Romeo and Juliet

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Theatre

Romeo and Juliet by Ford Madox Brown
Romeo and Juliet by Ford Madox Brown

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy by William Shakespeare concerning the fate of two young " star-cross'd lovers". It is one of the most famous of Shakespeare's plays, one of his earliest theatrical triumphs, and is thought to be the most archetypal love story of the Renaissance and indeed the history of Western culture.

Date and Text

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet was published in two distinct quarto editions prior to the publication of the First Folio of 1623. These are referred to as Q1 and Q2.

Q1, the first printed edition, appeared in 1597, printed by John Danter. Because its text contains numerous differences from the later editions, it is labelled a ' bad quarto': the twentieth 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."

The superior Q2 followed in 1599, published by Cuthbert Burby and printed by Thomas Creede. It is a much more complete and reliable text, and was reprinted in 1609 (Q3), 1622 (Q4) and 1637 (Q5). Its title page describes it as "Newly corrected, augmented and amended". Scholars believe that this text was based on Shakespeare's pre-performance draft, 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. Q2 contains 800 lines missing from Q1. Q2 also has an interestingly defective stage direction: it reads "Enter Will Kempe" instead of "Enter Peter" in IV,v,102.

The First Folio text of 1623 seems to be based primarily on Q3, with some clarifications and corrections possibly coming from a theatrical promptbook.

The greater part of Romeo and Juliet is written in iambic pentameter. However, the play is also notable for its copious use of rhymed verse, notably in the sonnet contained in Romeo and Juliet's dialogue in the scene where they first meet (Act I, Scene v, Lines 95-108).

Performance history

Romeo and Juliet was a popular play in Shakespeare's lifetime. Gary Taylor measures it as the sixth most popular of Shakespeare's plays, in the period after the death of Marlowe and Kyd but before the ascendancy of Jonson during which Shakespeare was London's dominant playwright.

After the theatres re-opened in the Restoration, Sir William Davenant staged a 1662 production in which Henry Harris played Romeo, Thomas Betterton was Mercutio, and Betterton's wife Mary Saunderson played Juliet. Thomas Otway's adaptation The History and Fall of Caius Marius, one of the more extreme of the Restoration versions of Shakespeare, debuted in 1679. The scene is shifted from Renaissance Verona to ancient Rome; Romeo is Marius, Juliet is Lavinia, the feud is between patricians and plebians; Juliet/Lavina wakes from her potion before Romeo/Marius dies. Otway's version was a hit, and was acted for the next seventy years. Theophilus Cibber mounted his own adaptation in 1744, followed by David Garrick's in 1748. Both Cibber and Garrick used variations on Otway's innovation in the tomb scene.

In 1750 came the so-called "Battle of the Romeos," with Spranger Barry and Susannah Maria Arne (Mrs. Theophilus Cibber) at Covent Garden versus David Garrick and George Anne Bellamy at Drury Lane. Shakespeare's original returned to the stage in 1845 in the United States (with the sisters Charlotte and Susan Cushman as Romeo and Juliet), and in 1847 in Britain ( Samuel Phelps at Sadler's Wells).

Henry Irving's 1882 production at the Lyceum Theatre is considered an archetype of his "pictorial" style, placing the action on elaborate sets. Irving hmself played Romeo, and Ellen Terry played Juliet.

In one of the most notable twentieth century performances, staged by John Gielgud at the New Theatre in 1934, Gielgud and Laurence Olivier played the roles of Romeo and Mercutio, exchanging roles six weeks into the run, with Peggy Ashcroft as Juliet.


The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets (1854) by Frederic Leighton
The Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets (1854) by Frederic Leighton

Ruling house of Verona

  • Prince Escalus: Prince of Verona
  • Count Paris: Kin of Prince Escalus; desires to marry Juliet.
  • Mercutio: Another kinsman of Prince Escalus and friend of Romeo. His name derives from Mercury.


  • Lord Capulet: Head of the house of Capulet.
  • Lady Capulet: Wife of Lord Capulet; wishes Juliet to marry Paris.
  • Juliet: Thirteen-year-old daughter of the Capulets; the female protagonist.
  • Tybalt: Cousin of Juliet; angry and pugnacious. His nickname of "the Prince of Cats" may refer to the quarrelsome and vicious character of Tybalt the Cat in the fable cycle Reynard the Fox, which would have been well-known to Shakespeare's audience.

