City and the warring families to ethnic gangs. Other musical adaptations include Terrence Mann’s 1999 rock musical William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, co-written with Jerome Korman; Gérard Presgurvic’s 2001 Roméo et Juliette, de la Haine à l’Amour; Riccardo Cocciante’s 2007 Giulietta & Romeo and Johan Christher Schütz; and Johan Petterssons’s 2013 adaptation Carnival Tale (Tivolisaga), which takes place at a travelling carnival.
Romeo and Juliet had a profound influence on subsequent literature. Before then, romance had not even been viewed as a worthy topic for tragedy. In Harold Bloom’s words, Shakespeare “invented the formula that the sexual becomes the erotic when crossed by the shadow of death”. Of Shakespeare’s works, Romeo and Juliet has generated the most—and the most varied—adaptations, including prose and verse narratives, drama, opera, orchestral and choral music, ballet, film, television, and painting.[k] The word “Romeo” has even become synonymous with “male lover” in English.
Romeo and Juliet was parodied in Shakespeare’s own lifetime: Henry Porter’s Two Angry Women of Abingdon (1598) and Thomas Dekker’s Blurt, Master Constable (1607) both contain balcony scenes in which a virginal heroine engages in bawdy wordplay. The play directly influenced later literary works. For example, the preparations for a performance form a major plot in Charles Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby.
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most-illustrated works. The first known illustration was a woodcut of the tomb scene, thought to be created by Elisha Kirkall, which appeared in Nicholas Rowe’s 1709 edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Five paintings of the play were commissioned for the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery in the late 18th century, one representing each of the five acts of the play. Early in the 19th century, Henry Thomson painted Juliet after the Masquerade, an engraving. of which was published in The Literary Souvenir, 1828, with an accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon. The 19th-century fashion for “pictorial” performances led to directors’ drawing on paintings for their inspiration, which, in turn, influenced painters to depict actors and scenes from the theatre. In the 20th century, the play’s most iconic visual images have derived from its popular film versions.
David Blixt’s 2007 novel The Master Of Verona imagines the origins of the famous Capulet-Montague feud, combining the characters from Shakespeare’s Italian plays with the historical figures of Dante’s time. Blixt’s subsequent novels Voice Of The Falconer (2010), Fortune’s Fool (2012), and The Prince’s Doom (2014) continue to explore the world, following the life of Mercutio as he comes of age. More tales from Blixt’s Star-Cross’d series appear in Varnished Faces: Star-Cross’d Short Stories (2015) and the plague anthology, We All Fall Down (2020). Blixt also authored Shakespeare’s Secrets: Romeo & Juliet (2018), a collection of essays on the history of Shakespeare’s play in performance, in which Blixt asserts the play is structurally not a Tragedy, but a Comedy-Gone-Wrong. In 2014 Blixt and his wife, stage director Janice L Blixt, were guests of the city of Verona, Italy for the launch of the Italian language edition of The Master Of Verona, staying with Dante’s descendants and filmmaker Anna Lerario, with whom Blixt collaborated on a film about the life of Veronese prince Cangrande della Scala.
Lois Leveen’s 2014 novel Juliet’s Nurse imagined the fourteen years leading up to the events in the play from the point of view of the nurse. The nurse has the third largest number of lines in the original play; only the eponymous characters have more lines.
The play was the subject of a 2017 General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) question by the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations board that was administered to c. 14000 students. The board attracted widespread media criticism and derision after the question appeared to confuse the Capulets and the Montagues, with exams regulator Ofqual describing the error as unacceptable.
Romeo and Juliet was adapted into manga format by publisher UDON Entertainment’s Manga Classics imprint and was released in May 2018.
Romeo and Juliet may be the most-filmed play of all time. The most notable theatrical releases were George Cukor’s multi-Oscar-nominated 1936 production, Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version, and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 MTV-inspired Romeo + Juliet. The latter two were both, in their time, the highest-grossing Shakespeare film ever. Romeo and Juliet was first filmed in the silent era, by Georges Méliès, although his film is now lost. The play was first heard on film in The Hollywood Revue of 1929, in which John Gilbert recited the balcony scene opposite Norma Shearer.
Shearer and Leslie Howard, with a combined age over 75, played the teenage lovers in George Cukor’s MGM 1936 film version. Neither critics nor the public responded enthusiastically. Cinema-goers considered the film too “arty”, staying away as they had from Warner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream a year before: leading to Hollywood abandoning the Bard for over a decade. Renato Castellani won the Grand Prix at the Venice Film Festival for his 1954 film of Romeo and Juliet. His Romeo, Laurence Harvey, was already an experienced screen actor. By contrast, Susan Shentall, as Juliet, was a secretarial student who was discovered by the director in a London pub and was cast for her “pale sweet skin and honey-blonde hair”.[l]
Stephen Orgel describes Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 Romeo and Juliet as being “full of beautiful young people, and the camera and the lush technicolour make the most of their sexual energy and good looks”. Zeffirelli’s teenage leads, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, had virtually no previous acting experience but performed capably and with great maturity. Zeffirelli has been particularly praised,[m] for his presentation of the duel scene as bravado getting out-of-control. The film courted controversy by including a nude wedding-night scene while Olivia Hussey was only fifteen.
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 Romeo + Juliet and its accompanying soundtrack successfully targeted the “MTV Generation”: a young audience of similar age to the story’s characters. Far darker than Zeffirelli’s version, the film is set in the “crass, violent and superficial society” of Verona Beach and Sycamore Grove. Leonardo DiCaprio was Romeo and Claire Danes was Juliet.
The play has been widely adapted for TV and film. In 1960, Peter Ustinov’s cold-war stage parody, Romanoff and Juliet was filmed. The 1961 film West Side Story—set among New York gangs—featured the Jets as white youths, equivalent to Shakespeare’s Montagues, while the Sharks, equivalent to the Capulets, are Puerto Rican. In 2006, Disney’s High School Musical made use of Romeo and Juliet’s plot, placing the two young lovers in different high-school cliques instead of feuding families. Film-makers have frequently featured characters performing scenes from Romeo and Juliet.[n] The conceit of dramatising Shakespeare writing Romeo and Juliet has been used several times, including John Madden’s 1998 Shakespeare in Love, in which Shakespeare writes the play against the backdrop of his own doomed love affair. An anime series produced by Gonzo and SKY Perfect Well Think, called Romeo x Juliet, was made in 2007 and the 2013 version is the latest English-language film based on the play. In 2013, Sanjay Leela Bhansali directed the Bollywood film Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, a contemporary version of the play which starred Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in leading roles. The film was a commercial and critical success. In February 2014, BroadwayHD released a filmed version of the 2013 Broadway Revival of Romeo and Juliet. The production starred Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad.
In April and May 2010, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Mudlark Production Company presented a version of the play, entitled Such Tweet Sorrow, as an improvised, real-time series of tweets on Twitter. The production used RSC actors who engaged with the audience as well each other, performing not from a traditional script but a “Grid” developed by the Mudlark production team and writers Tim Wright and Bethan Marlow. The performers also make use of other media sites such as YouTube for pictures and video.
Two of Uranus’s moons, Juliet and Mab, are named for the play.
