Act 1, Prologue
The play begins in Verona, a city that has had its peace shattered by the feud between two prominent families, the house of Montague and the house of Capulet. The Chorus tells us that amidst this ancient grudge, a "pair of star-cross'd lovers" will take their lives and that their deaths will extinguish their parents' rage.
Act 1, Scene 1
On a street in Verona, two servants from the house of Capulet, Sampson and Gregory, deliberately initiate a fight with two servants from the Montague house, Abram and Balthasar. Benvolio, a close friend to Romeo and nephew of Lord Montague, arrives and tries to stop the fight: "Part fools!/Put up your swords; you know not what you do" (1.1.56-7). But as he attempts to keep the peace, Tybalt, nephew to Lord Capulet, comes upon the scene and demands to duel with the passive young Benvolio. Reluctantly, Benvolio draws his sword and they fight. The fiery citizens of Verona become involved and a vicious brawl ensues. Capulet and Montague arrive, and immediately join in the clash, while their wives look on in fear. Prince Escalus happens upon the scene and he is shocked and outraged at such behaviour from his subjects. His guards break up the fight and he chastises all those involved, exclaiming "You men, you beasts!" (1.1.74-5). He declares that any further public disorder will result in the execution of the participants.
The crowd disperses along with Lord Capulet and his family, leaving behind Montague, Lady Montague, and Benvolio. Their attention turns to their son Romeo, who has been depressed of late. Benvolio asks Lord Montague if he knows what is troubling his son, but he has no answer. All he knows is that Romeo has been seen walking the streets in the early mornings, "With tears augmenting the fresh morning's dew/Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs" (1.1.124-5). Benvolio sees Romeo coming and requests that Montague and his Lady step aside so he can talk to Romeo alone and uncover the reason for his melancholy. After asking many questions Benvolio finally learns that Romeo is sad because he is in love with a woman, Rosaline, who has taken a vow of chastity and refuses to return his affection. Benvolio suggests to Romeo that he should forget Rosaline and look for romance elsewhere. Romeo insists that no woman could ever compare to Rosaline, for she is a ravishing beauty. He insists that to forget Rosaline would be impossible, "Thou canst not teach me to forget" (1.1.229), as the scene comes to a close.
Act 1, Scene 2
Scene 2 opens with Paris, a noble young kinsmen of the Prince, asking Capulet for his daughter's hand in marriage. Capulet tells Paris that Juliet has "not seen the change of fourteen years" (1.2.10) and is probably too young to marry. However, if Paris can woo her and win her heart, Capulet will grant him consent to wed Juliet. Capulet is preparing for a grand party at his house that evening, and he gives a servant a guest list and instructs him to go forth into the streets to invite them all. The servant meets Romeo and Benvolio on the road and he begs Romeo to help him, for he is illiterate and cannot complete the task given to him by his master. Romeo obligingly reads aloud the names on the invitation list, and to his delight, comes upon the name Rosaline. Benvolio challenges Romeo to sneak into the party with hopes that Romeo will see many other women to distract his attention away from Rosaline. Romeo agrees that going to the party is a splendid idea, for he longs to catch a glimpse of his darling Rosaline.
Act 1, Scene 3
Back at Capulet's house, Lady Capulet visits her daughter's chamber to tell her about Paris. Juliet's nurse is in the room and she begins to ramble, recounting Juliet as a young child:
For then she could stand high-alone; nay, by the
She could have run and waddled all about;
For even the day before, she broke her brow.... (1.3.35-8)
Lady Capulet asks Juliet how she feels about marriage and Juliet politely and honestly responds, "It is an honour that I dream not of" (I.iii.46). Lady Capulet tells Juliet that it is time she start thinking of becoming a bride and a mother, for there are girls in Verona even younger than Juliet who have children of their own. She adds that a suitable mate has already been found for Juliet: "The valiant Paris seeks you for his love" (1.3.54). Juliet has little choice but to respectfully agree to consider Paris as a husband. She tells her mother, "I'll look to like" (1.3.76). Their conversation ends abruptly when a servant calls Lady Capulet, announcing that supper is ready and the guests have arrived for the party.