Capulet Servants

  • Nurse: Juliet's personal attendant and confidante: a comic figure who took care of little Juliet ever since she was an infant.
  • Peter: Capulet servant, assistant of the nurse.
  • Sampson: Capulet servant; eager to fight the Montagues.
  • Gregory: Capulet servant.


  • Montague: Head of the house of Montague.
  • Lady Montague: Wife of Lord Montague
  • Romeo: Son of the Montagues; the male protagonist.
  • Benvolio: Cousin of Romeo. His name means "good-will".

Montague Servants

  • Abram: Montague servant.
  • Balthasar: Romeo's personal servant.


  • Friar Lawrence: a Franciscan friar and Romeo's confidant; he marries Romeo and Juliet. He makes potions from herbs.
  • Friar John: Another friar sent by Friar Lawrence to tell Romeo that Juliet awaits him; fails in this mission.
  • Apothecary: Druggist who reluctantly sells Romeo the poison.
  • Chorus, who gives the opening prologue and one other speech, both in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet.


Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Hayez
Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Hayez

The play begins with a 14-line prologue by a Chorus in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet. The Chorus explains to the audience that the story concerns two noble families of Verona, the Capulets and the Montagues, that have feuded for generations. The prologue also explains that the lovers' tragic suicides "bury their parents' strife."

The action proper starts with a street-battle between the two families' servants. The Prince of Verona, Escalus, finally intervenes with his men. The Prince declares that the heads of the two families will be held personally accountable for any further breach of the peace, and disperses the crowd.

Count Paris, a young nobleman, talks to Capulet about marrying his thirteen-year-old daughter, Juliet. Capulet demurs, citing the girl's tender age, and invites him to attract the attention of Juliet during a ball that the family is to hold that night. Meanwhile Juliet's mother tries to persuade her young daughter to accept Paris' wooing during their coming ball. Young Juliet admits to not having considered marriage, but accedes to her mother's wishes as a dutiful daughter. This scene also introduces Juliet's nurse, the comic relief of the play.

Meantime, Benvolio queries his cousin Romeo, Montague's son, to find out the source of his melancholy. He discovers that it stems from an unrequited love of a girl named Rosaline, (an unseen character). Despite the playful taunts of nobleman and friend Mercutio, Romeo decides to attend the masquerade at the Capulet house, in hope of meeting Rosaline.

Alongside his masked friends, Romeo attends the ball as planned, but falls instead for Juliet, and she with him. In the famous balcony scene, the two eloquently declare their love for each other. This scene contains arguably the most famous line of Romeo and Juliet, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" spoken by Juliet to the darkness ("wherefore" means "why" not "where" — Juliet is lamenting that Romeo is a Montague, and thus her enemy). The young lovers decide to marry without informing their parents, with the Nurse as an intermediary.

With the help of the Franciscan Friar Lawrence, who hoped to reconcile the two families through their children's union, the two are married that next day.

Events take a darker turn in Act Three. Tybalt, Juliet's hot-blooded cousin, challenges Romeo to a duel for appearing in the Capulets' ball disguised. Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt as they are now kinsmen by marriage, but Mercutio, Romeo's companion, who is also unaware of the marriage, is incensed by Tybalt's insolence and accepts instead. In the ensuing duel, Mercutio is fatally wounded when Romeo tries to intervene. Romeo, angered by his friend's death, pursues and slays Tybalt, then flees.

A grieving Prince proclaims his judgement: he fines the head of each house heavily, and exiles Romeo from Verona, in recognition that Tybalt had first killed Mercutio, who had not only been Romeo's friend but a kinsman of the Prince.

Meanwhile the Capulets had engaged their unwilling daughter to marry Paris in three days' time, threatening to disown her if she does not. The Nurse, once her confidante, tells Juliet she should discard the exiled Romeo and comply.

