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Romeo and Juliet: Analysis by Act and Scene

From Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1916.


Tragedy as well as comedy deals with a conflict between an individual force (which may be centered either in one character or in a group of characters acting as one) and environing circumstances. In tragedy the individual (one person or a group) is overwhelmed; in comedy the individual triumphs. In tragedy, as in comedy, five stages may be noted in the plot development: (i) the exposition, or introduction; (2) the complication, rising action, or growth; (3) the climax, crisis, or turning point ; (4) the resolution, falling action, or consequence; and (5) the denouement, catastrophe, or conclusion. Let it not be thought for a moment that each of these stages is clearly differentiated. As a rule they pass insensibly into each other, as they do in life. Especially is this true in a play like Romeo and Juliet, where the weaving of the plot is so close and compact.



Prologue. The Prologue briefly gives the setting and theme of the play and prepares us for a drama of pathos in which the destiny of two lovers is determined by fate and external circumstances, rather than by character.

Act I, Scene i. 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.

Act I, Scene ii. The entrance of Juliet is prepared for; County Paris is a claimant for her hand. Romeo consents to attend the Capulet masquerade. In the chance meeting of Romeo and Benvolio by the servant as he sets out to invite guests to the feast may be read the significance of the part played by accident in determining the outcome of the play.

Act I, Scene iii. Juliet is introduced. Lady Capulet announces to her daughter in the presence of the garrulous nurse that Paris is seeking her in marriage and that she is to meet him that night at the feast.

Act I, Scene iv. Mercutio joins with Benvolio in urging the reluctant Romeo to forget his sad love affair and to enter into the spirit of the feast. The scene ends with a vague foreboding of the consequences hanging on the night's events. The complete mastery of fate over the destiny of these star-crossed lovers is emphasized in Romeo's helpless cry: "But He, that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail" (lines 112-113).


Act I, Scene v. The feast is on. Romeo catches sight of Juliet and immediately is in love with her. Already the counteracting forces are at work. Tybalt, the chief antagonist, hearing his voice, recognizes him and is enraged that a Montague should dare attend a Capulet feast. He leaves the hall with a determination to punish this intrusion. This is the motive to the complication of the feud action. Romeo and Juliet meet, love at sight, and part; and the dramatic entanglement has begun.

Act II, Scene i. This scene explains Romeo's presence in the next. Mercutio's observations about Rosaline and love in general show that his companions know nothing of the change in Romeo.

Act II, Scene ii. By a masterly device the usual delays attending lovemaking are removed and the dramatic interest and entanglement intensified. By chance, again, Juliet in her confession of love to the heavens and the night is overheard by her lover himself, and he comes to her call. In this, the famous balcony scene, the lovers plan marriage. Through the scene are scattered presentiments of evil.

Act II, Scene iii. The soliloquy of the Friar reflects the doom that awaits the love of Romeo and Juliet, while his knowledge of herbs prepares us for his later intrigue. He promises reluctantly to officiate at a secret wedding and sees in this union a possible reconciliation between the hostile houses. The scene ends with the significant words : "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast."

Act II, Scene iv. The first part of this scene, where it is revealed that Tybalt has sent a challenge to Romeo, prepares us for the crossing of the feud action and love action. It also furnishes an opportunity for Mercutio to express his disdain of Tybalt. The second part completes the arrangement for the marriage.

Act II, Scene v. After suspense to which the Nurse's garrulity gives humorous relief, Juliet wrings from her the message sent by Romeo.

Act II, Scene vi. The marriage rite is performed, but even this joyous scene is not without its warning (lines 9-10):

These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die.


Act III, Scene i. The threads of the feud action and the love action cross each other. Tybalt in seeking out Romeo comes upon Mercutio, who exchanges daring words with him. By chance, Romeo comes that way. Tybalt calls him "villain," but he controls his anger at this insult out of respect to his secret new alliance with a Capulet. The hot-blooded Mercutio is angered at what seems to be a vile submission and takes up the fight. Romeo and Benvolio come between them, but Tybalt strikes Mercutio a last revengeful blow and then runs off. The blow is fatal and the death of his friend rouses Romeo to revenge. Tybalt comes back in triumph but £oon is the victim of death at the hands of Romeo. Citizens and members of the two houses gather. The Prince hears an account of what has taken place and Romeo is sentenced to banishment.