Act 1, Scene 4
The festivities are about to commence at the house of Capulet and, concealed amidst the Masquers, Romeo and Benvolio arrive with their close friend, Mercutio. Stifled by "love's heavy burden", Romeo refuses to dance with his friends. He reveals that he has had an ominous dream, but will not be any more specific. Mercutio tries to lighten Romeo's mood, and muses that Romeo must have been visited in sleep by Queen Mab, the "fairies midwife"... "In shape no bigger than an agate stone/On the fore-finger of an alderman" (1.4.52-4). She races over peoples noses as they slumber, riding in a chariot steered by a gray-coated gnat and made from an empty hazelnut. Romeo is not as amused as Mercutio himself is
by his inventive tale, and Romeo implores him to be silent. He cannot shake the feeling that
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin this fearful date
With this night's revels, and expire the term
Of a despised life clos'd in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (1.4.104-8)
Act 1, Scene 5
In the hallway of Capulet's house four servingmen clear away the dinner dishes. Lord Capulet comes out to greet his guests, asking them to dance and make merry. He admits that his "dancing days" have long since past, but he loves to watch others enjoy themselves. Romeo, seeking Rosaline through the crowd, sees Juliet instead. He is awe-struck by her grace and beauty, and he completely forgets Rosaline. Romeo's heart is racing as he exclaims, "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!/It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear" (1.5.46-9). Tybalt, a cousin to Capulet, recognizes Romeo's voice and shouts for his sword. Tybalt is prepared to slay Romeo in front of the guests, but Lord Capulet stops him, knowing that any fighting will ruin the festivities. It appears that Lord Capulet is not as hostile towards his perceived enemy as is his violent and head-strong kinsman, Tybalt, as we can see in the following passage:
Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone,
'A bears him like a portly gentleman;
And, to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-govern'd youth.
I would not for the wealth of all this town
Here in my house do him disparagement... (I.v.68-72)
Tybalt is disgusted by Capulet's weakness, and leaves the party in a rage. Romeo decides he should leave as well, but first he stops to speak at least a word to Juliet. Dressed as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, Romeo addresses Juliet in character, pretending that he has just come upon a most holy shrine. They exchange pleasantries and Juliet, equally smitten with the handsome Romeo, grants him a kiss. Juliet is promptly called away by her mother, and Romeo learns from the Nurse that she is the daughter of his father's enemy, Capulet. Deeply troubled by this knowledge, Romeo exits the hall with Benvolio and Capulet's other guests. When everyone has left, Juliet probes the Nurse for information about the stranger with whom she has fallen madly in love. The Nurse tells her that his name is Romeo and he is a Montague. Like Romeo, Juliet is grieved to hear such news and she cries "My only love sprung from my only hate!/Too early seen unknown, and known too late!" (1.5.140-1) as the first act draws to a close.
Act 2, Prologue
The Chorus opens Act II by announcing that Romeo is madly in love with the bewitching Juliet. But he warns that Romeo will not be able to court his Juliet in the proper manner befitting a fair lady because she is his father's enemy. And he adds that Juliet will not be able to meet Romeo as she pleases, but will be forced to see her darling only in secret. Despite the obstacles the lovers must overcome, the Chorus reassures us that their "passion lends them power", and that they will find a way to be together.
Act 2, Scene 1
Romeo leaves the house of Capulet and wanders into a lane behind their family orchard. Longing to be with Juliet, he sorrowfully asks "Can I go forward when my heart is here?" He realizes that he cannot go any further from Juliet and he leaps over the orchard wall onto Capulet's grounds. Mercutio and Benvolio, who have been looking for Romeo, see him disappear behind the wall and they laugh at his silly behaviour, still thinking that he is chasing after Rosaline. They decide not to follow him on his quest for love and they both go home to bed.
Act 2, Scene 2
Romeo is hidden amongst the shadows outside Capulet's house, content simply to be close to Juliet. Looking up, Romeo catches sight of a figure emerging from an overhead window. He rejoices when he realizes who has come out upon the balcony: "It is my Lady! O it is my love" (2.2.11). Juliet, believing that she is alone, professes her love for Romeo and her profound sorrow that he is a Montague. Romeo reveals himself and, with words as moving as any in literature, the lovers speak to each other, exchanging their vows of absolute and undying devotion. The glorious meeting is interrupted by a cry coming from inside the house. It is Juliet's nurse, who has been searching the house for her mistress. Before they part, the lovers hatch a cunning plan. Romeo will find a way for them to be married and, when he does, he will give the details to the messenger Juliet sends to him. The scene comes to a close as they say their tender farewells for the evening:
Juliet: Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good-night till it be morrow.
Romeo: Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy
Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!
Hence will I to my ghostly father's cell,
His help to crave, and my dear hap to tell. (2.2.184-90)
Act 2, Scene 3
Romeo travels to the cell of Friar Laurence, who has been out in the fields all morning gathering herbs. He ponders the dual nature of these "baleful weeds and precious juiced flowers" that have the power to kill and the power to heal. Cheerful and excited, Romeo greets the Friar and tells him of his new love and plans for marriage. Friar Laurence, who has been Romeo's friend and confessor for sometime, is confused and concerned about Romeo's sudden change of heart. He exclaims "Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!/Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear/So soon forsaken?" (II.iii.65-8). But Romeo persuades the Friar that this time he has found true love and that he is ready to enter immediately into the serious bond of holy matrimony. Friar Laurence agrees to help Romeo, hoping that their union will finally end the feud between the houses of Montague and Capulet. In one respect I'll thy assistance be/For this aliance may so happy prove/To turn your households' rancour to pure love" (2.3.90-3).