Romeo at Juliet's Deathbed, by Johann Heinrich Füssli
Romeo at Juliet's Deathbed, by Johann Heinrich Füssli

Juliet visits Friar Lawrence, who comes up with a plan: he hands her a drug which will put her into a death-like coma for "two and forty hours" (Act IV. Scene I); she is to take it and when discovered apparently dead, she will be laid in the family crypt. Meanwhile, the Friar will send a messenger to inform Romeo, so that she can rejoin him when she awakes. The enforced messenge does not reach Romeo, however, due to a plague quarantine. Romeo learns of Juliet's supposed "death" from his servant Balthasar. Grief-stricken, he buys strong poison from an apothecary, returns to Verona in secret, and visits the Capulets' crypt, encountering Paris, who has come to mourn Juliet privately. Paris confronts Romeo, believing him to be a vandal. In the ensuing battle, Romeo kills Paris in the darkness. After burying Paris within the Capulet monument, Romeo says his final words to the comatose Juliet and drinks the poison in suicide.

At this point Juliet awakes. Friar Lawrence arrives, and aware of the tragedies which have ensued from misunderstanding, tries to convince Juliet to leave, but she refuses. Discovering her lover's dead body, she stabs herself fatally with Romeo's dagger.

The two feuding families and the Prince meet at the tomb and are horrified to find three new casualties. A captured Friar Lawrence then recounts the love and secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet, and how the tragedies occurred. It is revealed by Montague that his wife has died of grief after hearing of her son's exile, thus completing the cycle of two family members from each house being lost. The families are reconciled by their children's deaths and agree to end their violent feud, as foretold by the prologue. The play ends with the Prince's brief elegy for the lovers.

Spoilers end here.


