Romeo and Juliet
A Study Guide

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Type of Work
Settings and Tone
Plot Summary
Climax and Denouement
Language and Imagery
Role of the Apothecary
Quotations From the Play
What Caused the Feud?
Arranged Marriages
Suicides: Did the Lovers Go Mad?
Samuel Johnson's Critique
Study Questions Essay Topics Shakespeare's Biography Complete Annotated Text 

Complete Free Text With Numbered Lines, Word Definitions, and Explanations of Difficult Passages

Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings... 2003, 2008, 2012, 2013
Address Questions or Comments to mcum.mings@mail.com
Type of Work and First Performance

.......Romeo and Juliet is a stage tragedy written between 1593 and 1596. The play centers on a teenage boy and girl who fall in love and marry against the wishes of their parents.The drama probably debuted on the stage in 1596 or 1597. Over the centuries, it has become an audience favorite. The film and television industries have produced more than a dozen renditions of the play. Many animated films, books, and other plays loosely follow the plot of Romeo and Juliet.


.......The publication history of the play began in London in 1596 or 1597, when printers John Danter and Edward Allde published a mistake-ridden version of the play copied in the audience during a performance. Thomas Creede published a corrected version in 1599. This version was republished in 1609. A fourth version—based on the first and second versions—appeared more than a decade later, probably in 1622. In 1623, Romeo and Juliet and thirty-five other Shakespeare plays were published by two of the late author's friends, John Heminges and Henry Condell, in a book entitled Mr. William Shakespeare's Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. This book has become known as the First Folio, so called because it was printed on folios. A folio was a sheet of paper folded once to form four pages, or two leaves. Other Shakespeare plays were published in later folio editions. Most versions of Shakespeare's plays published today are based on the First Folio.


.......The main source for the plot of the play was The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562), by Arthur Brooke (birth?-death circa 1563). Brooke's work, a long narrative poem, was based on a French version (1559) of the tragedy by Pierre Boiastuau (circa 1517-1566). In turn, Boiastuau based his story on a 1554 Italian work by Matteo Bandello (1485-1561), a monk and author of 214 tales. Sources for certain plot devices or plot content probably included Il Novellino (1476), by Masuccio of Salerno (1410-1475); Hystoria Novellamente Ritrovata di Due Nobili Amanti (1530), by Luigi da Porto (1485-153); and the ancient mythological tale of Pyramis and Thisbe.

.......The play opens in Verona, Italy, near mid-morning on a Sunday in July. It ends four days later in the same city shortly after sunrise. Verona is in northern Italy about sixty-five miles west of Venice. The ruler of Verona at the time of the legendary Montague-Capulet feud was Bartolomeo della Scalla, who died in 1304. (In Italian the Scalla name is Scaligeri; in Latin, it is Scaligerus). Part of the action in the play takes place in Mantua. Romeo goes there after Prince of Verona banishes him. Mantua is in the Lombardy region of Italy, just south of the Swiss border.


.......The tone of the play is highly emotional, exhibiting powerful feelings of love, hatred, anger, joy, sorrow, regret, and despair. In discussing the deep emotions in the play, essayist and literary critic William Hazlitt (1778-1830) wrote the following:

If [Romeo and Juliet] has the sweetness of the rose, it has its freshness too; if it has the languor of the nightingale's song, it has also its giddy transport; if it has the softness of a southern spring, it is as glowing and as bright. There is nothing of a sickly and sentimental cast. Romeo and Juliet are in love, but they are not love-sick. Every thing speaks the very soul of pleasure, the high and healthy pulse of the passions: the heart beats, the blood circulates and mantles throughout. Their courtship is not an insipid interchange of sentiments lip-deep, learnt at secondhand from poems and plays,made up of beauties of the most shadowy kind, of "fancies wan that hang the pensive head," of evanescent smiles and sighs that breathe not, of delicacy that shrinks from the touch and feebleness that scarce supports itself, an elaborate vacuity of thought, and an artificial dearth of sense, spirit, truth, and nature! It is the reverse of all this. It is Shakespear all over, and Shakespear when he was young. (Characters of Shakespeare's Plays. London: C. H. Reynell, 1817)