Title page of the Second Quarto of Romeo and Juliet published in 1599
Act I prologue
Act I scene 1: Quarrel between Capulets and Montagues
Act I scene 2
Act I scene 3
Act I scene 4
Act I scene 5
Act I scene 5: Romeo’s first interview with Juliet
Act II prologue
Act II scene 3
Act II scene 5: Juliet intreats her nurse
Act II scene 6
Act III scene 5: Romeo takes leave of Juliet
Act IV scene 5: Juliet’s fake death
Act IV scene 5: Another depiction
Act V scene 3: Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead
All references to Romeo and Juliet, unless otherwise specified, are taken from the Arden Shakespeare second edition (Gibbons, 1980) based on the Q2 text of 1599, with elements from Q1 of 1597. Under its referencing system, which uses Roman numerals, II.ii.33 means act 2, scene 2, line 33, and a 0 in place of a scene number refers to the prologue to the act.
Romeo och Julia (originaltitel The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet), är en tragedi av William Shakespeare.
Ammans replik om att det gått elva år sedan jordbävningen daterar pjäsen till tidigast 1595, då det anses syfta på den jordbävning som skakade England 1584 och som omnämns av William Covell i Polimanteia 1595.
Upplysningen i första kvarton om att pjäsen spelats av “the Right Honourable Lord Hunsdon his servants” placerar pjäsen före 17 mars 1597 då truppen bytte namn till Lord Chamberlain’s Men. Man vet att tryckningen avbröts efter fyra sidor till följd av ett fel på tryckpressen. Avbrottet ägde rum mellan 9 februari och 27 mars 1597. Dessa omständigheter anses datera pjäsen till senast sent 1596, då pjäsen annars inte skulle ha hunnit spelas åtskilliga gånger, vilket titelbladet påstår.
I berättelsen om Pyramus och Thisbe i Ovidius Metamorfoser avskyr deras föräldrar varandra och Pyramus tror att Thisbe är död. I Xenofon från Efesos verk Efesiaka finns en berättelse om älskande som skiljs åt samt förgiftning som leder till dödsliknande sömn. I sjätte sången i Purgatorio (Skärselden) i Dante Alighieris Den gudomliga komedin nämns familjenamnen Montecchi och Cappelletti – Montague och Capulet hos Shakespeare.
Den äldsta versionen av Romeo och Julia-motivet finns i Masuccio Salernitanos Il Novellino från 1476. Den 33:e novellen handlar om kärleksparet Mariotto och Gianozza. I Luigi Da Portos version i hans Historia novellamente ritrovata di due Nobili Amanti från 1530 heter kärleksparet Romeo och Giulietta. Da Portos novell dramatiserades 1578 av Luigi Grotto i Hadriana. 1554 publicerade Matteo Bandello den andra volymen av hans Novelle med en ny version av Giuletta e Romeo. Denna novell översattes till franska 1559 av Pierre Boaistuau och ingick i första volymen av hans Histories Tragiques. 1562 översattes den franska versionen troget av Arthur Brooke som gav den namnet The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. Shakespeares dramatisering följer Brooke nära, men med tillägget att Mercutio och amman är ordentligt utbyggda och att karaktären Tybalt tillfogats. I Brookes version ligger sympatin hos föräldrarna och de älskandes död är ett straff för deras omoral. Julia ger dessutom modern sken av att hon föredrar Paris framför Romeo.
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Historien varierades även i William Painters samling med italienska berättelser betitlad Palace of Pleasure från 1567. I denna samling fanns The goodly History of the true and constant love of Romeo and Juliett.
När Romeo för giftflaskan till sina läppar pratar han i en bild av döden som en rorsman. “Du vilde styrman, jaga med ens / Din trötta, stormförkvalda köl mot skären, / Att den må splittras!”. Det är påvisat att detta bildspråk är hämtat från Philip Sidneys sonett Astrophel and Stella. Monologen bär även spår av Samuel Daniels poem The Complaint of Rosamond.
Romeos och Julias jämförelse mellan lärkan och näktergalen i tredje aktens femte scen märks även spår av inflytande från två poem av fransmannen Guillaume du Bartas som publicerades i engelsk översättning i John Eliots Ortho-epia Gallica 1593. Mercutios berättelse om Queen Mab i första aktens fjärde scen bär spår av Geoffrey Chaucers The Parliament of Fowls.
Den första kvartoupplagan med titeln An excellent conceited tragedie of Romeo and Iuliet kom tidigt 1597, publicerad av Cuthbert Burby och tryckt av John Danter. Texten skiljer sig åtskilligt från senare upplagor och har därför klassats som en dålig kvarto. Man tror att texten grundar sig på en eller två skådespelares hågkomster. Kvarto nummer två har titeln The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet Den trycktes 1599 av Thomas Crede och publicerades av Cuthbert Burby. Denna andra kvarto är 800 rader längre än den första. Det är denna version som ligger till grund för alla senare upplagor. Nya kvartoupplagor trycktes 1609 (publicerad av John Smethwick och tryckt av John Windet), 1622 (publicerad av John Smethwick och tryckt av William Stansby) och 1637. Pjäsen registrerades inte i boktryckarskråets (the Stationers Company) register förrän 22 juli 1607. 1623 fogades pjäsen in i First Folio där alla Shakespeares kända pjäser samlades. Den sammanställdes av Shakespeares skådespelarkollegor John Heminges och Henry Condell och publicerades av Edward Blount och Isaac Jaggard. Foliotexten tros vara korrigerad utifrån en sufflörs exemplar.
Romeo och Julia är ett av Shakespeares mest kända skådespel, och grundhistorien är välkänd även hos många som inte är särskilt bekanta med Shakespeares pjäser. Tragedin handlar om ett ungt kärlekspar från två olika adliga familjer i Verona, Montague (Romeo) och Capulet (Julia). Familjerna skulle aldrig låta dem träffas och att de skulle få gifta sig är en total omöjlighet, då släkterna ligger i fejd.
Familjen Capulet uppmuntrar frieriet från greve Paris till Julia. De håller en fest som Romeo går på. Han får syn på Julia och glömmer sin gamla kärlek till Rosaline. Romeo förklarar sin kärlek till Julia på hennes balkong. De beslutar att gifta sig, vilket de hoppas ska leda till att de två släkterna försonas. En munk viger dem i hemlighet och de bestämmer sig för att rymma.
Mercutio, Benvolio och Romeo träffar Tybalt från Capuletfamiljen. Han utmanar Romeo men Mercutio går emellan och dödas av Tybalt. Tybalt attackerar Romeo som i sin tur dödar Tybalt. Fursten förvisar Romeo. Julia får reda på att han dödat Tybalt. Capulet vill påskynda bröllopet mellan Julia och Paris, förberedelserna börjar. Julia får gift av en munk. Giftet skall göra henne skendöd i tre dagar, medan hon i själva verket sover. Julia upptäcks som “död.”
Ett sändebud skickas till Romeo, som dessvärre bara får halva meddelandet, och tror därför att Julia verkligen är död.
Romeo återvänder till Verona, för att ta farväl av Julia, och på vägen träffar han en köpman som han köper en flaska med ett mycket kraftigt gift av, som enligt köpmannen skulle döda “om man så var starkare än tio män.”
Romeo dödar Paris. När han hittar Julia så tror han att hon är död, och då tar han livet av sig bredvid henne. Julia vaknar upp, men när hon finner Romeo död bredvid sig tar hon livet av sig med Romeos dolk. De båda familjerna blir ångerfulla och försonas i skam. Pjäsen slutar med orden: “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (Ty inga älskande ha lidit så / Som Julia och hennes Romeo, i Hagbergs översättning).
