"What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet..."
— Juliet Capulet
It's impossible to imagine there are many who don't know the plot, but here's a quick outline:
Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
What, can't read Shakespeare? Fine. In troper's terms:Boy Meets Girl. It's Love at First Sight. But Boy and Girl are members of Feuding Families. Boy secretly marries Girl. Boy's friend is murdered by Girl's cousin, so Boy kills Girl's cousin, then skips town. Girl engages in dangerous plot to avoid an Arranged Marriage set up by her parents. Plot goes horribly right. Boy, hearing of Girl's "death," goes back to town and kills self at her grave. Girl, awaking and discovering this, kills self in turn. Families reconcile. The End!And yes, it all happens about that fast — one of the major themes is that rushing into things is never a good idea, particularly when love and/or family are involved.Your opinion of the play is also likely to be shaped by the quality of the actors you saw performing it. While that's true of most plays, it's especially true of this one. When done poorly, it's hours of Wangst. When done well, there's a verve and passion to the play that can be lacking in Shakespeare's more critically beloved works. When done with middle-aged or older actors in the title roles, it just doesn't make sense.The play is a simple one and doesn't feature any of Shakespeare's famous side plots or other distractions. It's titled Romeo and Juliet, and dammit, that's who we're going to be watching.Despite the heavy subject matter, there are many lighter moments (as in most of Shakespeare's works). This, combined with the impression that some have of the title characters as immature and selfish, has led to productions of different moods. Quite a few directors have made comedic productions which can, in the right hands, become Black Comedy at its finest.Has been adapted for silver screen numerous times, most famously by the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli in 1968. That production is widely regarded as an exceptional movie, though it gained a measure of infamy for featuring teenagers Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting partially naked. Perhaps more well known today is Baz Luhrmann's zany 1996 adaptation which moved the story to a modern setting, and starred Leonardo DiCaprio at the height of his teenage heartthrob-dom.One of the most notable meta-textual features of the play is the way most of it fits comfortably in an author's arsenal of Small Reference Pools. That is, the vast majority of the English-speaking world knows that Romeo and Juliet are icons of passionate, youthful love... but not everyone is aware that their story ends tragically, nor that their much-celebrated love was actually their downfall.Note: The play's full title is The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. No one uses it, though.Note: Due to the time since the play was written and now, It's best to assume that the original meanings of happenings in the play were lost.
Works based on Romeo and Juliet include:
Romeo and Juliet, a 1936 film directed by George Cukor that received four Academy Award nominations. Featured 34-year-old Norma Shearer playing a teenaged Juliet.
Romeo and Juliet, a 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film starring Olivia Hussey as Juliet and Leonard Whiting as Romeo.
William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet, a somewhat polarizing update directed by Baz Luhrmann starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio. It keeps Shakespeare's text but dramatically reframes it in a late-1990s setting in Mexican-influenced Southern California ("Verona Beach"). The duels and dialogue about them are retained by naming the characters' gun models after various types of bladed weapons instead (e.g. "Sword 9mm class").
Romeo and Juliet, a 2013 film by Carlo Carlei, and the first traditional retelling to hit screens in quite a while, starring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth in the lead roles. The dialogue was heavily rewritten, although the new dialogue still sounded Shakespearean (the rewrites were...not well received).
Private Romeo, a film which uses an all male cast and the original dialogue of the play. It was released before the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and features Romeo as a cadet desperate to get into West Point and Juliet as the new boy to the military academy they all attend.
Reefer Madness isn't actually based on this play, but it deserves honorable mention for how often (in The Musical, anyway) the young lovers Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane compare themselves to Romeo and Juliet. Despite their lack of understanding what this actually means, it turns out to be a tragically apt comparison.
Romeo & Harriet, a musical parody of Romeo and Juliet.
Romiette and Julio, a 2001 novel by Sharon Draper about two teenage lovers dealing with the taboos of interracial dating.
Diana Wynne Jones used the story as a subplot in The Magicians of Caprona in which the feuding families of Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi eventually learn that two of their younger members have fallen in love with each other.
This play contains examples of:
Adult Fear: The two main characters, who are just kids (Juliet is thirteen in the play - Romeo's age isn't given, but he's most likely in his late teens), take their own short lives for each other. While many people may have thought it romantic or stupid when they were teenagers, it's pretty unsettling to any parent (particularly since teen suicide is a far more publicized issue today that it ever was in previous decades).
Note: In the original poem, Juliet and Romeo were both about sixteen, while in the Bandello novel, she was 18 and he was 20.
There's also "love in moderation" and "do not jump into things you're not ready for."