Romeo and Juliet: Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet are immature teenagers—in fact, Juliet is not yet fourteen—who fall deeply in love even though their families are bitter enemies. Impatient and rash, they seize the moment and marry in secret. But further efforts to conceal their actions go awry and end tragically. In world literature they have become archetypical ill-fated lovers, and countless other literary and artistic works, including the Academy Award-winning film West Side Story, have been based on this Shakespeare drama, Romeo and Juliet are the main characters, or protagonists.
Montague, Capulet: Heads of feuding families. 
Lady Montague: Wife of Montague. 
Lady Capulet: Wife of Capulet.
Escalus: Prince of Verona. 
Paris: Young nobleman, kinsman of Escalus. The Capulets pressure Juliet to accept his marriage proposal.
Romeo and Juliet: FilmNurse of Juliet: The nurse is Juliet's attendant, confidante, and messenger. At Juliet's behest, she meets with Romeo to sound him out on his intentions. Her homely language and her preoccupation with the practical, everyday world contrast sharply with the elevated language of Romeo and Juliet and their preoccupation with the idealistic world of love. 
Old Man: Cousin to Capulet.
Mercutio: Kinsman of the prince and friend of Romeo. He recognizes the utter stupidity of the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues and understands that overpowering, passionate love—the kind of love that ignores reason and common sense—can lead to tragedy. 
Benvolio: Nephew of Montague and friend to Romeo. 
Tybalt: Headstrong nephew of Lady Capulet. Ever ready to fight the Montagues at the slightest provocation, he personifies the hatred generated by feuding families. 
Friar Laurence, Friar John: Franciscan priests (robed Catholic monks who follow the rule of St. Francis of Assisi). Friar Laurence marries Romeo and Juliet, hoping the marriage will end the Montague-Capulet feud, and tries to help them overcome their problems with a scheme that, unfortunately, goes awry. Friar John, a minor character, is charged with carrying a letter to Romeo. 
Balthasar: Servant of Romeo. 
Sampson, Gregory: Servants of Capulet. 
Peter: Servant of Juliet's nurse.
Abraham: Servant of Montague.
Apothecary: Poverty-stricken with "famine" in his cheeks, he illegally sells Romeo a deadly poison. Thus, he provides an interesting contrast to Romeo in that he breaks a law to stay alive whereas Romeo breaks a law (the moral law against suicide) to die. 
Rosaline: The girl with whom Romeo is infatuated before he meets Juliet. Rosaline does not appear in the play, but is referred to by Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and Friar Laurence.
Page of Paris 
Another Page 
An Officer 
Chorus: The chorus recites the prologue preceding the first act. The prologue sets the scene, Verona, and tells of the "ancient grudge" between the Montague and Capulet families. It contains two of the play’s most famous lines: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” The chorus also recites a prologue before Act II.
First Servingman, Second Servingman, Third Servingman: Workers in the Capulet home.
Maskers: Masked guests at the Capulet party in the first act.
Various Citizens of Verona
Relatives of the Capulets and Montagues
Guards, Watchmen, Attendants
Plot Summary
By Michael J. Cummings... 2003
.......Romeo Montague absolutely adores Juliet Capulet. Juliet Capulet absolutely adores Romeo Montague. However, the Montague family absolutely despises the Capulet family, and vice versa, because of an old grudge. How is it possible for Romeo and Juliet to love and live happily in so poisonous an atmosphere? That is the central issue of this play. 
.......In a prologue to Act I, an actor called “the chorus” recites a sonnet in which he describes the bitter hatred separating the Montagues and Capulets (residents of Verona, a city in northern Italy about sixty-five miles west of Venice and the Adriatic coast) and identifies Romeo and Juliet as lovers who had the misfortune to be born into warring families: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes [the Montagues and the Capulets] / A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life" (5-6). Take their life appears to have a double-meaning: first, that they come into existence; second, in a foreshadowing of events to come, that they go out of existence by taking their own lives.
.......So it is that, from the very beginning of their existence as human beings within the wombs of their mothers, Romeo and Juliet are doomed by Fate as children of hatred. 
.......So deep is the enmity between the two families that the friends of the Montagues and the friends of the Capulets are also enemies. In the first scene of Act I, two servants of the Capulets, Sampson and Gregory, encounter two servants of the Montagues, Abraham and Balthasar, on a street. Sampson places his thumb between his teeth, then flicks it forward at the Montague servants. This insulting gesture carries the same meaning as an upturned middle finger in modern America. Verbal insults follow and swords cross. Tybalt, a belligerent Capulet ally, lashes out at Benvolio, a friend of Romeo Montague, for attempting to make peace, saying: “. . . Peace! I hate the word, / As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee" (1.1.52-53). The ruckus attracts citizens, peace officers, supporters of the Montagues and Capulets, and eventually Lord and Lady Capulet and Lord and Lady Montague. A brawl ensues. The Prince of Verona, Escalus, intervenes and ends the fray with these stern words: “If ever you disturb our streets again, / Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace" (1.1.82-83). 
.......Romeo is not among the street brawlers, for he has been off brooding in a sycamore grove and nearby woods over a young lady who is his heart’s delight, a young lady who denies him her affections. But her name is Rosaline, not Juliet. Rosaline, Lord Capulet's niece, is so fair, Romeo says, that when she dies, all that is beautiful in the world will die with her. However, Rosaline vows to live a life of chastity. She will not yield to love. Nor will she “bide the encounter of assailing eyes, / Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold” (1.1.205-206).
.......When Lord Capulet holds a dinner party attended by everyone who is anyone in Verona—including the city's most winsome young ladies, Rosaline among them—Romeo attends to see Rosaline and measure her against the other comely maidens. Surely she will outshine them all. Because of the hatred dividing the Capulets and the Montagues, Romeo wears a mask. His friends Benvolio and Mercutio also attend, likewise disguised. Lord Capulet welcomes all the gentlemen attending the party, including the masqueraders, and invites them to dance, saying, "Ladies that have their toes / Unplagu'd with corns will have a bout with you" (1.5.11-12). And then Romeo notices Juliet. She is flawlessly exquisite; she is stunning, gorgeous, ravishing; she is beyond compare. All thoughts of Rosaline vanish. There is only Juliet. Unable to contain himself, Romeo declares: 

..............O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
..............It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night 
..............Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's1 ear; 
..............Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (1.5.41-44)

.......Tybalt, Lord Capulet's nephew, recognizes Romeo's voice and threatens violence, asking a boy to bring him his rapier. But Lord Capulet, not wishing to ruin the party, steps in to keep the peace, noting that Romeo is behaving in a gentlemanly manner. Juliet, meanwhile, has noticed Romeo—and fallen deeply in love. She and Romeo exchange beautiful words that seal their love. 

