Romeo & Juliet
Study Guide

The Basic Situation
Lit Terms to Know
Other Characters
Plot Summary


Use this study guide to help you
as we view and read Romeo & Juliet

Unit Plans

 Shakespeare's Tale comes in part from an ancient story, Pyramis and Thisbe

The Basic Situation

Who: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet (and others)
What: These two young people fall in love but end up dead. See The Prologue. Go to the Plot Summary
When: 1400s
Where: Verona, Italy (&  Mantua, Italy)
Why: This is certainly the question, isn't it?
How: By circumstance? By fate? By poor judgment? Literally by poison and by dagger.

Why do the Montagues and the Capulets hate each other? These two families are probably political enemies. The conflict was part of the ongoing battle between the Ghibellines and the Guelfs. The Ghibellines were supporters of the Holy Roman emperor and the Guelfs supporters of the Pope in an old power struggle between the Germans and Italians.

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Shakespeare lived in the time of Queen Elizabeth the first, so the language of the time is called Elizabethan English. Here are what some of the words mean.

humor mood
to mark to listen
shrift confession
Soft! Quiet! Hush!
withal with, with that
Anon! At once! Coming!
Good-den Good evening
discourses speaks
counsel private thoughts, secret plan
proof protected against
discovered to reveal
bounty generous gift
baleful hateful
grace favor, good will
bauble trinket
Stay! Wait!
confounds destroys, defeats
doublet jacket
dissemblers liars
strange unfamiliar
civil well behaved, courteous
fain gladly, eagerly
fond foolish
to sack to rob, plunder
entertained to consider
spleen anger, malice
estate situation, condition
God Shield God forbid
drift intentions
cunning skillful
closet private quarters
orisons prayers
rosemary fragrant herb, symbol of remembrance
lower frowning look
fond nature foolish nature
to carry to endure
cry you mercy beg your pardon
to presage to predict
to beseech to beg
penury poverty
loathsome repulsive, disgusting
obsequies funeral ceremonies
ensign flag or banner
maw mouth
morsel a small piece
ground cause
pallet a small bed or mattress

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Lit Terms to Know

  1. pun
  2. metaphor/simile
  3. dramatic irony
  4. situational irony
  5. conflict (internal and external)
  6. foreshadowing
  7. tone
  8. foil
  9. suspense
  10. turning point
  11. aside
  12. iambic pentameter
  13. soliloquy

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Other characters

  • Their parents, Lord and Lady Montague (Romeo's parents), Lord and Lady Capulet (Juliet's parents)
  • Mercutio: Romeo's friend
  • Benvolio: Romeo's friend (cousin)
  • The Nurse: Juliet's nurse, the one who raised her, her only friend
  • The Prince: Ruler of Verona
  • Paris: The Count to whom Juliet is engaged after her father makes the deal
  • Friar Lawrence: the clergyman who gets involved with Romeo and Juliet's plans
  • Tybalt: Juliet's cousin and sworn enemy of the Montagues. Tybalt is hot headed and rash.

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The Prologue

When the first scene begins, the chorus enters the stage and gives the audience a summary of the plot in the prologue. Audiences knew this story, so they weren't there to be surprised or held in suspense. The audiences were pulled into the drama primarily through dramatic irony and the ability of the actors to portray the emotions and turmoil of the plot.

Elizabethan Version (Bryant Translation) Hogue's Translation
Two households, both alike in dignity, Two families, both rich and well respected
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene In Verona where the story takes place
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny Start feuding again after many years of not getting along
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. Where the blood of their "good intentions" makes them to blame.
From forth the the fatal loins of of these two foes From these enemies were born
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life Two ill-fated lovers who kill themselves
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Whose luckless, piteous circumstances
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife. Do, by their deaths, end their parents' feud.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love, The story of their love that was not meant to be
And the continuance of their parents' rage, And their parents' failure to end their anger
Which, but their children's end, naught could remove, which was only ended upon the death of the children
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage; Is now the story on our stage for the next two hours
The which if you with patient ears attend, And if you listen carefully
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. We will try to do our best to tell the story.

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Plot Summary

Act I
Sunday There are these two rich families that live in Verona, Italy in the 1400s: the Montagues and the Capulets, and they hate each other.

Their servants even fight each other on the street, but the Prince tells them to knock it off, or the next time they'll pay with their lives.

Lord Montague wants to know why Romeo's been depressed. (Romeo is in love with this girl, Rosaline, but she's not paying any attention to him (she says she'd rather be a nun than be involved with him: (ouch), and he's really depressed, moping about just bringing down his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio. They can't stand it.

Later Lady Capulet wants to know if Juliet will consider marrying Count Paris, whom she and the nurse both agree is a great catch, but Juliet's not quite fourteen years old, so she's not sure. But, she doesn't say no.

Out on the street, Mercutio and Benvolio are trying to tell Romeo that there are "other fish in the sea," and so they plan to crash this big party at Lord Capulet's house, which is kind of risky since Romeo's family hates the Capulets and vice versa. But the party is a masked ball, so they'll be in disguise and will feel fairly safe.

