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Act-by-Act Synopsis

Prologue and Act 1

In the Prologue, the Chorus tells us that the play is set in Verona, where there is a longtime feud between two families, which nothing can mend. The play will tell the story of the “death marked love” of their two children, “a pair of star-crossed lovers,” whose self-inflicted deaths signal an end to their families’ violent struggle. The servants of the two families—the Montagues and Capulets— engage in a street brawl. Romeo’s cousin Benvolio, a Montague, enters and tries to stop the fight but is challenged by Lord Capulet’s nephew, Tybalt. The fathers, Lord Montague and Lord Capulet, arrive and immediately are drawn into the brawl. Prince Escalus enters and forbids, on pain of death, any more fighting between the two households. Lord and Lady Montague discuss their son Romeo’s recent distracted behavior with Benvolio, who offers to find out what troubles him. To his friend’s inquiries, Romeo expresses his unrequited love for Rosaline, a young woman determined to remain chaste, and he rejects Benvolio’s advice to forget her and look around for someone else. Lord Capulet gives Count Paris permission to court his young daughter, Juliet, at the Capulets’ party that night. Lady Capulet tells Juliet of Paris’s desire to marry her; obedient, Juliet agrees to entertain Paris’s attention to her. Benvolio and Romeo, learning of the Capulet feast where Rosaline is among the invited guests, decide to attend in disguise. Romeo confesses his reluctance to go because of ominous dreams, and his friend Mercutio teases him and tells him that a tiny fairy named “Queen Mab” has caused his nightmares. Tybalt catches sight of Romeo at the party and angrily storms away when his uncle, Lord Capulet, forbids any confrontation in his house. Romeo and Juliet meet and immediately fall in love; both are deeply distressed to find out that their new love’s family is an enemy to their own.

Act 2

As Romeo and his friends leave the party, he slips away and hides in the Capulets’ garden. Thinking that she is alone on her balcony above the garden, Juliet speaks of her new feelings for Romeo. When he reveals himself, both confess their love. Juliet tells Romeo that she will send a messenger to him the next day to find out his plan for their marriage. Romeo confides in Friar Laurence and asks him to help them marry; hoping to end their families’ hatred, the Friar agrees. The next morning in the public square, Romeo instructs Juliet’s Nurse to tell Juliet to go to Friar Laurence, who will join them in marriage that same afternoon. The Nurse returns to tease Juliet, who is impatient to hear Romeo’s plan. When she learns of Romeo’s proposal, Juliet leaves immediately for the Friar’s, where she and Romeo are secretly married.

Act 3

Tybalt, enraged by the Montague’s uninvited presence at his uncle’s party the night before, looks for Romeo to confront him, but he comes upon Benvolio and Mercutio instead. Mercutio picks a fight. When Romeo arrives, Tybalt insults him and challenges him to a duel. Romeo refuses the challenge, saying that he loves Tybalt as his own family. Mercutio, disgusted by Romeo’s apparent cowardice, challenges Tybalt. Romeo intercedes to stop the fight, and, as he does, Mercutio is slain, receiving a mortal wound as Romeo tries to pull him away. Now in blind rage, Romeo avenges his friend’s death and kills Tybalt, and then flees to Friar Laurence’s cell. Prince Escalus spares Romeo’s life but banishes him from Verona, sentencing death if he returns. Juliet, longing for night so that she can see her husband, is informed by her Nurse of Tybalt’s murder and Romeo’s banishment. Juliet talks of suicide but is comforted when the Nurse offers to find Romeo and bring him to her. Friar Laurence informs Romeo of his banishment and advises him to spend the night with his bride, then flee to Mantua until the Friar can reveal the marriage. Romeo agrees. Lord Capulet accepts Paris’s offer for his daughter’s hand and sets the wedding three days away. Romeo and Juliet take their farewells as daybreak lights Juliet’s bedchamber. Lady Capulet enters to inform Juliet that she is to marry Paris. She refuses, and Lord Capulet, enraged by her disobedience swears to disown her. Ignoring her Nurse’s advice to forget Romeo and marry Paris, Juliet seeks counsel from the Friar.

Act 4

At Friar Laurence’s cell, Juliet encounters Paris and avoids his advances. She privately confesses her despair to the Friar and talks of killing herself. He persuades her instead to follow his plan: to return home and consent to marry Paris; then, on the night before the wedding, to drink the herbal potion he now gives her. The potion will induce a deathlike trance, and she will be entombed in the Capulet crypt; when she wakes Romeo will be there to take her to Mantua, where the couple can live until their two families are reconciled. Juliet returns home, and, apologizing for her disobedience, agrees to marry Paris. Lord Capulet decides to move the wedding to the next day. Alone in her room, Juliet fears that the potion might kill her or that she will wake before Romeo arrives and, trapped in a tomb with Tybalt’s corpse, that she will go mad. Invoking Romeo’s name, she drinks the potion. The next morning, her body is discovered by her Nurse. Her family and Paris are devastated. Friar Laurence instructs the family to arrange for her funeral.

Act 5

Before news of the Friar’s plan reaches him in Mantua, Romeo learns of his beloved’s death from his friend Balthasar, and, resolving to join her in death, buys poison from a poor Apothecary. Friar John returns from Mantua, informing Friar Laurence that he was prevented from delivering the Friar’s letter to Romeo. Friar Laurence heads to the tomb to avert disaster. When Romeo reaches the tomb, he encounters Paris, whom in the darkness of night he does not recognize. When Paris sees him, he challenges a desperate Romeo to a duel. Romeo urges him to get away, but when Paris refuses, they fight and Romeo kills his opponent before recognizing him. Entering the tomb and kissing Juliet, Romeo drinks the poison and dies. The Friar enters the tomb as Juliet awakens. He begs Juliet to flee with him, but she refuses and kills herself with Romeo’s dagger as she hears the townspeople outside. The two families and Prince Escalus are summoned. The Friar recounts the whole story, volunteering for a punishment of death if the Prince finds him guilty of misconduct. The Prince blames the children’s deaths on their parents’ hatred. The two lords resolve to abandon their feud and vow to erect golden statues in memory of their two children.

   

 

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