Romeo och Julia finns i nio tryckta översättningar till svenska, en som finns som talbok samt två som gjorts direkt för uppsättningar. Dessutom har två bearbetningar getts ut av Carl August Hagbergs översättning från 1850. Den första översättningen som spelades 1776 hade förmodligen gjorts av skådespelaren Peter Lindahl efter tysk förlaga. Detta var den första Shakespeareöversättningen som gjorts till svenska. Den andra översättningen till svenska av Romeo och Julia gjordes av Fredrik August Dahlgren 1845. Hagbergs översättning 1850 ingick i Shakspere’s dramatiska arbeten. Bd 10. 1923 kom Per Hallströms översättning som ingick i Shakespeares dramatiska arbeten. Sorgespel, Bd 1. 1960 kom Björn Collinders översättning. Året därpå gjorde Karl Ragnar Gierow en översättning för en uppsättning på Göteborgs stadsteater. 1962 kom Stig Kassmans översättning och samma år kom Åke Ohlmarks översättning som ingick i samlingsvolymen Tragedier. Britt G. Hallqvists översättning spelades första gången 1966 av Riksteatern men gavs inte ut förrän 1991. 1968 kom en revision gjord av Sven Collberg. 1976 gjorde Thomas Mellgren en revision för sin egen uppsättning med Riksteaterns Västerbottenensemble. 1983 kom Göran O. Erikssons översättning med den nya titeln Romeo och Juliet, gjord för hans egen uppsättning på Stockholms stadsteater. 2002 gavs Allan Bergstrands översättning ut som talbok. 2005 gjorde Nina Pontén och Thomas Segerström översättningen Romeo & Julia för den senares uppsättning på Romateatern på Gotland.
I den första kvarton 1597 anges att pjäsen spelats ofta till stora applåder av “the Right Honourable Lord Hunsdon his servants”. Shakespeares trupp bytte namn till Lord Chamberlain’s Men 17 mars 1597. I den andra kvarton 1599 namnges en av skådespelarna i Lord Chamberlain’s Men, Will Kemp.
Den tidigaste dokumenterade föreställningen ägde rum 1 mars 1662 på Lincoln’s Inn Fields, framförd av the Duke’s Company. Det var den första föreställningen efter att teatrarna i England återöppnats 1660 efter 18 års teaterförbud.
Romeo och Julia är, tillsammans med Hamlet, Shakespeares mest spelade pjäser. Efter Shakespeares livstid var det först 1847 som Shakespeares originaltext spelades i regi Samuel Phelps på Sadler’s Wells Theatre i London. 1812 hade pjäsen spelats på Deutsches Nationaltheater i Weimar i bearbetning och regi av Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. 1882 satte Henry Irving upp pjäsen på Lyceum Theatre i London med honom själv och Ellen Terry i titelrollerna. Det var även en av de första uppsättningarna med elektrisk belysning. Vilket redan då användes till ett expressivt och skulpturalt verkningsmedel.
Max Reinhardt satte upp pjäsen på Deutsches Theater i Berlin både 1907 och 1928. I början av 1930-talet satte Terence Gray upp pjäsen på Cambridge Festival Theatre i flamencokostym. John Gielgud spelade Romeo första gången 1924 och sedan på nytt 1929 på Old Vic i London. Han fick kritik för att alltför mycket bara lita till sin röst, han hade vid denna tid en sjungande intonation. När han själv satte upp Romeo och Julia 1935 på Noël Coward Theatre spelades Romeo av Laurence Olivier och Julia av Peggy Ashcroft medan han själv gjorde Mercutio. 1947 satte Peter Brook upp pjäsen. Franco Zeffirelli regisserade Romeo och Julia 1960 på Old Vic med Judi Dench som Julia.
Den svenska premiären av Romeo och Julia ägde rum 5 augusti 1776 på Egges teater (värdshuset Tre Prinsar) i Norrköping där Carl Seuerlings sällskap Swenska Commedie Trouppen spelade pjäsen i en tysk prosabearbetning av Christian Fredrik Weisse, troligen översatt av Peter Lindahl. Margareta Seuerling som Julia väckte formlig hänförelse hos publiken. Detta var den första Shakespeareuppsättningen över huvud taget i Sverige. 13/11 1781 hade pjäsen premiär på Comediehuset (Teatern vid Sillgatan) i Göteborg av Johan von Blancs trupp Gemenasiska Sällskapet. Den spelades två gånger. Dock var det inte Shakespeares original som spelades i Göteborg utan Jean-François Ducis adaption Romeo et Juliette som också gavs ut på svenska 1783. 30 januari 1815 hade Romeo och Juliette, skådespel med sång i tre akter av Joseph-Alexandre de Ségur premiär på Dramaten som spelade på Gustavianska operahuset. Detta var en kraftigt bearbetad sångspelsversion som slutade lyckligt, översatt av Carl Gustaf Nordforss. Stycket gavs i sammanlagt 29 repriser.
17 april 1845 hade Romeo och Julia i originalutförande Stockholmspremiär på Dramaten som fortfarande var härbärgerad i operahuset. Föreställningen gavs i F. A. Dahlgrens översättning som låg nära originalet. Georg Dahlqvist som Romeo spelade “ansträngt ung” och Emelie Högqvist som Julia fick blandad kritik. Föreställningen lades ner efter bara fyra framträdanden då Johan Henrik Hyckert som spelade Mercutio tog sitt liv. Spelstilen var färgad av romantisk identifikation och känslosamhet till skillnad från tidigare klassicistiskt förevisande och deklamerande. Alla oanständiga partier var strukna, ammans roll var således starkt nerkortad, av hänsyn till den unga och den kvinnliga publikens fostran. Kritiken invände mot de litterära kvaliteten: Shakespeares mästerverk kunde man tillägna sig bäst genom läsning. Pjäserna krävde ett livslångt studium för att till fullo kunna uppskattas.
1859 spelades Romeo och Julia på den privata Mindre Teatern i Stockholm med Gustaf Kinmansson och Helfrid Kinmansson i titelrollerna. 1867 och 1872 tog Dramaten upp Romeo och Julia på nya Kungliga Mindre Teatern. Axel Elmlund och Elise Hwasser i huvudrollerna 1872 fick kärv kritik, de brast i poesi. Aftonbladets kritiker skrev 12 november att Hwasser som Julia framvisade “onaturliga attityder, mer gymnastiskt konstiga än elastiskt konstnärliga”. Styckets regissör var Frans Hedberg. Pjäsen repriserades 1882 med Georg Törnqvist och Lotten Dorsch i titelrollerna.
Romeo och Julia har filmats oerhört många gånger.
Berättelsen om Romeo och Julia har använts i en opera av Vincenzo Bellini (I Capuleti ed i Montecchi 1830), en annan opera av Nicola Vaccaj Giulietta e Romeo Milano 1825, en annan opera av Zingarelli Giulietta e Romeo Milano 1796), en dramatisk symfoni av Hector Berlioz (Roméo et Juliette 1839), en vida känd opera av Charles Gounod (Romeo och Julia 1867), en symfonisk dikt av Tjajkovskij (1870), och balettmusik av Sergej Prokofjev (Romeo och Julia; 1935–1936).
I modern tid har historien använts i den framgångsrika amerikanska dans-musikalen West Side Story, och 2013 slöts cirkeln från 1776 då Romeo och Julia hade svensk premiär i Norrköping när musikalen Tivolisaga hade urpremiär på Arbisteatern i samma stad.
Romeo och Julia kan syfta på:
Romeo och Julia (engelska: Romeo and Juliet) är en brittisk-italiensk romantisk dramafilm från 1968 i regi av Franco Zeffirelli. Filmen är baserad på pjäsen med samma namn av William Shakespeare. I titelrollerna ses Leonard Whiting och Olivia Hussey.