Act 2, Scene 4
Mercutio and Benvolio are again wandering about the streets of Verona, wondering what happened to the love-struck Romeo. Their conversation turns to Tybalt, who Mercutio calls "the courageous captain of compliments" (2.4.21). Tybalt has left a note for Romeo at the house of Montague, challenging him to a duel. Mercutio is afraid that the fierce Tybalt will surely kill Romeo, who is too preoccupied to fight his best. Benvolio sees Romeo approach, seemingly in a light-hearted mood. Mercutio, overjoyed to see Romeo back to his happy and carefree self, teases him about his recent foolish behaviour. The two banter as good friends should and Mercutio quips, "Why, is this not better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo, now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature; for tis drivelling love is like a great natural..." (2.4.90-4). But Benvolio and Romeo are tired of his ramblings and cut him off in mid-sentence. Romeo directs Mercutio to Juliet's nurse who is coming down the road, and Mercutio continues his musings with her as his new audience. It does not take long for Mercutio to lose interest in his own pontificating and he and Benvolio leave for supper at Montague's house. Romeo and the Nurse are left alone and Romeo makes excuses for Mercutio's talkative and saucy behaviour, which has greatly offended her. Romeo asks the Nurse to give Juliet the information about his plan of marriage, and she agrees. The wedding, he tells the Nurse, will be performed that afternoon by Friar Laurence. Juliet is to go to the Friar's cell and Romeo will arrange for a rope ladder to be placed at Juliet's window within the hour to facilitate her escape. The Nurse runs off with the message as the curtain closes.
Act 2, Scene 5 Scene 5 opens in Capulet's orchard. Juliet is frantically awaiting the news about Romeo. The Nurse comes in, preoccupied with her own troubles. She wants to discuss her aching bones, but Juliet pleads with her not to withhold Romeo's plan any longer. Slowly, the Nurse begins to speak of Romeo. She says that she doesn't much care for the boy, but she approves of his handsome face and gentle nature. She finally tells Juliet all that Romeo has told her, and Juliet leaves at once for Friar Laurence's cell.
Act 2, Scene 6
Friar Laurence and Romeo are anxiously awaiting Juliet's arrival. The Friar gives Romeo some advice before the wedding, cautioning him to 'love moderately'. Juliet appears and Friar Laurence comments on her delicacy. He starts the marriage proceedings at once, "For, by your leaves you shall not stay alone/Till Holy Church incorporate two in one" (2.6.36-7).
"The thread of the feud action is here introduced with the peace-making Benvolio on the side of the Montagues and the fiery Tybalt on the Capulet side. The quarrel is suppressed when the Prince enters and, in the presence of the heads of the two houses which have thrice disturbed Verona's streets with broils, declares that death will be the penalty if civil peace is again threatened by their hatred. This warning is a preparation for the tragic climax. The love action is suggested. The strangeness of Romeo's new mood is discussed by his parents and Benvolio. When Romeo enters, it is soon discovered that the cause is unrequited love. Benvolio's determination to teach Romeo to forget this lady prepares the way for the change in the hero's feelings in the masquerade scene." Henry Norman Hudson. Read on...
Thoughts on Mercutio... "Mercutio is the very antithesis to Romeo. "The brooding nature of Romeo," says Dowden, "which cherishes emotion, and lives in it, is made salient by contrast with Mercutio, who is all wit, and intellect, and vivacity, an uncontrollable play of gleaming and glancing life. Upon the morning after the betrothal with Juliet, a meeting happens between Romeo and Mercutio. Previously, while a lover of Rosaline, Romeo had cultivated a lover-like melancholy. But now, partly because his blood runs gladly, partly because the union of soul with Juliet has made the whole world more real and substantial, and things have grown too solid and lasting to be disturbed by a laugh, Romeo can contend in jest with Mercutio himself, and stretch his wit of cheveril 'from an inch narrow to an ell broad.'" K. Deighton. Read on...
Shakespeare probably began his education at the age of six or seven at the Stratford grammar school, which is still standing only a short distance from his house on Henley Street and is in the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Although we have no record of Shakespeare attending the school, due to the official position held by John Shakespeare it seems likely that he would have decided to educate young William at the school which was under the care of Stratford's governing body. Read on...
Shakespeare acquired substantial wealth thanks to his acting and writing abilities, and his shares in London theatres. The going rate was £10 per play at the turn of the sixteenth century. So how much money did Shakespeare make? Read on...
Shakespeare was familiar with seven foreign languages and often quoted them directly in his plays. His vocabulary was the largest of any writer, at over twenty-four thousand words. Read on...
Known to the Elizabethans as ague, Malaria was a common malady spread by the mosquitoes in the marshy Thames. The swampy theatre district of Southwark was always at risk. King James I had it; so too did Shakespeare’s friend, Michael Drayton. Read on...