The play opens with a public brawl. A simple hand-gesture from a Capulet servant to a group of Montague servants spirals into a full-out fight, but the Prince is so over it. From this point onwards, he announces, anyone who fights in public will be put to death. Obviously, this is setting up a big confrontation later in the play.
Meanwhile, we meet our two lovahs. On the Capulet side, thirteen-year-old Juliet has just gotten her first proposal from some way older dude she's never met. On the Montague side, Romeo is supposedly head over heels in love with a girl named Rosaline who won't give her the time of day. We're all set up for a rousing …
Romeo crashes a Capulet party in hopes of seeing Rosaline, but instead he sees Juliet. It's love at first sight. Literally: they talk for, like, five minutes before they're making out. (We know this is classic lit and all, but seriously? Have some self-respect, kids.) So, where's the conflict? Romeo finds out that Juliet is a Capulet. Then Juliet finds out that Romeo is a Montague. Dun dun dun.
Get Him to the Church on Time
When the two lovers finally get some alone time later that night, they decide that the family feud doesn't matter—they have to be together. So, they enlist the help of some adults who really should know better: Juliet's nurse and Romeo's confessor, a priest named Friar Laurence. Less than twenty-four hours after they've met, Romeo and Juliet are tying the knot in secret at Friar Laurence's church.
Okay, this is unexpected but still fairly straightforward: what's the complication? Tybalt is so furious that Romeo crashed the Capulet party that he's decided to challenge Romeo to a duel. Yep, this is going to be a problem.
Murder! Sex! Murder!
The big rumble goes down, and here's how it plays out: Tybalt kills Mercutio; Romeo kills Tybalt; and then Romeo flees the scene just before the Prince shows up to pronounce him banished. Oops. Sounds pretty climactic to us.
But then we have to have a literal climax (sorry—it's Romeo and Juliet. There's a lot of sex). Both Romeo and Juliet are hysterical about the whole banishment thing, so the Friar and the Nurse figure out a way for Romeo and Juliet to spend one night together before Romeo leaves for Mantua, a nearby city. We don't get to see it on stage, but trust us: it happens.
But Romeo has barely climbed out the window before Juliet is being forced into marriage with Paris. Everyone thinks this marriage is a good idea, so Juliet runs to the Friar and, um, threatens to commit suicide if he can't help her figure a way out of the mess that she's in. Solution? Juliet will drink a weird potion that will make her appear as if she's dead. But when she wakes up in her family tomb, he and Romeo will be there waiting for her. Great idea.
Can You Hear Me Now?
When Romeo arrives at the Capulet tomb, Paris is there, mourning over his dead almost-wife. Paris gets in the way, so Romeo kills him. Then he breaks into the tomb and embraces his dead wife. She still looks as if she's alive, Romeo says, which almost kills the audience. But he has no way of knowing the truth, so he kisses Juliet farewell and drinks the poison.
The Friar shows up about one minute too late, just in time to watch Juliet wake up from her drugged sleep. She immediately looks for Romeo—and finds him lying dead next to her. The Friar hears noise from outside, and tries to convince Juliet to run away. But Juliet refuses to leave Romeo's side. The Friar exits, and Juliet takes Romeo's dagger and stabs herself.
When the citizens of Verona—including Romeo and Juliet's parents—come in, the two lovers are lying side by side, both dead. The families decide that maybe this whole thing has gone on long enough and decide to be friends. Happy ending?
One of the most important issues in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that of choice. Do the characters have the ability to choose what they want to do, or are they simply destined to participate in death and destruction? There is ample evidence of both fate and free will in the play, and the presence of both greatly affects the interpretation of the plot and the characters.
Fate as a dominating force is evident from the very beginning of the play. The Chorus introduces the power of fortune in the opening prologue when we are told that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed” (destined for bad luck) and “death-marked,” and that their death will end their parents’ feud. Fate and fortune are closely related in the play, as they both concern events that are out of human control. By telling us that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die because of their bad luck, Shakespeare gives us the climax of the play before it even begins. This strategy, which seems odd considering the end has been spoiled for the audience, serves two purposes: it allows the introduction of the power of fate and fortune over people’s lives by declaring the fate of Romeo and Juliet at the very beginning, and it also creates tension throughout the play because they very nearly succeed despite this terrible declaration. Thus the opening prologue sets up the fate/free will problem.
The characters themselves all believe that their lives are controlled by destiny and luck, and Romeo is a prime example of this. When Romeo and his friends journey to the Capulet’s ball in Act I, scene iv, Romeo hesitates to go because he has had a bad dream:
...[M]y mind misgivesSome consequence, yet hanging in the stars,Shall bitterly begin his fearful dateWith this night’s revels and expire the termOf a despised life, closed in my breast,By some vile forfeit of untimely death (I, iv. 106-111).
Romeo not only acknowledges the power of the stars, which tell what fate has in store through astrology, but he also believes that his destiny is to die. Romeo’s belief in fate also affects his interpretation of events. When Romeo kills Tybalt in Act III, scene i, he claims that he is “fortune’s fool” by having contributed to his own downfall. In Act V, scene i, Romeo demonstrates his belief in the power of dreams to foretell the future once again when he believes that he will be reunited with Juliet on the basis of another dream. However, when Balthasar informs him that Juliet is dead, Romeo once again rails against the power of fate: “Is it e’en so? Then I defy you, stars! / Thou knowest my lodging” (V, i. 24). Romeo finally tries to escape from his destiny at the end of the play by committing suicide to “shake the yoke of inauspicious stars,” ironically fulfilling the destiny declared by the Chorus in the opening prologue.
Other characters in the play believe in the power of fate as well. Juliet appeals to fortune when Romeo escapes to Mantua in Act III, scene v:
“O Fortune, Fortune! All men call thee fickle. If thou art fickle, what dost thou with himThat is renowned for faith? Be fickle, Fortune,For then I hope thou wilt not keep him longBut send him back” (III, v. 60-64).
Juliet demonstrates here that she not only believes in the power of luck and fate over her own situation, but that Romeo himself has faith in those concepts. Friar Laurence also shows his belief in the power of destiny over people. When Romeo runs to his cell after killing Tybalt, Friar Laurence acknowledges that Romeo does indeed have bad luck: “Affliction is enamored of thy parts, / And thou art wedded to calamity” (III, iii. ll.2-3). As a priest, Friar Laurence naturally believes that destiny exists, as God has planned out all events. However, the friar will also become a victim of fate by the end of the play. His letter to Romeo, which details Friar Laurence’s plan for Romeo to pick up Juliet at the Capulet tomb after she has awakened from the effects of the potion, could not be delivered because of the “unfortunate” quarantine of Friar John. Friar Laurence then has the misfortune of accidentally tripping over gravestones while running to meet Juliet, which delays his arrival until after Romeo has committed suicide. Friar Laurence recognizes the power of fate to overrule his good intentions when Juliet awakens: “A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents” (V, iii. ll.153-154). The fact that Friar Laurence, Juliet, Romeo, and the other characters in the play believe so strongly in fate and fortune is not surprising, given...
(The entire section is 1902 words.)