..............ROMEO   If I profane with my unworthiest hand
..............This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
..............My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
..............To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss. 
..............JULIET   Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
..............Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
..............For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
..............And palm to palm is holy palmers'2 kiss. (1.5.93-100) 

.......Later that night, Romeo climbs the wall behind the Capulet house and enters an orchard on the Capulet property. Benvolio and Mercutio, following behind, call out for him, but Romeo does not respond. Mercutio, sensing that Romeo's sudden obsession with Juliet will go amiss, says: "If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark" (2. 1. 38). His words foreshadow the tragic events that follow. When Juliet appears alone at a window overlooking the Capulet orchard, Romeo, observing her from below, says: 

..............But, soft3! what light through yonder window breaks? 
..............It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. 
..............Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, 
..............Who is already sick and pale with grief, 
..............That thou her maid art far more fair than she. (2.2.4-8)

Juliet then unburdens the weight of her thoughts: 

..............O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore4 art thou Romeo?
..............Deny thy father and refuse thy name; 
..............Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, 
..............And I'll no longer be a Capulet. (2.2.37-40)

.......After Romeo announces himself to her, they vow undying love. Romeo visits a priest, Friar Laurence, the next day to tell him of his love for Juliet, and the good Franciscan approves of the relationship, believing it will be the key to ending the Montague-Capulet feud. Later, Juliet sends her nurse to Romeo to sound him out on his intentions, and he tells her that Juliet should come to Friar Laurence's cell to confess her sins, then marry Romeo. After the nurse reports back to Juliet, all goes according to plan, and Romeo and Juliet become husband and wife, although they make no public announcement of their marriage.
.......On his way back from the wedding, Romeo encounters his friend Mercutio quarreling with Tybalt. Romeo tries to pacify them, to no avail, and Tybalt mortally wounds Mercutio. Mercutio—who understands the stupidity and folly of the Montague-Capulet feud—curses the two families, saying, "A plague o' [on] both your houses!" (3.1.61). He repeats these words three times before dying. Romeo, in turn, kills Tybalt. The fighting has attracted citizens of Verona, including the prince; he banishes Romeo. 
.......When Juliet asks her nurse for news of Romeo, the nurse says, "Ah, well-a-day! he's dead, he's dead, he's dead!" (3.2.41). She is referring to Tybalt, her good friend; Juliet thinks she is speaking of Romeo and wonders whether he has killed himself. The nurse then recounts the events of the violent encounter: Romeo killed Tybalt, Juliet's kin. At first, Juliet criticizes Romeo for committing such a deed but moments later scolds herself for speaking harsh words about her beloved husband. 
.......Before leaving the city, Romeo returns to Juliet and spends the night with her. At dawn, as the lovers gaze out the window, Romeo tells Juliet to 

..............  Look, love, what envious streaks
..............Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east: 
..............Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day 
..............Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops. 
..............I must be gone and live, or stay and die.(3.5.9-13)

Juliet replies, 

..............Yon light is not daylight, I know it, 
..............It is some meteor that the sun exhales, 
..............To be to thee this night a torch-bearer,
..............And light thee on thy way to Mantua: 
..............Therefore stay yet; thou need’st not to be gone. (3.5.14-18)

Romeo tarries awhile longer, then flees to Mantua, a city in Italy's Lombardy region to the west. Meanwhile, Juliet's mother announces that her daughter must marry Paris, a nobleman. Desperate for help, Juliet asks Friar Laurence for advice. He tells her to consent to the wedding, then drink a potion that will make her appear dead. After the Capulets lay her to rest in the family burial vault, the friar tells her, he and Romeo will rescue her. Juliet agrees to the plan, and Friar Laurence sends Friar John to deliver a message to Romeo that will inform him of the scheme. But, by accident, the message goes undelivered. 
.......In her bed chamber, Juliet takes out the vial containing the potion. She is fearful that it may not work. Overcoming that fear, she then worries that the potion may actually be a poison that Friar Laurence had prepared for her so that he will not have to be dishonored by marrying her to Paris while she is already married to Romeo. However, she overcomes this fear as well, then takes the drug and collapses onto the bed. When wedding preparations are under way in the Capulet household, Lord Capulet tells the nurse to awaken Juliet. But the nurse discovers her lying lifeless and stiff. Lord Capulet observes that "Death lies on her like an untimely frost" (4.5.34). 
.......When news of Juliet's "death" reaches Romeo, he purchases a potion of his own—a deadly one—from an apothecary and returns to Verona to die alongside Juliet. At the burial vault, he encounters Paris and his page. Paris is there to lay flowers at Juliet's grave. The adversaries quarrel, exchanging insults, then fight. While the page runs out for help, Romeo slays Paris, then takes a last, longing look at Juliet, saying, 

..............                O my love! my wife! 
..............Death, that hath suck’d the honey of thy breath, 
..............Hath had no power yet upon thy beauty: 
..............Thou art not conquer’d; beauty’s ensign5 yet
..............Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks, 
..............And death’s pale flag is not advanced there. (5.3.94-99)

.......Romeo then swallows the poison and dies. After Juliet awakens and discovers the bodies, grief overwhelms her and she kills herself, using Romeo's dagger. When the page returns with three watchmen, they discover the bloody scene and one of the watchmen fetches the Montague and Capulet families and the Prince of Verona. Others come running to the scene. Lord Montague arrives alone, telling the prince that his wife died during the night of grief brought on by Romeo’s exile. When everyone sees the bodies, the prince calls for quiet and calm while he inquires about the cause of the deaths. Friar Laurence comes forth and explains in detail the plot he conceived to feign Juliet’s death. Next, Romeo’s servant, Balthasar, says he conveyed news of Juliet’s apparent demise to Romeo, who then returned from Mantua. Finally, the page of Paris recounts what he saw at the tomb. The prince reproaches the Montagues and the Capulets, saying, "See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, / That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love" (5.3.313-314). The feuding families then reconcile, and the prince observes: 