Act III, Scene ii. Juliet is told of her cousin's death and her husband's banishment. After she has become almost distracted with confusion and despair, the Nurse finally says that she knows where Romeo is hid, and goes to take him a ring from Juliet and ask him to come that night to take his last farewell.

Act III, Scene iii. When Romeo hears his sentence of banishment he gives way to despair. What the philosophy of Friar Laurence fails to do in the way of comfort is effected by the message from Juliet. The Friar warns him to depart by break of day for Mantua and promises to keep him informed of happenings in Verona.

Act III, Scene iv. The action of the Paris love suit begins to take definite shape. Capulet sets the following Thursday as the wedding day of his daughter and the county.

Act III, Scene v. The lovers bid farewell and the shadow of the tragic catastrophe falls on their parting words. Hardly has Romeo escaped, when Lady Capulet comes in to tell Juliet of the wedding to take place on Thursday. The enmity of the family now concentrated on Romeo as the slayer of Tybalt makes it impossible for Juliet to confess her marriage. She pleads for time, but her angered father bursts forth in abuses, her mother turns a deaf ear, and even the Nurse fails her in her time of greatest need. Her only hope is in the Friar and to him she resolves to go.

Act IV, Scene i. Juliet shows wonderful self-control in her meeting with Paris at the Friar's cell, but after he has gone her anguish finds full expression. The Friar suggests a daring intrigue by which Juliet shall take a drug that will make her appear dead for forty-eight hours. This will relieve her from her marriage to Paris and will afford an opportunity for Romeo to take her shortly away to Mantua.

Act IV, Scene ii. Capulet, regardless of his daughter's feelings, is insistently making preparations for the marriage, but she is just as determined and far more skillful in thwarting his purpose. She feigns willing submission and seems eager for the day.

Act IV, Scene iii. After cheerfully attending to the preparations for her wedding, Juliet asks to be left alone for the night that she may pray. In spite of terrifying misgivings and fears, she drinks the potion. The intrigue of the Friar is begun.

Act IV, Scene iv. A scene of irony and suspense. The household is astir preparing the trappings of the feast, the bridegroom is at hand, but the bride cannot be found.

Act IV, Scene v. The Friar's intrigue seems to be succeeding. The drug has produced the semblance of death and the wedding feast is turned into a funeral. The merry talk of Peter and the musicians gives relief and is a reflection of the insincerity and lack of true feeling in the Capulets' attitude toward their daughter.

Act V, Scene i. The scene shifts to Mantua. Irony and ominous foreboding are found in Romeo's cheerful thoughts, caused by a strange dream. When Balthasar brings him news of Juliet's burial, but no word from the Friar, the audience realizes that there has been some dangerous mistake in the carrying out of the intrigue. After Romeo has determined to be with Juliet that night in the monument, and has, by bribing a poverty-stricken apothecary, procured the means in the shape of an instant-working deadly drug, all seems lost — yet a slight hope remains that chance will intervene and avert the tragic end.

Act V, Scene ii. The flaw in the carrying out of the Friar's plan is explained. Again accident has proved the enemy of the lovers, for just as the messenger was about to depart for Mantua, the doors of the house at which he stayed were sealed because of the pestilence. As Friar Laurence hastens to the tomb to be present when Juliet awakes, there is a hope that he may arrive in time to meet Romeo and stay his death.


Act V, Scene iii. Chance is hostile to the end and drags down not only the two lovers but Paris as well. After this tragic ending of the love action and the feud action, the Friar explains the marriage and intrigue. His words are supplemented by the letter that Romeo leaves with Balthasar. At last the family feud is ended by the death of the star-crossed lovers.

How to cite this article:

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


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