I Verona härjar en långvarig fejd mellan klanerna Montague och Capulet. En dag bryter bråk ut på gatan, men bryts upp av prinsen i staden. Samma kväll möts två tonåringar ur dessa två familjer – Romeo (Montague) och Julia (Capulet) – på en fest som hålls hos Capulets, de blir båda omedelbart djupt förälskade. Senare samma kväll klättrar Romeo över muren in i den avskilda trädgården och upp under Julias sovrumsbalkong där de två utbyter passionerade kärlekslöften.
Romeo och Julia vill gifta sig för att alltid få vara tillsammans. Men ödet vill annat. En duell bryter ut mellan Julias kusin Tybalt och Romeos bästa vän Mercutio efter att Tybalt förolämpat Romeo. Detta leder till oanade tragiska konsekvenser för både Montagues och Capulets.
Sir Laurence Olivier läser filmens prolog och epilog. Filmen vann Oscars för bästa foto och bästa kostym vid Oscarsgalan 1969.
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TL;DR: The classic story of boy meets girl; girl’s family hates boy’s family; boy’s family hates girl’s family; boy kills girl’s cousin; boy and girl kill themselves.
An age-old vendetta between two powerful families erupts into bloodshed. A group of masked Montagues risk further conflict by gatecrashing a Capulet party. A young lovesick Romeo Montague falls instantly in love with Juliet Capulet, who is due to marry her father’s choice, the County Paris. With the help of Juliet’s nurse, the women arrange for the couple to marry the next day, but Romeo’s attempt to halt a street fight leads to the death of Juliet’s own cousin, Tybalt, for which Romeo is banished. In a desperate attempt to be reunited with Romeo, Juliet follows the Friar’s plot and fakes her own death. The message fails to reach Romeo, and believing Juliet dead, he takes his life in her tomb. Juliet wakes to find Romeo’s corpse beside her and kills herself. The grieving family agree to end their feud.
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Romeo and Juliet
begins as the Chorus introduces two feuding families of Verona: the Capulets
and the Montagues. On a hot summer’s day, the young men of each faction fight
until the Prince of Verona intercedes and threatens to banish them. Soon after,
the head of the Capulet family plans a feast. His goal is to introduce his
daughter Juliet to a Count named Paris who seeks to marry Juliet.
son Romeo and his friends (Benvolio and Mercutio) hear of the party and resolve
to go in disguise. Romeo hopes to see his beloved Rosaline at the party.
Instead, while there, he meets Juliet and falls instantly in love with her.
Juliet’s cousin Tybalt recognises the Montague boys and forces them to leave
just as Romeo and Juliet discover one another.
Romeo lingers near the Capulet house to talk with Juliet
when she appears in her window. The pair declare their love for one another and
intend to marry the next day. With the help of Juliet’s Nurse, the lovers
arrange to marry when Juliet goes for confession at the cell of Friar Laurence.
There, they are secretly married (talk about a short engagement).
Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow
Following the secret marriage, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt sends
a challenge to Romeo. Romeo refuses to fight, which angers his friend Mercutio
who then fights with Tybalt. Mercutio is accidentally killed as Romeo
intervenes to stop the fight. In anger, Romeo pursues Tybalt, kills him, and is
banished by the Prince.
Juliet is anxious when Romeo is late to meet her and
learns of the brawl, Tybalt’s death, and Romeo’s banishment. Friar Laurence
arranges for Romeo to spend the night with Juliet before he leaves for Mantua.
Meanwhile, the Capulet family grieves for Tybalt, so Lord Capulet moves
Juliet’s marriage to Paris to the next day. Juliet’s parents are angry when
Juliet doesn’t want to marry Paris, but they don’t know about her secret
marriage to Romeo.
A pair of star-crossed lovers
Friar Laurence helps Juliet by providing a sleeping draught
that will make her seem dead. When the wedding party arrives to greet Juliet
the next day, they believe she is dead. The Friar sends a messenger to warn
Romeo of Juliet’s plan and bids him to come to the Capulet family monument to
rescue his sleeping wife.
The vital message to Romeo doesn’t arrive in time because the plague is
in town (so the messenger cannot leave Verona). Hearing from his servant that
Juliet is dead, Romeo buys poison from an Apothecary in Mantua. He returns to
Verona and goes to the tomb where he surprises and kills the mourning Paris.
Romeo takes his poison and dies, while Juliet awakens from her drugged coma.
She learns what has happened from Friar Laurence, but she refuses to leave the
tomb and stabs herself. The Friar returns with the Prince, the Capulets, and
Romeo’s lately widowed father. The deaths of their children lead the families
to make peace, and they promise to erect a monument in Romeo and Juliet’s
For additional reading, see our blogs on Romeo and Juliet
Discover more of Shakespeare’s romantic lines: Shakespeare Quotes on Love
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From the opening lines of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows what lies in store for the tragedy’s title teens: that these two “star-crossed lovers” are doomed to die. By the end of the play, an “ancient grudge” and “their parents’ rage” will lead Romeo and Juliet to a terrible fate—they will kill themselves.
Yes, a bloody feud and dual suicides, and yet Romeo and Juliet is one of the great, classic love stories. In fact, according to scholar Harold Bloom, it is “the most persuasive celebration of romantic love in Western literature.” in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Romeo and Juliet is not just the story of two lovesick teenagers. It is the story of two lovesick teenagers whose relationship is—here’s the source of the tension—forbidden. Both Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet come from wealthy families in the kingdom of Verona (in our Italy), but the families have been fighting bitterly for years. In fact, the play begins with members of the two families brawling in the streets.
When Romeo sneaks into the Capulet family’s ball, he meets and dances with the lovely Juliet. Romeo is so enamored of her beauty that he sneaks into the family’s garden so he can look up at her balcony, where Juliet stands.
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?” he asks himself of Juliet’s bright beauty. “It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.”
Juliet stands right above him, but Romeo decides not to let his presence be known. He admires how Juliet’s star-like eyes “twinkle in their spheres.” He watches her movements closely. “O, that I were a glove upon that hand,” he yearns, “That I might touch that cheek!” Likewise, he marvels at her voice. “O, speak again, bright angel,” he implores.
And she does—about him!
“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Juliet asks. (“Wherefore” means “why,” so Juliet is not asking where Romeo is but why he is who he is.) So here it is—the sticking point: “’Tis but thy name that is my enemy,” she says. Romeo is a Montague and, therefore, an enemy of the Capulet family. A relationship between the two teenagers would never be accepted by their families.
But Juliet opposes the feud. “What’s in a name?” she asks. “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called.”
Her interest in Romeo is clear and, at last, he speaks from the darkness.
Juliet is not nearly as freaked out you might expect, given that Romeo has scaled walls and risked his life to linger under her balcony.
As Romeo puts it, “stony limits cannot hold love out.”
As the more practical Juliet puts it, “If [my kinsmen] do see thee, they will murder thee.”
The two teens flirt and talk of romance. But given how little they know of each other, Juliet expresses concern about their connection. “It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,” she worries.
Romeo presses Juliet for a deeper pledge—and she admits her feelings for him are “as boundless as the sea.”
Then, her nurse calling for her, she must leave Romeo. But she can barely stand to leave Romeo. “Parting is such sweet sorrow,” she laments.
They will not be separated for long. Romeo and Juliet arrange that a secret communication will take place the next day—if he truly loves Juliet, Romeo will send her a message asking for her hand in marriage.
