Romeo and Juliet Written by William Shakespeare in 1594 or 1595
Who’s William Shakespeare?
William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and he was one of eight children, was the eldest son. He married when he was only 18 and his wife, Anne Hathaway, was eight years older than him. They had two girls and a boy (who died aged 11).
Nobody knows how Shakespeare began to write, or when he entered the theatre. But we know he became a leading member of the theatre troupe known as 'The Lord Chamberlain's Men'. The company proved very popular, and later, when King James I granted it the right to perform at his court, became known as 'The King's Men'.
Shakespeare wrote more than 30 plays for 'The King's Men', making it the most important theatre company in the country. He often wrote parts for particular actors, too.
He was very successful and wealthy in his time, and his work has remained very popular ever since.
Romeo and Juliet in Popular Culture
The basic story, of two young lovers from opposing families in Italy, the Montagues and the Capulets, had been popular for hundreds of years before Shakespeare wrote the play. However, there is no evidence Romeo or Juliet ever actually existed. We think Shakespeare based the play on a poem he had read.
What makes Romeo and Juliet special is how Shakespeare tells the story. It has become perhaps his best-known play. Romeo and Juliet has been filmed many times and adapted in all sorts of ways. For instance, there are cartoon versions for children, older versions with the rude jokes taken out, and others set with gang fights in the US.
The basic story
A boy, Romeo, and a girl, Juliet, fall in love. But they come from families which hate each other, and know they will not be allowed to marry. They are so much in love they marry in secret instead. However, before their wedding night Romeo kills Juliet's cousin in a duel, and in the morning he is forced to leave her. If he ever returns to the city, he will be put to death.
Juliet is then told she must marry Paris, who has been chosen by her parents, who do not know she is already married. She refuses - then agrees because she plans to fake her death and escape to be with Romeo.
She takes a sleeping potion and appears to be dead, so her parents lay her in a tomb. However, Romeo does not know about the plan, visits her grave, finds her 'dead', and kills himself. Juliet finally wakes up, finds Romeo dead, and then kills herself.
And now watch the video about the plot
There are five acts in the play
Act I - Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, they are instantly attracted to one another and fall in love
Act II - Romeo secretly visits Juliet, offering her a red rose as a declaration of his love for her. Friar Laurence conspires with Romeo to arrange a secret marriage.
By the end of Act II, Romeo and Juliet are married
Act III - Mercutio is fatally wounded by Tybalt, Romeo comforts his friend but knows there's nothing he can do to save him.
Act IV - Juliet threatens to commit suicide rather than marry Paris . Friar Laurence convinces her to fake her death in order to be with Romeo. Juliet follows the Friar’s plan, and her corpselike body is discovered by her nurse.
Act V - The plan fails and Romeo kills himself, believing Juliet is dead. When Juliet awakes, she too is overcome with grief, and so kills herself.
Who were the Montagues? Lord and Lady Montague – Romeo’s parents Romeo Montague Balthasar and Abram – servants to the Montagues Mercutio – Friend of Romeo and relative of the Prince
Who were the Capulets?
Lord and Lady Capulet – Juliets parents
Nurse – Juliets attendant
Tybalt – cousin to Juliet
Sampson and Gregory – servants to the Capulets
Watch the video about the characters
The main themes in Romeo and Juliet
Love at first sight. Common 16th century belief that if you didn’t fall in love at first sight then you were not really in love
Fate is another major topic of Romeo and Juliet: the belief that an individual's life has been decided for them and there is nothing they can do to change it. This is used right from the start. Shakespeare sets the two families against each other, and there is nothing Romeo and Juliet can do about this.
Death is also mentioned a lot, in lots of different ways, such as 'we were born to die' or 'cold death', and 'death-darting eye'. Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet all die during the play. In Shakespeare's time people generally died much younger than they do now.
Time is another major topic . It is also crucial to the plot: the plans for Juliet's marriage are brought forward, the sleeping potion only lasts a certain time, and Romeo kills himself just before Juliet wakes up. Even her death is related to time - she says she will 'be brief'.