Romeo and Juliet Book Summary - Romeo and Juliet Book explained in key points
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Romeo and Juliet summary

William Shakespeare

The Tragic Story of Two Star-Crossed Lovers From Feuding Families

4.9 (11 ratings)
23 mins
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    Romeo and Juliet
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    Act 1

    A flash of blades and bucklers opens the first act of the play. Two armed men, servants from the house of Capulet, stand on a city street. They voice their disgust toward the “dogs” of house Montague, their mortal enemies –⁠ who soon arrive on the scene themselves.

    Quickly, swords are drawn and a fight breaks out between both sides. As blows are traded, Benvolio, a kinsman of house Montague, tries to put a stop to the brawl –⁠ but fails.

    Tybalt of house Capulet then enters too. Unlike Benvolio, he joins the fray. He derides Benvolio’s requests for help –⁠ “What… talk of peace?” Tybalt asks. “I hate the word/As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.” 

    The frenzy continues to surge until finally, Escalus, the prince of Verona, enters with his train. He decries these “enemies of peace” and orders them to cease fighting. Anyone who disturbs Verona’s peace again will be put to death.

    With the fighting cut short, everyone exits, leaving only Benvolio behind. He is soon met by his Montague kinsman and friend, Romeo. Benvolio wonders what “sadness lengthens [Romeo’s] hours” –⁠ Romeo has recently been acting strangely, spending his nights weeping in the sycamore grove and his days shut up in his room.

    It’s love, Romeo replies –⁠ unrequited love. As they talk, Romeo notices the remnants of the recent fight, which, in his opinion, had “much to do with hate, but more with love.” Romeo attempts to describe love’s nature using a series of oxymorons: “heavy lightness,” “serious vanity,” “feather of lead,” “cold fire,” and so on. 

    Meanwhile, Lord Capulet –⁠ head of the opposing house –⁠ is speaking with Paris, a kinsman of Prince Escalus. Paris wonders what Capulet thinks of the prospect of him marrying Capulet’s daughter, Juliet. Capulet is hesitant, for Juliet is young –⁠ just thirteen. However, if Paris manages to win his daughter’s heart, he’ll consent to their marriage. 

    Capulet then begins sending out invites to a feast that evening –⁠ and Romeo is one of the recipients. Benvolio encourages him to go and compare the other girls there to his love, Rosaline. This will prove to him that she isn’t so special. Romeo feels that’s impossible, but he agrees to go anyway, accompanied by Benvolio and Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio.

    On the way to the party, Romeo admits that he thinks it’s unwise for them to attend –⁠ he had a bad dream about it the previous night. Mercutio challenges him and says that dreams “are the children of an idle brain/Begot of nothing but vain fantasy.” He is skeptical compared to the superstitious Romeo, who fears “some consequence hanging in the stars.” 

    As the party begins, Romeo is immediately struck by the sight of Juliet and asks a servant who she is. As the guests are masked, the servant doesn’t know. Romeo dramatically begins to sing her praises: “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” He wonders whether he had ever really loved until now.

    Romeo approaches Juliet and takes her hand. After a flirtatious exchange, he kisses her on the mouth. He then kisses her a second time, but here, Juliet’s nurse interrupts, telling her that her mother wants a word. Romeo realizes that Juliet is a Capulet – and now “[his] life is [his] foe’s debt.”

    The party waxes on. Finally, just before everyone has gone to bed, Juliet asks her nurse about the man who kissed her. The nurse tells Juliet his name is Romeo – the only son of Lord Montague, her family’s enemy. Juliet exclaims, “My only love sprung from my only hate!” She is horrified to find that she is in love with a “loathèd enemy.” 

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    What is Romeo and Juliet about?

    Romeo and Juliet (c. 1591-1597) is the iconic tragedy of two youths who fall in love amid the feud raging between their two families. The many themes it explores include love and hate, fate and free will, and dream and reality.

    Who should read Romeo and Juliet?

    • Romantic souls
    • Shakespeare fans who want a Romeo and Juliet refresher
    • Anyone trying to up their knowledge of classic literature

    About the Author

    William Shakespeare, often referred to as “the Bard,” is widely considered the greatest writer in English literature. He penned countless seminal plays, including Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest. 

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