Sunday Evening Mercutio gives his famous Queen Mab speech to Romeo about dreams. Queen Mab is a fairy who "dances" on your face as you dream making you dream what she "invents." Mercutio feels that dreams have no substance and are inconstant. Romeo believes something big is about to happen.

Then they go to the party. At the party, Juliet's eyes meet Romeo's and they fall in love. They connect briefly, but the arrow (Cupid's) has wounded them both.

Also, at this party, Juliet's cousin Tybalt recognizes Romeo's voice and he is outraged that a Montague would come to their party. Tybalt tells Lord Capulet about it, but Lord C. doesn't want to spoil the evening, so he tells Tybalt to leave it alone; he's heard that Romeo's not a bad young man anyway. Hot headed Tybalt cannot leave it alone, though.

Soon, Romeo finds out Juliet, his love, is a Capulet.

Act II
Sunday Night Mercutio makes fun of Romeo being in love, but he still thinks Romeo is in love with Rosaline.

Romeo stands under Juliet's balcony and tells her how much he loves her. She tells him the same.

She says she'll send her nurse tomorrow to ask him if he will marry her. They have a hard time saying goodbye.

Monday Morning Very early Monday, Romeo finds Friar Lawrence out gathering herbs, and confesses he hasn't been to bed yet. Lawrence tells him he is foolish and that those who act in haste end up badly.

Benvolio and Mercutio wonder where their friend has been. They hear that Tybalt has challenged Romeo to a duel.

The nurse comes to see Romeo to find out his intentions, and he says he will marry Juliet. When the nurse gets back to Juliet, she teases her, not letting her know what Romeo said right away.

Monday Afternoon Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet in secret.
Monday Afternoon It's really hot outside. Mercutio and Benvolio are out and Tybalt comes on the scene. Mercutio and Tybalt fight.

Romeo arrives and tries to stop it, but he gets between Mercutio and Tybalt and makes it easy for Tybalt to stab Mercutio. Mercutio dies as a result of his wounds. Then, in rage, Romeo fights Tybalt over the death of his friend, and he kills Tybalt.

The Prince, who has warned about violence before, banishes Romeo after Benvolio tells the story, revealing that it wasn't really Romeo's fault. The nurse tells Juliet that Tybalt is dead and that Romeo killed him.  Juliet is in agony.

Romeo visits Friar Lawrence, complaining that being banished is worse than being dead because he won't get to be with Juliet. Friar Lawrence tries to convince him that he's lucky. The nurse comes to Friar Lawrence with word from Juliet; she wants to see Romeo.

Monday Late Afternoon Lord Capulet decides that Juliet will marry Paris immediately.
Monday Late at Night Romeo and Juliet spend the night together.
Tuesday at Dawn Romeo doesn't want to leave.
Tuesday Morning Lady Capulet tells Juliet about having to marry Paris, but Juliet refuses. Lord Capulet finds out and screams at Juliet, telling her she will be disowned if she doesn't marry him. Juliet asks the nurse's opinion and the nurse says that Juliet should forget about Romeo, that he's a bad person now.
Act IV
Tuesday Morning Paris comes to Friar Lawrence to arrange his wedding with Juliet. Juliet visits Friar Lawrence, and they plan to have her fake her death so she won't have to marry Paris. Lawrence plans to send word to Romeo about the plan, but Friar John gets held up and doesn't get the letter there in time.
Tuesday Noon Juliet tells her father that she will marry Paris.
Tuesday Night Juliet asks to be alone in her room, and she contemplates the wisdom of this plan, worried that she might really die. She also worries that she'll be afraid of waking up in the tomb with all the dead bodies around. She takes the poison, though.
Early Wednesday Morning They discover Juliet is "dead" and plan her funeral.
Act V
Thursday Late Night Romeo finds out from his servant Balthasar that Juliet is dead. In agony, Romeo goes to an apothecary to get himself a poison. He doesn't want to live if Juliet is dead. Romeo heads to Verona to see Juliet before he kills himself.

Paris arrives at the Capulet's burial tomb. Romeo has arrived before him and is breaking into the tomb. Paris challenges Romeo, but Romeo tries to explain that he doesn't want to fight. They fight, though and Paris dies.

In the tomb, Romeo sees Juliet. He goes to her and speaks his last speech. He is amazed that she is still warm, his clue that she may not be dead, but he is too hasty, and he swallows the poison. Romeo dies.

Friar Lawrence arrives, alarmed that Romeo got there first. He goes in and finds Romeo dead and fears what will happen to him when people find out what he did. Juliet wakes up. She sees Romeo and realizes he's dead. Friar Lawrence tries to get her to leave, but she's inconsolable. She takes Romeo's dagger and kills herself.

The parents arrive and find Romeo dead and Juliet dead "again." The Friar tells the entire story, of how they were married. The Prince tells them that this tragedy is everyone's fault, even himself because he didn't punish the feuding families more harshly.

Lord Montague and Lord Capulet realize, finally, that their long-standing hatred for each other's family must end.

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