..............A glooming peace this morning with it brings; 
..............The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head: 
..............Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things: 
..............Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished: 
..............For never was a story of more woe 
..............Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. (5.3.327-332)


Romantic love can be beautiful and ennobling. The love between Romeo and Juliet is sublimely beautiful. Not only do they feel deeply for each other, but they also respect each other. Neither attempts to impose his or her will on the other; neither places his or her welfare above the other. Realizing that love and lust are not the same, they prize each other spiritually as well as physically. Therefore, meeting in secret from time to time to gratify their powerful sexual desires without the permanent commitment of marriage is out of the question. Such an arrangement would cheapen their relationship; it would reduce their love to a mere bestial craving. Consequently, at great risk, they decide to sanctify their relationship with a marriage ceremony binding them to eternal love. Theirs is no Hollywood marriage for three months or three years, based on selfish sexual gratification; theirs is a marriage meant for eternity, based on unselfish commitment to the spouse.
Passion Can Overtake Reason and Common Sense. So powerful is the love between Romeo and Juliet that it subjugates reason and common sense as guiding forces and causes them to take dangerous risks. Their behavior, as well as events over which they have no control, vernalize their relationship, giving it little time to reach full growth. In the end, their overpowering feelings cause them to take their own lives. Likewise, so powerful is the hatred between the Montagues and Capulets that it promotes constant tension and violence, resulting in the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio—and, of course, the deaths of their own children, Romeo and Juliet.
Immaturity and inexperience can lead to tragic endings. This theme, related to Theme 2, reaches its full development when callow Romeo and Juliet, believing all is lost, act out of the passion of the moment and commit suicide. If they had had the wisdom to consider that their whole lives lay before them, that other paths lay open to them, they surely would have embraced a fabian tactic to whittle away the opposition.
Judge people by their character and personal qualities, not by their name or social standing. As Juliet observes: “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” (2.2.47-48). 
Innocent children sometimes pay for the sins of their parents. Romeo and Juliet forfeit their lives partly as a result of their parents' hatred and prejudice. 
Fate acts through human folly. As in Macbeth, King Lear, Julius Caesar, and other plays of Shakespeare, the force of Fate seems all-powerful and ineluctable. It is as if human beings are puppets who have no control over their actions. From the very beginning, Romeo and Juliet are "star-cross'd" as children of "fatal loins" just as Macbeth is doomed by the prediction of the witches, Julius Caesar by the ominous words of a soothsayer, and King Lear, Cordelia, and others around them by "the gods," who, as Gloucester says, "kill us for their sport." But Shakespeare knows that the events leading to tragedy cannot be explained away so simply. Human beings have free will; they have the power to create their futures. Unfortunately, too often they lack the wisdom or moral strength to make the right decisions and, instead, pursue a course of action which seems "fated" for disaster.

Climax and Denouement

.......The climax of a play or another fictional literary work, such as a short story or a novel, can be defined as (1) the turning point at which the conflict begins to resolve itself for better or worse, or as (2) the final and most exciting event in a series of events. The climax of Romeo and Juliet, according to the first definition, occurs when Romeo kills Tybalt, causing a turning point that begins with Romeo's banishment. According to the second definition, the climax occurs in the final act, when Romeo, Juliet, and Paris die.
.......The denouement, or falling action, occurs when Lord Montague, the Capulets, the prince, and others arrive at the scene of the suicides and commiserate. Friar Laurence, Balthasar, and the page inform them of events leading up to the suicide.

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Language and Imagery


.......Romeo and Juliet explodes with verbal fireworks. As one of Shakespeare’s early dramas, the play was a vehicle through which he attempted to startle audiences with his ability to manipulate language, creating puns, rhyming poetry, and striking similes, metaphors, and other figures of speech. The play opens with the chorus reciting a poem in sonnet form, a device also used to open the second act. In the opening dialogue in Act I, Shakespeare spices his writing with puns and double-entendres, as when the servants Sampson and Gregory make veiled sexual references:

GREGORY   The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
SAMPSON   ’Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads.
GREGORY   The heads of the maids?
SAMPSON   Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt. (1.1.14-17)
Such language is crude, but it serves a purpose: to contrast with elevated, lyrical imagery used later by Romeo and Juliet to express their love. Mercutio, a brilliant punster and shaper of imagery, uses his way with words to criticize the stupidity of the feuding families and the folly of blind passion. Sometimes, a single passage he speaks contains a gamut of language devices. Note, for example, the following prose passage, spoken when he sees Romeo approaching. It begins with a simile, then follows with alliterations, metaphors, hyperboles, and allusions to Petrarch’s sonnets, to Dido (the Carthaginian queen in Vergil’s Aeneid), to Cleopatra (queen of Egypt), to Helen of Troy, to Hero (a priestess of the Greek goddess Aphrodite), and to Thisbe, a character in a mythological tale who kills herself after discovering the dead body of her lover, Pyramus.
Now is he [Romeo] for the numbers6 that Petrarch flowed in: Laura7 to his [Romeo’s] lady was but a kitchen-wench; marry8, she had a better love to be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy; Helen and Hero hildings9 and harlots; Thisbe a grey eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior Romeo, bon jour! there’s a French salutation to your French slop. (2.4.21)
Imagery: Light and Darkness
Perhaps the most memorable imagery in the play centers on figures of speech involving light and darkness. Following are examples of such imagery. 
One fire burns out another’s burning, 
One pain is lessen’d by another’s anguish. (1.2.42-43)
Paradox and repetition make memorable these lines spoken by Benvolio. There are two paradoxes: fire acting as a fire extinguisher and pain acting
as a comforter. Likewise, there are two examples of repetition: One and another’s in the second line repeat one and another’s in the first.