  • Romeo and Juliet in music
    • The 1956 song Fever contains the lyrics "Romeo loved Juliet/Juliet, she felt the same/When he put his arms around her/He said, "Julie baby, you're my flame."
    • Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo is the name of a song from Eric Bogle's 1997 album Small Miracles, presumably inspired by the above documentary.
    • The disco group Festival had a minor hit with a song called "Romeo and Juliet" which used as its lyrics the text of the prologue.
    • Arctic Monkeys' song ' I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor contains the lyrics 'Oh there ain't no love no, Montagues or Capulets/Just banging tunes in DJ sets'
    • Madonna's 1989 album Like a Prayer's third single, Cherish, a song about appreciation towards a lover, has a line that says "Romeo and Juliet, they never felt this way, I bet."
    • Dire Straits' 1980 album Making Movies had a popular song " Romeo and Juliet", in which the singer looks back on a failed relationship. It was inspired by Mark Knopfler's broken romance with Holly Vincent. The Indigo Girls covered this song on their album Rites of Passage.
    • The album Romeo Unchained by Tonio K includes a song called "Romeo Loves Jane", describing a romance between well-known fictional characters (perhaps as a satire of celebrity relationships). Another song, "Impressed", includes Romeo and Juliet in a long list of what the singer considers bad examples of how love should work.
    • The Lou Reed song, "Romeo had Juliette" was included on the 1989 album New York.
    • The 2003 musical remake of Reefer Madness featured a song "Romeo and Juliet" in which a pair of young lovers compare themselves to Romeo and Juliet, having only read the first half of the play, and mistakenly assume the ending to be happy.
    • The Radiohead song " Exit Music (For a Film)" was written for the closing credits of the Baz Luhrmann version. The lyrics describe a Romeo-like character entreating his sleeping lover to run away, inspired by Act III.
    • The Delta Goodrem song " I Don't Care" contains the lyrics "they tried to keep Romeo and Juliet apart..."
    • The Blue Öyster Cult song " (Don't Fear) The Reaper" mentions Romeo and Juliet as being "Together in eternity".
    • The song Ampersand by The Dresden Dolls, in which the singer rebuffs her former lover, features the lines "and I may be romantic, and I may risk my life for it/but I ain't gonna die for you/you know I ain't no Juliet."
    • The band Genesis uses the names Romeo and Juliet for characters in the song 'The Cinema Show' from their album Selling England by the Pound
    • The Big Audio Dynamite 1985 album This is Big Audio Dynamite has in the song "The Bottom Line" a reference to Romeo (as well as a reference to the famous soliloquy in Hamlet).
    • The Ash song "Starcrossed" is a reference to Romeo and Juliet.
    • The Bob Dylan song "Desolation Row", from the 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, contains the lyric "And in comes Romeo, he's moaning..."
    • The American band The Reflections reference the play in their song called "(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet" which has been covered by Sha Na Na and the Australian band Mental As Anything.
    • HIM frontman Ville Valo has stated their song "Join Me in Death" was inspired by Romeo and Juliet.
    • The Bon Jovi song "I'd Die For You" contains the lyrics "In a world that don't know Romeo and Juliet".
    • Danish musician Sebastian has a song on the album Dejavu, entitled Romeo. The first line goes (translated from Danish): "There's something about this scene reminding me of Romeo and Juliet."
    • The My Chemical Romance song Our Lady of Sorrows off their debut album I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love, contains the line "...and die like star-crossed lovers when we fight...". Their song The Sharpest Lives also mentions the two in the line "Juliet loves the beat and the lust it commands, drop the dagger and lather the blood on your hands, Romeo."
    • The Sponge Cola song Gemini from their debut album Palabas is the theme song of the Metropolitan Guild Theatre's Romeo & Juliet, as seen in its music video.
    • The Semisonic song "Singing in my Sleep" alludes to the infamous balcony scene in the lines "I've been living in your cassette / It's the modern equivalent / Singing up to a Capulet on a balcony in your mind."
    • The A Change of Pace song "Prepare the Masses" from the album of the same name is about Romeo and Juliet. "Sing me to sleep tonight/sweet Juliet/two star-crossed lovers marry looking for regrets/by daybreak I'll be gone and searching for your kiss/leave me a drop of poison waiting on your lips."
    • The Reflections reached #6 on the pop charts in the summer of 1964 with the song "(Just Like) Romeo & Juliet".
    • An Escape the Fate song called "Not Good Enough for Truth in Cliché" where the chorus reads: "...finger in the trigger to my dear Juliet. / Out from the window see her back drop silhouette, / This blood on my hands is something I cannot forget..."
  • In games
    • The game The Sims 2 includes a neighborhood, Veronaville (a parody of Verona) in which two characters named Romeo Monty and Juliette Capp fall in love. The neighbourhood's story is a parody of the play itself, including the feud between the Monty (Montague) and the Capp (Capulet) families.
    • In the card game Magic: The Gathering, a card called Dark Banishing displays a quote from Romeo and Juliet:
Ha, banishment? Be merciful, say 'death,'
For exile hath more terror in his look,
Much more than death.
    • The Konami game Silent Hill 3 contains a puzzle with excerpts from five tragedies, including Romeo and Juliet. The player must identify which tragedy each quote is from and thereby arrange books in a particular order.
    • In the MMORPG World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, in a dungeon named Karazhan, one of the three possible play based boss encounters features two bosses with names slightly altered from Romeo & Juliet's.
    • In the popular online game RuneScape, one of the non-member quests is based on the story of Romeo and Juliet.
  • In film and television
    • Sea Prince and the Fire Child (1981), an anime movie by Sanrio (based on a story by Sanrio founder, Shintaro Tsuji), was inspired by Romeo & Juliet (the main scharacters are from different races, sea spirits and fire spirits).
    • Romeo x Juliet is a 2007 anime based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juiliet.
    • In the anime Shakugan no Shana, Shana, the main female character recites two lines from Romeo and Juliet in English. The lines were That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet.
    • Immediately following the end credits in certain episodes of Tiny Toon Adventures, Plucky Duck would say "Parting is such sweet sorrow!"
    • There was an episode of DuckTales entitled Bubbeo and Juliet.
    • Mario and Joliet, an episode of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!.
    • One of Ranma 1/2 episodes was about a school play "Romeo and Juliet"
    • In the "School Play" episode of Hey Arnold!, Arnold's class puts on the play Romeo and Juliet, with Arnold as Romeo and Helga as Juliet.
    • A brief mention of the play is made in a Histeria! song about the works of Shakespeare, with Toast and Pepper Mills portraying the title characters.
    • In the musical adaptation of the manga and anime Air Gear, two members of the rival team Bacchus are named Romeo and Juliet. Because of the all male cast, both roles were portrayed by men.
  • In literature
    • John "the Savage" quotes Romeo and Juliet to Helmholtz Watson in Aldous Huxley's famous novel Brave New World.
    • In the Harry Potter series, there is a minor Dark wizard with the surname "Montague."
    • A book details the inter-racial difficulties of a teen-age couple and their community controversies, entitled "Romiette and Julio", by Sharon M. Draper.
  • Products
    • Two cigar brands exist that bear the Spanish version of the play's title, Romeo y Julieta.
    • Car maker Alfa Romeo one produced a model called the Giulietta (Italian for Juliet)
  • Other
    • The NATO phonetic alphabet for J and R are Juliet and Romeo, respectively.
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