But here’s the catch—actually, here are several catches:
Now, the two do a decent job of avoiding problems 1 and 2. It turns out the marriage to Paris won’t happen for a little while. Meanwhile, Romeo and Juliet sneak around their families and find Friar Lawrence, who’s willing to help the pair marry in secret.
They almost avoid problem 3 as well. Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt. All’s well? Not quite. Romeo’s friend Mercutio decides to fight Tybalt in Romeo’s place. It’s a bloody mess. Romeo tries to break up the fight, but he’s too late. Tybalt has killed Mercutio. And in response, Romeo kills Tybalt.
So now, not only is Romeo off limits to Juliet because he’s a Montague, he’s also forbidden because he’s a cousin-killer. Oh, and he’s not just forbidden. He’s officially exiled.
Remarkably, this doesn’t stop Friar Lawrence from devising a scheme to help Romeo and Juliet reunite.
Friar Lawrence’s plan is untraditional, to say the least: It involves drugging Juliet so that she looks dead, leaving her in a crypt, and leading Romeo to her so that he can be there when (and if) Juliet wakes up.
Naturally, since this is a tragedy, Romeo only hears about part of the plan, misunderstandings lead to additional deaths, and—in a strange twist—the Montagues and Capulets make up at the end, though it’s too late for our young lovers.
More than four hundred years after its premiere, why does the story of Romeo and Juliet endure? To answer that question, ask yourself a few others.
Have you or your friends ever:
If so, then, though separated by four centuries, you’ve encountered some of the same challenges as Romeo and Juliet.
Perhaps you’ve seen relationships that take on the same passionate importance as in this tragedy. Family name alone is enough to separate Romeo and Juliet and create tension with life-or-death significance. For couples you know, age, income, race, and religion may also have destructive consequences.
Most of us can relate to the tragedy of coming so close to something—a friend, an academic success, a romantic relationship—and then failing. The story of Romeo and Juliet is particularly poignant in that its lead characters learn their lesson moments too late. And the audience knows the characters’ fate from the very start of the play but those watching, of course, are powerless to change the outcome.
Romeo and Juliet’s story has also endured in that there’s a long tradition of other artistic creations that it has inspired. Romeo and Juliet, when published in the late 16th century, was itself based on an older poem. The tradition of adapting the story has continued. Over the past 400 years, the richness of this tragedy has inspired dance, film, theatrical parodies, orchestral interpretations, and even a rock musical.
Here’s a listing of some of the most well-known adaptations of the play.
Romeo and Juliet (1968): Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, this movie adaptation starred the teenage actors Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It is still acclaimed as the definitive film version of the tragedy.
Romeo and Juliet (1968) Trailer
Director George Cuckor brouoght the story to the screen in 1936. Baz Lurhmann directed this modernization of the play (Romeo + Juliet) in 1996, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. It takes place in the suburb of Verona and trades swords and feuds for guns and street warfare. Screenwriter Julian Fellows adapted the story in 2013.
Romeo and Juliet – Trailer (1936)
Romeo + Juliet (1996) Trailer
Romeo And Juliet (2013)
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
West Side Story (1961): With music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, this 1957 Broadway play became a popular movie. It stars Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer and replaces the feuding families with racially divided urban gangs: the white Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Audiences can see how violent gang warfare shatters the dreams of star-crossed lovers Maria (Juliet) and Tony (Romeo).
West Side Story – Trailer
Romeo and Juliet – A Russian theater commissioned the composer Sergei Prokofiev to turn the play into a ballet, which opened in 1938. Later filmed productions are available to view today, including versions with choreography by Rudolf Nureyev, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, and Leonid Lavrovsky. Choreographer Matthew Bourne created an updated version in 2019.
Romeo and Juliet – Balcony Pas de deux (The Royal Ballet)
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet – Official Trailer
Roméo et Juliette – Frenchman Charles Gounod composed this five-act opera, libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, and it debuted in 1867. While other opera versions of the play exist, Gounod’s remains the most well-known.
“Poison Aria” from Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod
Roméo et Juliette – Inspired by a stage production of Romeo and Juliet, the French Romantic composer Hector Berlioz wrote this three-part “symphonie dramatique” for orchestra and voice. It was first performed in 1839, in Paris.
Berlioz: Roméo et Juliette / Harding · Berliner Philharmoniker
Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy – Russian Romantic composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky developed this orchestral work in the 1870s and 1880s. Still popular today, the piece is often known by its “love theme,” which has been featured in films and television shows.
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet / Dudamel · Berliner Philharmoniker
The love story of Romeo and Juliet has been used as the subject for several pop songs.
Taylor Swift – “Love Story” (2008)
Sylk-E. Fyne ft. Chill – “Romeo And Juliet” (1998)
Dire Straits – “Romeo and Juliet” (1980)
The Reflections – “Just Like Romeo And Juliet” (1964)
For centuries, artists have depicted scenes from Romeo and Juliet in their artwork. Besides depicting the love between the young couple, painters have also illustrated the play’s other instrumental characters, including Friar Lawrence and the Nurse.
“Romeo and Juliet”
Julius Salles, 1898
“Romeo and Juliet”
Frank Dicksee, 1884
“Romeo and Juliet”
Benjamin West, 18th century or 19th century
“Romeo and Juliet Farewell”
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, 19th or 20th century
“Romeo and Juliet”
Ford Madox Brown, between 1869 and 1870
“Last kiss for Julia from Romeo”
Francesco Hayez, 1823
Gaetano Previati, circa 1900
Philip H. Calderon, 1888
“Juliet on the Balcony”
Thomas Dicksee, 1875
“Romeo and Juliet on the balcony”
Julius Kronberg, 1886
“The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets over the Dead Bodies of Romeo and Juliet”
Frederick Leighton, 1885
“Mercutio bidding farewell to Juliet’s nurse”
John Massey Wright, circa 1820s
“Romeo und Julia”
P. Leroy, circa 1880
John William Waterhouse, 1898
October 31, 2019
Take a peek behind the red curtain and discover the artistry and history behind the world of theater. Explore the playwriting process first-hand, learn about the cultural impact of performance, and read and perform some of the most influential works of the 20th century.
Shakespeare made the pursuit of love just as difficult as leading men to war, or solving your father’s murder
A brave Scottish general named Macbeth receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland.
Opera has always been addicted to love, and its romances can range from the hilarious to the dramatic. But don’t expect a standard “Boy Meets Girl” story when you take your seat at the opera house.
In this 9-12 lesson, students will explore the Arthurian codes of chivalry and courtly love as portrayed in art, modern films, books, and poetry. Students will write a script, create scenery, and act out a short thematic play demonstrating modern concepts of love, friendship, and honorable behavior.