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night 
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear; 
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (1.5.42-44)
In a simile, Romeo compares Juliet to the earring of an Ethiopian. In a metaphor, he compares the darkness of night to a cheek.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. 
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, 
Who is already sick and pale with grief, 
That thou her maid art far more fair than she. (2.2.4-8)
In a metaphor, Romeo compares Juliet to the light of the morning sun. An apostrophe addresses the sun (Arise, fair sun). These same words contain a metaphor and a personification comparing the sun to a person (Juliet). In another metaphor-personification, the moon also becomes a person.

The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,
And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels
From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels (2.3.3-6)
After rising in his cell at dawn, Friar Laurence observes a sunrise overtaking the darkness. He personifies morning and night, with the former chasing the latter away.

Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night,
Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back. (3.2.19-21)
In a metaphor, Juliet compares Romeo to “day in night.”

Imagery: Nature
The play also abounds in nature imagery, as in the following passages:

Many a morning hath he [Romeo] there been seen,  
With tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew, 
Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs: 
But all so soon as the all-cheering sun 
Should in the furthest east begin to draw 
The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed, 
Away from light steals home my heavy son. (1.1.116-122)
Romeo's father compares the signs of his son's melancholy to dew and clouds. When the sun
draws back curtains to reveal dawn, Romeo goes home.

This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. (2.2.129-130)
Juliet speaks metaphors comparing love to a budding flower and the growing season to the ripening breath of summer.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite. (2.2.141-143) 
Here, hyperbole and paradox help Juliet express the depth of her love.

The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave that is her womb, (2.3.11-12)
Using personification and paradox, Friar Laurence observes that the earth is the mother of nature and that her life-giving womb is also a tomb.

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. (2.2.47-48)
In a metaphor, Juliet compares hers and Romeo’s surnames to a flower. What she is saying is that what counts in life is what a person is, not who a person is. In modern terms, she is saying it does not matter whether a person is rich or poor, black or white, Catholic or Jew, American or Chinese. What matters is what he thinks and what he feels. A rose would still smell sweet if it were called a turnip or a dandelion. 

A plague o’ both your houses! 
They have made worms’ meat of me. (3.1.70-71)
Mortally wounded by Tybalt, Romeo’s friend Mercutio curses the Houses of Montague and Capulet. Worms' meat, a metaphor referring to his body, means that Mercutio knows he is about to die and that worms will feed on his flesh after he is buried.

Imagery: Oxymoron and Paradox

.......Paradoxes and oxymorons appear frequently in Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps the most famous oxymoron in the play is the one occurring in the last two words of this line: “Good-night, good-night! parting is such sweet sorrow (2. 2. 201). An oxymoron consists of two contradictory words occurring one after the other. A paradox consists of contradictory words separated by intervening words. In the second scene of Act III, when Juliet criticizes Romeo for killing Tybalt while praising him as her beloved, she manages to squeeze in six oxymorons and four paradoxes: 

Beautiful tyrant (oxymoron, line 80)
Fiend angelical (oxymoron, line 80)
Dove-feather'd raven (oxymoron, line 81)
Wolvish-ravening lamb (oxymoron, line 81)
Damned saint (oxymoron, line 84)
Honourable villain (oxymoron, line 84)
Despised substance of divinest show (paradox, line 83)
Spirit of a fiend in moral paradise of such sweet flesh (paradox, lines 87-88)
Book containing such vile matter so fairly bound (paradox, lines 88-89)
Deceit should dwell in such a gorgeous palace (paradox, lines 89-90)

Other Examples of Imagery (Figures of Speech)

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in addition to those listed under Language and Imagery. For definitions of figures of speech, see Literary Terms.


Bid a sick man in sadness make his will (1.1.194)

She will not stay the siege of loving terms, 
Nor bide the encounter of assailing eyes, 
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold. (1.1.204-206) 

Do thou but close our hands with holy words, 
Then love-devouring death do what he dare. (2.6.8-9) 

This day’s black fate on more days doth depend. (3.1.84) 

Unseemly woman in a seeming man; 
Or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both! (3.3.120-121) 

There’s no trust,           
No faith, no honesty in men; all naught,     
All perjur’d, all dissemblers, all forsworn.           
Ah! where’s my man? give me some aqua vitae:           
These griefs, these woes, these sorrows make me old. (3.2.91-95)
Anaphora and Simile
          Is love a tender thing? it is too rough, 
Too rude, too boisterous; and it pricks like thorn. (1.4.27-28) 
Anaphora: words boldfaced in red
Simile: Comparison of love to a thorn

Apostrophe and Personification

                              Come, civil night, 
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black. (3.2.12-13)
Apostrophe: Juliet addresses the night.
Personification: Juliet compares night to a person.
a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears (1.1.182)
Irony, Dramatic
In the fifth scene of Act III, lines 72-111, Juliet pretends to her mother that she hates Romeo for killing Tybalt and that she desires vengeance. The audience well knows, of course, what Lady Capulet does not: that Juliet desperately loves Romeo.
              What ho! you men, you beasts, 
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage 
With purple fountains issuing from your veins (1.1.69-71) 
Comparison of the intensity of rage to fire
Comparison of spurting blood to purple fountains

               An hour before the worshipp’d sun 
Peer’d forth the golden window of the east, 
A troubled mind drave me to walk abroad. (1,1,104-106) 
Comparison of the sun to a seeing creature
Comparison of the eastern horizon to a window

                              I have a soul of lead 
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move. (1.4.17-18)
Comparison of the soul to lead 

Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye, 
And where care lodges, sleep will never lie. (2.3.39-40) 
Comparison of care to an observer

When the sun sets, the air doth drizzle dew; 
But for the sunset of my brother’s son  136 
It rains downright. (3.5.135-137) 
Capulet compares Tybalt's death to a sunset.