Lost Aesop: If Romeo And Juliet was intended as condemnation of hormonal teenagers who think their first relationship is true love and go to melodramatic extremes to prove that it is love rather than simply lust, it failed horribly.
Extremes in anything, love or hate, can lead to tragedy.
All Part of the Show: Variant in the Zeffirelli movie. Everyone thinks Mercutio, the local Sad Clown, is joking around after being injured by Tybalt; it is only when they check on him they realize his injuries are fatal.
Amazingly Embarrasing Parental Figure: The Nurse to Juliet. In particular, the whole story of Juliet's weaning. Juliet's comment, "Stint thou too, I pray thee, Nurse," should be translated as, "Dang it, will you please stop telling stories about the embarrassing things I did when I was three?"
Ambiguously Gay: Mercutio, in some modern productions, notably the 1996 film version, in which he's a drag queen.
Anti-Villain: Depending on your view Paris could count as a Type IV. He's Romeo's rival for Juliet's hand but is a good man who would have made a good husband for Juliet.
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung, An alligator stuff'd, and other skins Of ill-shaped fishesnote The French for fish is 'poisson'; 'ill-shape' it and it becomes Poison.
Betty and Veronica: Juliet's decision between her two suitors. Paris courts her in the 'proper' way, by asking her father's permission. Romeo falls in love with her, marries her in secret and kills her cousin.
Black Comedy: Sometimes performed this way, as noted above. Mercutio provides black comedy in-story as he dies.
See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand! O, that I were a glove upon that hand, That I might touch that cheek!
Cannot Spit It Out/Poor Communication Kills: Tybalt might not have killed Mercutio and subsequently gotten himself killed by Romeo if he'd kept calm long enough for Romeo to explain that the reason Romeo didn't want to fight him is that Romeo and Juliet had recently gotten married.
Chekhov's Gunman: Balthasar, a servant who has a small appearance in the first scene of act 1, ends up indirectly causing Romeo's suicide in act 5.
The Chessmaster: Friar Lawrence only agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet in order to stop the feud, and puts their lives at risk in the process. Tragedy ensues.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Benvolio, one of the main characters in the first three acts, does not appear in the fourth or fifth. Nobody seems to notice this, which is weird since he's just about the only young person left alive at the end.
Many adaptations correct this by having him take the roles that random Montagues take in the final acts, and at the very least he's generally included in the final scene when the Montagues and Capulets come together.
Child Marriage Veto: Juliet refuses to marry Paris. She's already married to Romeo, but her parents don't know that...
Demoted to Extra: Most adaptations seem to forget Paris. His death is one of the most frequently omitted sequences, even though it makes a nonsense of the Prince's "I have lost a brace of kinsmen" lines. (This may be because of the way Paris dies; as noted in Moral Dissonance below, Romeo murders him, which is odd coming from the hero.)
Diabolus ex Machina: Repeatedly. The line about "star-crossed lovers" in the opening narration is a Lampshade Hanging; the stars - meaning Fate - are going to make sure everyone ends up miserable.
Disproportionate Retribution: Tybalt's initial response to Romeo's showing up at the party, at least in some versions, involves killing him. Lord Capulet thinks it's a bit much.
There's even more symbolism in that scene than is apparent to modern audiences. The cup that Romeo drinks his poison from is supposed to be a symbol of femininity, and furthermore, Shakespeare often used "die" as a euphemism for "orgasm".
Made even clearer in the 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio — Romeo and Juliet's lying position (in Juliet's coffin) after their double suicide was exactly the same as the morning after their wedding night (on Juliet's bed). This is implying sex = death.
Due to the Dead: Romeo honors Paris' request to lay him beside Juliet, after having killed him because Paris thought that Romeo was coming to do the evil version of this trope.
Dramedy: While best known as a tragedy, it incorporates many comedic elements such as the opening scene and everything Mercutio says.
Dying Curse: Uttered by Mercutio when he was dying from a wound delivered from Tybalt.
Elopement: Romeo and Juliet run away to Friar Lawrence to get married, and apparently plan to run further away to get away from their families.
Emo Teen: Romeo is this at first, moping around and reading emo poetry because of his one-sided love on Rosaline. And when he has to be separated from Juliet, he gets even worse than he was at the beginning.
It is also worth noting that Romeo's lines regarding his romance of Rosaline are very over-used cliches at Shakespeare's time, but as soon as Romeo starts describing Juliet, his lines become very creative and much more poetic.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Prince and the Nurse. (Although on the character list the Prince's name is given as "Escalus" and Capulet calls the Nurse "Angelica" at one point.)