Eric Friedman Director, Digital Learning
Kenny Neal Manager, Digital Education Resources
Tiffany A. Bryant Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment
Joanna McKee Program Coordinator, Digital Learning
JoDee Scissors Content Specialist, Digital Learning
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Enter ABRAHAM and BALTHASAR
Beats down their swords
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Enter, several of both houses, who join the fray; then enter Citizens, with clubs
Enter CAPULET in his gown, and LADY CAPULET
Enter MONTAGUE and LADY MONTAGUE
Enter PRINCE, with Attendants
Exeunt all but MONTAGUE, LADY MONTAGUE, and BENVOLIO
Exeunt MONTAGUE and LADY MONTAGUE
To Servant, giving a paper
Exeunt CAPULET and PARIS
Enter BENVOLIO and ROMEO
Enter a Servant
Enter CAPULET, with JULIET and others of his house, meeting the Guests and Maskers
Music plays, and they dance
Exeunt all but JULIET and Nurse
One calls within ‘Juliet.’
in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
He climbs the wall, and leaps down within it
Enter BENVOLIO and MERCUTIO
JULIET appears above at a window
Nurse calls within
Re-enter JULIET, above
Re-enter JULIET, above
Enter Nurse and PETER
Exeunt MERCUTIO and BENVOLIO
Enter Nurse and PETER
Enter TYBALT and others
TYBALT under ROMEO’s arm stabs MERCUTIO, and flies with his followers
Exeunt MERCUTIO and BENVOLIO
They fight; TYBALT falls
Enter Citizens, & c
Enter Prince, attended; MONTAGUE, CAPULET, their Wives, and others
Enter Nurse, with cords
Throws them down
Drawing his sword
Enter Nurse, to the chamber
He goeth down
Enter LADY CAPULET
Enter CAPULET and Nurse
Exit First Servant
Exit Second Servant
Exeunt JULIET and Nurse
Enter LADY CAPULET
Exeunt LADY CAPULET and Nurse
Laying down her dagger
She falls upon her bed, within the curtains
Exeunt LADY CAPULET and Nurse
Enter three or four Servingmen, with spits, logs, and baskets
Exit First Servant
Undraws the curtains
Enter LADY CAPULET
Enter FRIAR LAURENCE and PARIS, with Musicians
Exeunt CAPULET, LADY CAPULET, PARIS, and FRIAR LAURENCE
Enter BALTHASAR, booted
Enter FRIAR LAURENCE
The Page whistles
Enter ROMEO and BALTHASAR, with a torch, mattock, & c
Opens the tomb
Laying PARIS in the tomb
Enter, at the other end of the churchyard, FRIAR LAURENCE, with a lantern, crow, and spade
Enters the tomb
Exit FRIAR LAURENCE
Snatching ROMEO’s dagger
Falls on ROMEO’s body, and dies
Enter Watch, with the Page of PARIS
Re-enter some of the Watch, with BALTHASAR
Re-enter others of the Watch, with FRIAR LAURENCE
Enter the PRINCE and Attendants
Enter CAPULET, LADY CAPULET, and others
Enter MONTAGUE and others
Key moments in Romeo and Juliet and some significant facts about the play and its characters.
Every director will choose their own key moments in Romeo and Juliet depending on how they are interpreting the play. Here we’ve listed some important moments in the order in which they appear in the play.
We refer to the RSC Shakespeare edition of the plays. Act and scene numbers vary with different editions.
Montague and Capulet servants clash in the street, the Prince threatens dire punishment if another such brawl should take place, and Romeo tells his friend, Benvolio, of his obsession with Rosaline.in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Romeo is persuaded to attend a masked party at the Capulet household. Not knowing who she is, he falls in love with Juliet the moment he sees her, and she, equally ignorant that he is a Montague, falls just as instantly for him (this is Act 1, Scene 5 in many editions).
When everyone has left the party, Romeo creeps into the Capulet garden and sees Juliet on her balcony. They reveal their mutual love and Romeo leaves, promising to arrange a secret marriage and let Juliet’s messenger, her old Nurse, have the details the following morning. This famous scene, known as the Balcony Scene, is numbered Act 2, Scene 2 in many editions.
Juliet tells her parents she is going to make her confession to Friar Laurence, meets Romeo there and, despite some personal misgivings, the friar marries them immediately.
Romeo meets Tybalt in the street, and is challenged by him to a duel. Romeo refuses to fight and his friend Mercutio is so disgusted by this ‘cowardice’ that the takes up the challenge instead. As Romeo tries to break up the fight, Tybalt kills Mercutio and, enraged, Romeo then kills Tybalt. The Prince arrives and, on hearing the full story, banishes Romeo rather than have him executed.
Arranged by the Friar and the Nurse, Romeo and Juliet have spent their wedding night together. They are immediately parted though, as Romeo must leave for banishment in Mantua or die if he is found in Verona. Believing her grief to be for the death of her cousin, Juliet’s father tries to cheer Juliet by arranging her immediate marriage to Paris. He threatens to disown her when she asks for the marriage to be at least postponed, and she runs to the Friar for advice and help.
Juliet arrives at the Friar’s to be met by Paris, who is busy discussing their wedding plans. She is so desperate that she threatens suicide, and the Friar instead suggests that she takes a potion that will make her appear to be dead. He promises to send a message to Romeo, asking him to return secretly and be with Juliet when she wakes, once her ‘body’ has been taken to the family crypt.
The Nurse discovers Juliet ‘s ‘body’ dead’ when she goes to wake her for her marriage Paris. Friar Laurence is called, counsels the family to accept their grief, and arranges for Juliet to be ‘buried’ immediately.
Romeo’s servant, Balthasar, reaches Mantua before the Friar’s messenger and tells Romeo that Juliet is dead. Romeo buys poison and leaves for Verona, planning to die alongside Juliet’s body.
Trying to break into the Capulet crypt, Romeo is disturbed by Paris and they fight. Romeo kills Paris and reaches Juliet’s body. He drinks the poison, kisses his wife for the last time, and dies. Having learned that Romeo never received his message, the Friar comes to the crypt to be with Juliet when she wakes. He finds Paris’s body and reaches Juliet just as she revives. He cannot persuade her to leave her dead husband, and runs away in fear. Juliet realises what has happened, takes Romeo’s knife and stabs herself to death with it. The watchmen discover the gruesome sight and call the Prince, to whom the Friar confesses everything. Having heard the full story, the Montagues and Capulets are reconciled. Peace has been achieved, but the price has been the lives of two innocent young lovers.
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Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Romeo and Juliet is the most famous love story in the English literary tradition. Love is naturally the play’s dominant and most important theme. The play focuses on romantic love, specifically the intense passion that springs up at first sight between Romeo and Juliet. In Romeo and Juliet, love is a violent, ecstatic, overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions. In the course of the play, the young lovers are driven to defy their entire social world: families (“Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” Juliet asks, “Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet”); friends (Romeo abandons Mercutio and Benvolio after the feast in order to go to Juliet’s garden); and ruler (Romeo returns to Verona for Juliet’s sake after being exiled by the Prince on pain of death in 2.1.76–78).in shakespeare’s “romeo and juliet” what was
Love is the overriding theme of the play, but a reader should always remember that Shakespeare is uninterested in portraying a prettied-up, dainty version of the emotion, the kind that bad poets write about, and whose bad poetry Romeo reads while pining for Rosaline. Love in Romeo and Juliet is a brutal, powerful emotion that captures individuals and catapults them against their world, and, at times, against themselves. The powerful nature of love can be seen in the way it is described, or, more accurately, the way descriptions of it so consistently fail to capture its entirety. At times love is described in the terms of religion, as in the fourteen lines when Romeo and Juliet first meet. At others, it is described as a sort of magic: “Alike bewitchèd by the charm of looks” (2.Prologue.6). Juliet, perhaps, most perfectly describes her love for Romeo by refusing to describe it: “But my true love is grown to such excess / I cannot sum up some of half my wealth” (3.1.33–34). Love, in other words, resists any single metaphor because it is too powerful to be so easily contained or understood. Romeo and Juliet does not make a specific moral statement about the relationships between love and society, religion, and family; rather, it portrays the chaos and passion of being in love, combining images of love, violence, death, religion, and family in an impressionistic rush leading to the play’s tragic conclusion.