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health! (1.1.168)
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms! (1.1.167)
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos 
Even now the frozen bosom of the north, 
And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence, 
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south. (1.4.109-112) 
Comparison of the wind to a person
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.......In the prologue to Act I, an actor playing the chorus recites a sonnet in which he describes the bitter hatred separating the Montagues and Capulets and identifies Romeo and Juliet as lovers who had the misfortune to be born into warring families: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes [the Montagues and the Capulets] / A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” (Lines 5-6). "Take their life" appears to have a double-meaning: first, that they come into existence; second, in a foreshadowing of events to come, that they go out of existence by taking their own lives. In another foreshadowing, Romeo recites the following lines in referring to Juliet as the sun at daybreak, envied by the moon:

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, 
Who is already sick and pale with grief, 
That thou her maid art far more fair than she. (2.2.6-8)
The foreshadowing occurs in Romeo’s suggestion that the sun “euthanize” the grief-stricken moon. At the end of the play, Romeo and Juliet both kill themselves to end their grief.

The Role of the Apothecary

.......Mantua law forbids the sale of lethal poison under penalty of death. Nevertheless, the apothecary agrees to sell Romeo a dram of it. The brief scene in which they conclude the transaction supports an important motif: Money can ruin lives. Lady Capulet introduces this theme when she pressures Juliet to marry Paris for his wealth, saying, “So shall you share all that he doth possess” (1.3.100). Romeo and the apothecary continue the motif when Romeo seeks to purchase the means to kill himself and the apothecary accepts the money to provide this means. Romeo, distraught and desperate, entices the poverty-stricken apothecary with an offer of forty ducats: 

    Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness,
    And fear'st to die? famine is in thy cheeks,
    Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,
    Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back;
    The world is not thy friend nor the world's law;
    The world affords no law to make thee rich;
    Then be not poor, but break it, and take this. (5.1.75-81)
.......The apothecary provides the poison, well knowing he is committing a heinous crime. He attempts to justify his decision, saying, “My poverty, but not my will, consents.” Romeo, well aware of the power of money to work evil, ends the scene, with these words:
    There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls,
    Doing more murders in this loathsome world,
    Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.
    I sell thee poison; thou hast sold me none. (5.1.87-90).

Famous Quotations From Romeo and Juliet

One fire burns out another's burning, 
One pain is lessen'd by another's anguish. (1.2.42-43) 
Speaker: Benvolio. Meaning: one person's suffering makes another's suffering more bearable.

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night 
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear; 
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (1.5.42-44)
Speaker: Romeo. Meaning: Juliet's beauty is like a bright star against a dark sky. Often in the play, Shakespeare uses figures of speech involving light and darkness. In the first line of this quotation is a metaphor and, in the second line, a simile. 

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? 
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. 
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, 
Who is already sick and pale with grief, 
That thou her maid art far more fair than she. (2.2.4-8) 
Speaker: Romeo. Meaning: Romeo compares Juliet with the dawning sun in a metaphor. So striking is her loveliness that the moon becomes sick with jealousy (another metaphor).

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo? 
Deny thy father and refuse thy name; 
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, 
And I'll no longer be a Capulet. (2.2.7-40)
Speaker: Juliet. Meaning: Juliet, unaware that Romeo is below (in the orchard), addresses him as if he were next to her. She wonders why (wherefore means why) he happens to be who he is—a young man with a name her family despises. She then muses that he should deny who he is. If he won't, she will then deny who she is—that is, she will "no longer be a Capulet." (See Quotation 5 for more about names.)

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. (2.2.47-48)
Speaker: Juliet. Meaning: What counts, Juliet observes, is what a person is, not who a person is. In modern terms, she is saying it does not matter whether a person is rich or poor, black or white, Catholic or Jew, American or Chinese. What matters is what he thinks and what he feels. A rose would still smell sweet if it were called a turnip or a dandelion.

Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, 
That I shall say good night till it be morrow. (2.2.201-202)
Speaker: Juliet. Meaning: Juliet says goodbye to Romeo using a figure of speech (sweet sorrow) called oxymoron. An oxymoron juxtaposes opposites. Wise fool, little giant, and painful pleasure are other examples of oxymorons.
A plague o' both your houses! 
They have made worms' meat of me. (3.1.70-71)
Speaker: Mercutio. Meaning: Mortally wounded by Tybalt, Romeo's friend Mercutio curses the Houses of Montague and Capulet. Worms' meat means that Mercutio knows he is about to die and that worms will feed on his flesh after he is buried.

