For this month’s installment of What Happens in Shakespeare, I wanted to do Romeo and Juliet. If you listen to pretty much any English ballad, or any song Shakespeare wrote for a play, you’d know that May is the real month for lovers (not February, although there’s a character inspired by St. Valentine who is crucial to the plot).
The Reduced Shakespeare Company tweeted: “ ‘A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life’ (Prologue). Teen marriages never last.”
What happens in Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet are teenagers whose families are feuding. Romeo has been brawling when we meet him. He crashes a party thrown by the enemy family.
Juliet goes to the party to get a look at her future husband: not Romeo, but Paris, the man her parents have arranged for her to marry.
Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love instantly. This is before they realize they are technically enemies.
They can’t get married in the light of day (there’s a family feud, plus Juliet is engaged), so Juliet’s nurse and Romeo’s friend Friar Laurence (the St. Valentine stand-in) conspire to help them elope.
They spend one night together as Mr. and Mrs. One night, you guys.
Romeo would like us to think he is a lover, not a fighter, by this time. But he still gets in a fight with Juliet’s cousin and kills him. The law finds out. Now Romeo has to leave town.
Juliet’s parents try to speed up her wedding to Paris. She can’t tell them she’s married to Romeo, because family feud. Also he killed her cousin.
But Juliet can’t commit polyandry either, so she runs away to Friar Laurence, who has a plan. Juliet will take a sleeping potion that will make her appear to be dead just long enough to be buried in the family crypt. Romeo will come to the crypt when she wakes up. Then she and Romeo can sneak away and start their life together.
Juliet takes the potion and appears to be dead, just like it promised on the label.
Friar Laurence sends a message to Romeo (remember he’s in another town now), but the message gets bungled. Romeo believes Juliet is actually dead. He comes back to town, buys himself some poison, and goes to her tomb, where she still seems very dead.
Paris is at Juliet’s tomb, mourning. Romeo kills him.
Romeo drinks the poison he bought and kills himself.
Juliet wakes up and sees that Romeo is dead. She kisses him to try to kill herself with the rest of the poison. She stabs herself with his dagger for good measure and dies.
Their families come together to mourn and make peace with each other.
For actual scholarship and analysis, visit the Shakespeare Resource Center’s page on Romeo & Juliet.