The themes of death and violence permeate Romeo and Juliet, and they are always connected to passion, whether that passion is love or hate. The connection between hate, violence, and death seems obvious. But the connection between love and violence requires further investigation. Love, in Romeo and Juliet, is a grand passion, and as such, it is blinding; it can overwhelm a person as powerfully and completely as hate can. The passionate love between Romeo and Juliet is linked from the moment of its inception with death: Tybalt notices that Romeo has crashed the feast and determines to kill him just as Romeo catches sight of Juliet and falls instantly in love with her.
From that point on, love seems to push the lovers closer to love and violence, not farther from it. Romeo and Juliet are plagued with thoughts of suicide, and a willingness to experience it: in Act 3, scene 3, Romeo brandishes a knife in Friar Lawrence’s cell and threatens to kill himself after he has been banished from Verona and his love. Juliet also pulls a knife in order to take her own life in Friar Lawrence’s presence just three scenes later. After Capulet decides that Juliet will marry Paris, Juliet says, “If all else fail, myself have power to die” (3.5.242). Finally, each imagines that the other looks dead the morning after their first, and only, sexual experience (“Methinks I see thee,” Juliet says, “. . . as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (3.5.55–56).
This theme continues until its inevitable conclusion: double suicide. This tragic choice is the highest, most potent expression of love that Romeo and Juliet can make. It is only through death that they can preserve their love, and their love is so profound that they are willing to end their lives in its defense. In the play, love emerges as an amoral thing, leading as much to destruction as to happiness. But in its extreme passion, the love that Romeo and Juliet experience also appears so exquisitely beautiful that few would want, or be able, to resist its power.
Much of Romeo and Juliet involves the lovers’ struggles against public and social institutions that either explicitly or implicitly oppose the existence of their love. Such structures range from the concrete to the abstract: families and the placement of familial power in the father; law and the desire for public order; religion; and the social importance placed on masculine honor. These institutions often come into conflict with each other. The importance of honor, for example, time and again results in brawls that disturb the public peace. Though they do not always work in concert, each of these societal institutions in some way present obstacles for Romeo and Juliet. The enmity between their families, coupled with the emphasis placed on loyalty and honor to kin, combine to create a profound conflict for Romeo and Juliet, who must rebel against their heritages.
Further, the patriarchal power structure inherent in Renaissance families, wherein the father controls the action of all other family members, particularly women, places Juliet in an extremely vulnerable position. Her heart, in her family’s mind, is not hers to give. The law and the emphasis on social civility demand terms of conduct with which the blind passion of love cannot comply. Religion similarly demands priorities that Romeo and Juliet cannot abide by because of the intensity of their love. Though in most situations the lovers uphold the traditions of Christianity (they wait to marry before consummating their love), their love is so powerful that they begin to think of each other in blasphemous terms. For example, Juliet calls Romeo “the god of my idolatry,” elevating Romeo to level of God (2.1.156). The couple’s final act of suicide is likewise un-Christian. The maintenance of masculine honor forces Romeo to commit actions he would prefer to avoid. But the social emphasis placed on masculine honor is so profound that Romeo cannot simply ignore them.
It is possible to see Romeo and Juliet as a battle between the responsibilities and actions demanded by social institutions and those demanded by the private desires of the individual. Romeo and Juliet’s appreciation of night, with its darkness and privacy, and the renunciation of their names, with its attendant loss of obligation, make sense in the context of individuals who wish to escape the public world. But the lovers cannot stop the night from becoming day. And Romeo cannot cease being a Montague simply because he wants to; the rest of the world will not let him. The lovers’ suicides can be understood as the ultimate night, the ultimate privacy.
In its first address to the audience, the Chorus states that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed”—that is to say that fate (a power often vested in the movements of the stars) controls them (Prologue.6). This sense of fate permeates the play, and not just for the audience. The characters also are quite aware of it: Romeo and Juliet constantly see omens. When Romeo believes that Juliet is dead, he cries out, “Then I defy you, stars,” completing the idea that the love between Romeo and Juliet is in opposition to the decrees of destiny (5.1.24). Of course, Romeo’s defiance itself plays into the hands of fate, and his determination to spend eternity with Juliet results in their deaths.
The mechanism of fate works in all of the events surrounding the lovers: the feud between their families (it is worth noting that this hatred is never explained; rather, the reader must accept it as an undeniable aspect of the world of the play); the horrible series of accidents that ruin Friar Lawrence’s seemingly well-intentioned plans at the end of the play; and the tragic timing of Romeo’s suicide and Juliet’s awakening. These events are not mere coincidences, but rather manifestations of fate that help bring about the unavoidable outcome of the young lovers’ deaths.
The concept of fate described above is the most commonly accepted interpretation. There are other possible readings of fate in the play: as a force determined by the powerful social institutions that influence Romeo and Juliet’s choices, as well as fate as a force that emerges from Romeo and Juliet’s very personalities.
Given that Romeo and Juliet represents one of the world’s most famous and enduring love stories, it seems obvious that the play should spotlight the theme of love. However, the play tends to focus more on the barriers that obstruct love than it does on love itself. Obviously, the Capulet and Montague families represent the lovers’ largest obstacle. But the lovers are also their own obstacles, in the sense that they have divergent understandings of love. Romeo, for instance, begins the play speaking of love in worn clichés that make his friends cringe. Although the language he uses with Juliet showcases a more mature and original verse, he retains a fundamentally abstract conception of love. Juliet, by contrast, tends to remain more firmly grounded in the practical matters related to love, such as marriage and sex. This contrast between the lovers appears clearly in the famous balcony scene. Whereas Romeo speaks of Juliet poetically, using an extended metaphor that likens her to the sun, Juliet laments the social constraints that prevent their marriage: “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy father and refuse thy name” (II.ii.33–34).
Another obstacle in Romeo and Juliet is time—or, more precisely, timing. Everything related to love in this play moves too quickly. The theme of accelerated love first appears early in the play, regarding the question of whether Juliet is old enough for marriage. Whereas Lady Capulet contends that Juliet is of a “pretty age” and hence eligible for marriage, Lord Capulet maintains that it’s too soon for her to marry. When Lord Capulet changes his mind later in the play, he accelerates the timeline for Juliet’s marriage to Paris. Forced to act quickly in response, Juliet fakes her own death. Everything about Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is sped up as well. Not only do they fall in love at first sight, but they also get married the next day.
The lovers’ haste may raise questions about the legitimacy of their affection for one another. Do they truly love each other, or have they doomed themselves out of mere sexual desire? The theme of accelerated love returns at the play’s end, when Romeo arrives at Juliet’s tomb, believing himself to be too late. In fact, he arrives too early, just before Juliet wakes up. His bad timing results in both their deaths.
The themes of love and sex are closely linked in Romeo and Juliet, though the precise nature of their relationship remains in dispute throughout. For instance, in Act I Romeo talks about his frustrated love for Rosaline in poetic terms, as if love were primarily an abstraction. Yet he also implies that things didn’t work out with Rosaline because she preferred to remain a virgin:
She’ll not be hit
With Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well armed,
From love’s weak, childish bow she lives uncharmed. (I.i.202–5)
Mercutio picks this thread back up in Act II, when he insists that Romeo has confused his love for Juliet with mere sexual desire: “this driveling love is like a great natural that runs / lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole” (II.iv.84–85). Mercutio’s words suggest a comparison between Romeo and either a court jester looking for a place to hide his staff or a mentally impaired person (i.e., a “natural”) seeking to hide a trinket. Yet Mercutio’s use of the phrases “lolling up and down” and “hide his bauble in a hole” also strongly imply sexual imagery (“bauble” and “hole” are slang for penis and vagina, respectively). Hence Mercutio’s words suggest a third comparison between Romeo and an idiot clumsily groping for a woman to have sex with. Whereas Mercutio cynically conflates love and sex, Juliet takes a more earnest and pious position. In Mercutio’s view, there is ultimately no such thing as love, since love is ultimately reducible to sexual desire.