Envy Triggers the Capulet-Montague Feud;
Only an Unspeakable Shock Can End It
By Michael J. Cummings... 2006
 ........Romeo and Juliet opens with a street brawl demonstrating the depth of hatred between the Capulet and Montague families—a hatred so profound that it inflames not only the families’ members and their Verona kinsmen but also the families’ servants and neighbors. The mle raises two important questions:
.......What started the Capulet-Montague feud? 
.......Is there a way to end it?
.......Before considering those questions, let us first review what happens when the play begins. 
.......In Scene 1, Sampson and Gregory—servants of Juliet’s parents, the Capulets—are walking on a Verona street when Sampson vows not to grovel before anyone associated with the Montagues. “We’ll not carry coals” (1.1.3), he says, an expression meaning that he will not defer or kowtow to Montague supporters as if he were a lowly coal carrier currying favor with a client. Instead, he says, he will draw his sword and use it. There is irony in his statement, for he is carrying hot coals of animosity for the Montagues. Sampson also says in a sexual innuendo that he will vent his wrath on Montague women, as well as Montague men:
    SAMPSON I will show myself a tyrant: when I
    have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the
    maids, and cut off their heads.
    GREGORY The heads of the maids?
    SAMPSON Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads;
    take it in what sense thou wilt. (1.1.15-17)
.......In a moment, Sampson and Gregory encounter two Montague servants, Abraham and Balthasar, and pick a fight. The four men draw swords and wield. When Benvolio, Montague’s nephew, comes by and attempts to break up the fight, Tybalt, Lady Capulet’s nephew, is attracted to the fray, believing Benvolio is involved. He draws against Benvolio, and they, too, fight. Citizens with clubs then rush to the scene and join the brawl. After them, the heads of the feuding families, old Montague and Capulet, join the fighting with their wives. Finally, the Prince of Verona intervenes, threatening the citizens with torture unless they disband and Montague and Capulet with death unless they do the same. The brawl ends. 
.......Now, then, what caused the Capulet-Montague feud, which the prologue says is of ancient origin? Although Shakespeare does not answer this question in his play, the source on which he based the play—The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562), by Arthur Brooke, does provide an answer: envy. According to Brooke, the ancestors of the Capulets and Montagues were esteemed, well-to-do aristocrats who wished to be the center of attention. Consequently, the Capulets were jealous of the Montagues, and vice versa. And so, Brooke says, a feud was born: "Of grudging envy's root, black hate and rancour grew / As, of a little spark, oft riseth mighty fire." 
.......In Shakespeare's play, the warring Montagues and Capulets do not mention the cause of the feud. It may well be that they are unaware of it—or forgot it—for it began so long before their time. One thing is certain, though: both families despise each other. Ancient grudges are like that—in politics and religion, in ethnic and national rivalries, in family relationships. It is all stupid, senseless. And that is a key point that Shakespeare is making in the play. 
.......Against this backdrop of chronic rancor and malice, a Capulet and a Montague fall deeply in love. The lovers, Romeo and Juliet, are young, inexperienced; they have not yet learned to hate like adults. The name Montague or Capulet is not in itself enough to provoke them to hatred. As Juliet says, "What's in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" (2.2.47-48). 
.......The love Romeo and Juliet share, along with matrimony uniting them, could bring the two families together. Unfortunately, the lovers know, their parents would never permit them to marry. Mr. and Mrs. Capulet and Mr. and Mrs. Montague are too steeped in hatred, and quite comfortable to continue hating, to allow so outrageous an event as the wedding of a Capulet and Montague. Moreover, in their game of one-upmanship with the Montagues—and their attempt to aggrandize their social standing—the Capulets plan to match Juliet with an esteemed young nobleman, Paris, a kinsman of the Prince of Verona himself. So Romeo and Juliet marry in secret. Of course, there is no chance for them in the long run; the prologue says so at the outset. All they have is a moment of happiness. 
.......Nevertheless, with his violent opening—and the questions it raises—Shakespeare skillfully draws us into the plot. In the end, it is not the cause of the feud that matters, but how it ends, tragically. The suicides of Romeo and Juliet, it seems, are the only events that can jolt the feuding families to their senses. The feud ends. So do the lives of the young lovers.

Parents Arrange Marriages For Wealth and Social Status
By Michael J. Cummings... 2006
.......Arranged marriages enabled families to elevate or maintain social status, acquire wealth and property, or gain a political advantage. Love was of little or no concern at the betrothal; there would be time for feelings to develop after the couple recited vows.
.......In Romeo and Juliet, Lady Capulet—excited that Paris, a young man of wealth and status, expresses an interest in Juliet—asks her daughter, “What say you? Can you love the gentleman?” (1.3.86). The use of can rather than do encapsulates the mother’s view that love is not an immediate concern. Then she tells Juliet that if she marries Paris, “So shall you share all that he doth possess" (100).
.......“All that he doth possess” is of course money and social standing, benefits that Lady Capulet would share in. But Juliet feels nothing for Paris. As the nurse points out to Romeo, “She, good soul, had as lief see a toad, a very toad, as see him” (2.4.104).
.......Nevertheless, the Capulets arrange for a marriage between Juliet and Paris after the latter visits their home on a Monday. Unaware that Juliet has married Romeo in secret, old Capulet tells his wife to inform Juliet that she must marry Paris three days hence. Such short notice may have been unusual, but early marriage was not. After all, well-to-do teenage girls would not be pursuing careers as lawyers, physicians, writers, painters, musicians, or bookkeepers. They had a common destiny, ordained by custom: to marry into rank, reputation, and riches. When they reached childbearing age, they became marketable commodities. Lady Capulet tells her daughter to
Think of marriage now; younger than you,
Here in Verona, ladies of esteem,
Are made already mothers. (1.3.76-78)
.......Juliet, of course, has not yet turned fourteen. Thus, when Lady Capulet says “younger than you” have become mothers, she is referring to pubescent girls. Lady Capulet herself, who is not yet thirty, was about Juliet’s age when she married. Her husband is older than she—many years older, according to the implication of words spoken by Lady Capulet. When he calls out for a sword in the Act I brawl scene, Lady Capulet sarcastically remarks that he should ask for a crutch, not a sword. Apparently, it was not for youthful good looks that she married Capulet but for social position and money. 