Juliet, by contrast, implies that the concepts are distinct and that they exist in a hierarchical relationship, with love standing above sex. This view accords with Catholic doctrine, which privileges the spiritual union of marriage, but also indicates that this union must be legally consummated through sexual intercourse. The speech Juliet delivers in Act III, scene ii, nicely demonstrates her view of the proper relationship between love and sex:
Oh, I have bought the mansion of a love
But not possessed it, and, though I am sold,
Not yet enjoyed. (III.ii.26–28)
Here the notions of purchase and possession designate love/marriage and sex, respectively. Through marriage, she has “bought” Romeo’s love (and likewise “sold” hers to him), but the moment of mutual possession has not yet taken place. Now that they’re married, however, Juliet clearly longs to “enjoy” the consummation. “Give me my Romeo,” she says: “And when I shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars” (III.ii.21–22). “Die” was Elizabethan slang for orgasm, and the image of Romeo “cut . . . out in little stars” subtly references the sexual ecstasy Juliet anticipates.
Due to the ongoing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, violence permeates the world of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare demonstrates how intrinsic violence is to the play’s environment in the first scene. Sampson and Gregory open the play by making jokes about perpetrating violent acts against members of the Montague family. And when Lord Montague’s servant, Abram, appears, their first response is to prepare for a fight. Gregory instructs Sampson, “Draw thy tool!” (I.i.29), and Sampson does so immediately.
Tempers among the young men of Verona are clearly short, as further demonstrated when Tybalt spots Romeo at the Capulet ball and spoils for a fight. Lord Capulet succeeds in temporarily calming Tybalt, but the latter’s fury continues to smolder until the top of Act III, when he tries to provoke a duel with Romeo, fatally wounds Mercutio, and ends up slain by Romeo’s hand. Though tragic, this turn of events also seems inevitable. Given how the feud between the two families continuously fans the flames of hatred and thereby maintains a low-burning rage, such flaring outbursts of violence appear inescapable.
Violence in the play has a particularly significant relationship with sex. This is true in a general sense, in the way the feud casts a shadow of violence over Romeo and Juliet’s romance. But it also comes up in more localized examples. Sampson sets the stage for this link in the play’s opening scene, when he proclaims his desire to attack the Montague men and sexually assault the Montague women: “I will / push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust / his maids to the wall” (I.i.15–17). Sex and violence are also twinned in the events following Romeo and Juliet’s wedding. These events frame Act III, which opens with the scene in which Romeo ultimately slays Tybalt, and closes with the scene after Romeo stays the night with Juliet, possibly consummating their marriage. Even the language of sex in the play conjures violent imagery. When at the end of Act III Romeo declares, “Let me be put to death” (III.v.17), he’s referring to the real threat of being put to death by the Capulets if he’s found in Juliet’s room, but he’s also making a sexual pun, since “death” is slang for orgasm.
Romeo and Juliet are both very young, and Shakespeare uses the two lovers to spotlight the theme of youth in several ways. Romeo, for instance, is closely linked to the young men with whom he roves the streets of Verona. These young men are short-tempered and quick to violence, and their rivalries with opposing groups of young men indicate a phenomenon not unlike modern gang culture (though we should remember that Romeo and his friends are also the privileged elite of the city).
In addition to this association with gangs of youthful men, Shakespeare also depicts Romeo as somewhat immature. Romeo’s speech about Rosaline in the play’s first scene is full of clichéd phrases from love poetry, and Benvolio and Mercutio take turns poking fun at him for this. They also mock Romeo for being so hung up on one woman. Benvolio in particular implies that Romeo’s seriousness prevents him from acting his age. He’s still young, and he should therefore take his time and explore relations with other women: “Compare [Rosaline’s] face with some that I shall show, / And I will make thee think thy swan a crow” (I.ii.87–88).
Whereas we never learn Romeo’s precise age, we know that Juliet is thirteen. Her age comes up early in the play, during conversations about whether or not she’s too young to get married. Juliet’s mother insists that she’s reached “a pretty age” (I.iii.11), but her father describes her as “yet a stranger in the world” (I.ii.8) and hence not yet ready to marry. Although Juliet does not want to marry Paris, she certainly believes herself old enough for marriage. In fact, she yearns for marriage and for sexual experience, and she often uses explicitly erotic language that indicates a maturity beyond her actual years.
Yet in spite of this apparent maturity, Juliet also tacitly acknowledges her own youthfulness. When she looks forward to her wedding night, for example, she compares herself to “an impatient child” (III.ii.30), reminding the audience that in fact, this is what she is. Such acknowledgments of the lovers’ youth ultimately serve to amplify the tragedy of their premature death. Indeed, one of the saddest aspects of the play is that the lovers die so young, cutting their lives (and their relationship) so tragically short.
The theme of ill-fated love frames the story of Romeo and Juliet from the beginning. During the Prologue, before the play officially commences, the Chorus makes several allusions to fate, including the famous reference to Romeo and Juliet as a “pair of star-crossed lovers.” Shakespeare coined the term “star-crossed,” which means “not favored by the stars,” or “ill-fated.” Although the term may seem primarily metaphorical today, the science of astrology occupied a place of privilege in Renaissance society. Thus, the notion that one’s fate was written in the stars had a more immediate, literal meaning than it does today. In the case of Romeo and Juliet, then, their fates are cosmically misaligned.
Later in the Prologue, the Chorus reiterates the idea of fate in referring to Romeo and Juliet’s love as “death-marked,” which once again indicates that, from the very beginning, their desire for one another carries a sign or omen of inevitable death. Shakespeare’s use of the word “marked” here also suggests a physical inscription, alluding to the notion that their fate has been pre-written. It may seem counterintuitive for Shakespeare to open his play by spoiling its ending, but this choice about how to tell the story allows Shakespeare to incorporate the theme of predetermined fate into the play’s very structure. Uniting the theme of fate with the play’s structure in this way introduces a sense of dramatic irony, such that the audience will have more insight into the unfolding events than the characters. Watching the characters struggle against an invisible and unbeatable force such as fate heightens the sense of tension throughout the play.
This struggle also amplifies the sense of tragedy at the play’s conclusion. For instance, when Romeo cries out, “I defy you, stars!” (V.i.), the audience knows that his headstrong resistance is no match for fate, and acknowledging this impotence only makes Romeo’s agony that much more painful. In the end, then, mentioning Romeo and Juliet’s fate at the beginning of the play doesn’t spoil the ending. Instead, it locks the audience into a sense of tense anticipation of inescapable tragedy.
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Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tells the tale of a young man and woman, who fall in love but are destined for tragedy due to their warring families – the Montagues and the Capulets.
Romeo and Juliet is a play written by Shakespeare. It is a tragic love story where the two main characters, Romeo and Juliet, are supposed to be sworn enemies but fall in love. Due to their families’ ongoing conflict, they cannot be together, so they kill themselves because they cannot cope with being separated from one another. Romeo and Juliet is a Shakespearean tragedy.