The Suicides: Were the Lovers Insane?

    In deep despair, Romeo and Juliet committed suicide. Had they lapsed into insanity?
    First, consider that they were Roman Catholics. This religion taught—and still teaches—that taking one's own life is a grave sin, punishable by eternal damnation. However, if a person lacks full control of his mental faculties—if a person's decision to kill himself lacks the full consent of his will— he would remain eligible for heaven. If Romeo and Juliet were in full control of their mental faculties, surely they would not have chosen to damn themselves to everlasting agony, an agony far greater than that which they were enduring on earth.
    Second, consider that suicide is a selfish act when a rational person commits it. The person thinks primarily of ending his own pain but willingly ignores the pain that he will cause his family and friends. But Romeo and Juliet seemed to be genuinely loving persons. Clearly, they were not fully aware of the impact their deaths would have on others; they were not thinking rationally. 
    Third, consider the pressure they were under. The Duke of Verona had banished Romeo after he killed Tybalt. Lady Capulet, meanwhile, announced that Juliet was to marry Paris. Immature as they were, Romeo and Juliet lacked the wisdom and experience to cope with their predicament. They responded only to the pressure of the moment. After their first night together, they could have decided to reveal their marriage to the public with Friar Lawrence standing by to confirm it and to testify to their love for each other. This action might have touched the hearts of the feuding families. But even if the Capulets or Montagues sought to annul the marriage, Paris might well have rejected Juliet as “damaged goods.” But Romeo and Juliet saw only their present quandary and failed to look beyond it. They believed they were doomed to live apart and could not bear the pain of separation. Under this pressure, they chose to end their lives.
    Were they insane? Probably not. But their control of their mental powers was clearly diminished.

Samuel Johnson's Appraisal of the Play

.......Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)—a poet, essayist, lexicographer, and one of England's greatest literary criticspresented the following commentary on Romeo and Juliet in his "Preface to Shakespeare" (1765):
.......This play is one of the most pleasing of our author's performances. The scenes are busy and various, the incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action carried on with such probability, at least with such congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires.
Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dryden mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that "he was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, lest he should have been killed by him." Yet he thinks him "no such formidable person, but that he might have lived through the play, and died in his bed," without danger to the poet. Dryden well knew, had he been in quest of truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is commonly had to the words than the thought, and that it is very seldom to be rigorously understood. Mercutio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always procure him friends that wish him a longer life; but his death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time allotted him in the construction of the play; nor do I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued his existence, though some of his sallies are, perhaps, out of the reach of Dryden; whose genius was not very fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but acute, argumentative, comprehensive and sublime.
.......The nurse is one of the characters in which the author delighted; he has, with great subtilty of distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest.
.......His comick [comic] scenes are happily wrought, but his pathetick [pathetic] strains are always polluted with some unexpected depravations. His persons, however distressed, have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable conceit.

Study Questions and Essay Topics

  • The Capulets have ordered Juliet to marry Paris, a young nobleman. In an expository (informative) essay, explain the marriage customs in Europe in the Sixteenth Century, paying particular attention to arranged marriages. Discuss the customs of the lower classes as well as the upper classes. Include a section on wedding ceremonies and the activities surrounding them.
  • Imagine that Romeo and Juliet had run off after their marriage—perhaps to France, Greece or Spain—and lived the life of an ordinary married couple. Write an essay that describes them in their late forties, when their hair grays, their waists expand, and their own children fall in love. 
  • Friar Laurence, who sympathizes with Romeo and Juliet and marries them, is a Franciscan priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Write an expository essay about the Franciscans, beginning with their founding by Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), who renounced his comfortable life to wear rags, beg for food, and help the poor.
  • Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight. Do you believe in love at first sight?
  • How would you react if your parents opposed your marriage to someone they did not like?
  • Why didn’t Romeo and Juliet simply run away?
  • What is the most important lesson you learned from Romeo and Juliet?
  • In Act I, Scene V, the partygoers at the Capulet residence engage in a dance called the measure. It is a slow dance with dignified movements. Is this dance in any way symbolic of what happens in the play? If you were presenting a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, what dance would you choose for the Capulet party? Why did Puritans so vigorously oppose dancing in Shakespeare’s time?


1....Ethiope: Black African in Ethiopia. 
2....Palmer: Pilgrim visiting the Holy Land.
3....Soft: Hush; stop what you are doing; pay attention.
4....Wherefore: Why; for what reason.
5....Ensign: Sign, symbol.
6....Numbers: Verses; lines of poetry.
7....Laura: Young woman to whom the Italian poet Petrarch (1304-1374) wrote love poems.
8....Marry: Archaic sentence introduction equivalent to well, as in “Well, he’s a fine fellow”; interjection expressing surprise, as in “No kidding!” or “Good grief!” 
9....Hildings: Low, base, contemptible persons.

Example of an MLA Citation for This Study Guide

Cummings, Michael J. “Romeo and Juliet: a Study Guide.” Shake Sphere: a Guide to the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. N.p., 2013. Web. 5 Feb. 2013.


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Example of an APA Citation for This Study Guide

Cummings, M. (2013). "Romeo and Juliet: a Study Guide." Retrieved from http://www.shakespearestudyguide.com/RomeoJul.html