Exact Time to Failure: Juliet wakes up from her potion right on schedule. If she'd woken up five minutes later, then the Capulets and Montagues would have discovered her alive. If she'd woken up five minutes earlier, Romeo would have met her.
The Fighting Narcissist: Mercutio's description of Tybalt's ornate fighting style implies that Tybalt may fit this trope.
Foregone Conclusion: Even if, by some strange power, you've never heard of the plot of this thing, it's stated in the very beginning that the title characters die... on line six of the Prologue, to be precise. Supposedly, there was a happy alternate ending that contemporary audiences could vote for in lieu of the tragic ending. No one has ever discovered it, though.
Forgotten Fallen Friend: Romeo is heartbroken about Mercutio's death...at least during the scene where Mercutio actually died. After Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge him, Mercutio is forgotten. Romeo expresses far more grief over Tybalt's death than Mercutio's.
Fourth Date Marriage: The titular characters get married less than 24 hours after meeting, and plan their marriage the night they meet. The entire plot unfolds over all of four days.
Gallows Humor: "Ask for me in the morning, and you will find me a grave man."
Genre Shift: It looks exactly like your typical Shakespearian comedy (two teenagers are in love, but they're kept apart by the stubbornness of unhappy old men; servants and outsiders conspire to help them; their fathers are convinced to let go of their silly feud, and everyone lives happily ever after) until Mercutio kicks it in Act III, at which point a Cycle of Revengescrews everything up. The only other comedic character was the Nurse, and then, after Mercutio dies, she and Juliet have a falling out. This is given a subtle nod in Shakespeare in Love, in which the story is a hastily re-written script of a romcom called Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter.
The Ghost: Rosaline. Though she's not even that important anyway.
Hanlon's Razor: Two teens in "love" die because of a problem with the post. Not much malice against them from anybody except Tybalt, who proves pretty pathetic.
Have a Gay Old Time: Some of the archaic uses of the word "ho" become a tad awkward in this day and age. Such as "Fetch me my long sword, ho!" Even funnier because, as mentioned previously, at this point in the play, his wife is trying to stop him from jumping into the fight.
"Aqua Vitae, ho!" Note that Aqua Vitae is archaic for Whiskey. What's worse, the Nurse says it, and Lady Capulet was the next to speak.
Also Romeo talking about his "Well-flowered pump." "Pumps" were shoes, which would be adorned with flowers at dances and other gatherings.
There are several with Capulet as well, such as "You are a saucy boy" and "You are too hot," the latter being said to him by his wife.
Hypocrite: Mercutio really has no right to be angry about the feuding of the Capulet and Montague families leading to his death, seeing as he threw himself into their feud quite willingly and displays many signs of being a Blood Knight.
Hufflepuff House: There's actually a third clan- the Prince's family (historically, the Scaligers or Della Scala- the Prince's name, Escalus, is a Latin version of this), consisting of the Prince himself, Mercutio, and Paris. This being Shakespeare, the Prince loses his two kinsmen over the course of the play too, leading him to say in the final scene that he has also been punished for the violence in Verona alongside the Capulets and Montagues.
Hurricane of Puns: The beginning of the first scene, or act 2, scene 4. Despite it's hidden in Shakespeare's archaic English, they're in there.
Romeo. If he had turned in Tybalt for killing Mercutio instead of going after him himself, the entire rest of the play would not have happened.
Friar Lawrence for coming up with faking Juliet's death.
Juliet for thinking it would work. To be fair to her and Lawrence, it is amazing how close the plan was to working out perfectly.
Impeded Messenger: Due to the black plague sweeping through Europe, a priest carrying a vital message to Romeo never reaches him. Many places would close their doors to priests, who were believed to carry the plague as they visited those with it for religious ceremonies.
Informed Friendship: Juliet reacts to the news of Tybalt's death with heartbreak and tears, her beloved cousin. The Nurse exclaims that Tybalt was her best friend. Tybalt never spent time on-stage with any of these women. All of his stage time was consumed in proving himself a Hot-Blooded and pitiless fighter.
Lost in Imitation: The two are a pair of shallow barely teens who want to have sex. Good luck finding anyone who realizes this today.
Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: By their times's standards. Compare their behaviors: Romeo is the one with emotional reactions for better or worse, whereas Juliet is more practical and stages their doomed escape.
Meaningful Name: Tybalt/Tybert/Tibert is the name of the hot-blooded prince of cats from the folk tales of Reynard the Fox. Tybalt is frequently made fun of for this, and is indeed hot-blooded.
Moral Dissonance: Romeo's murder of Paris, who commits the terrible crime of putting flowers on his fiancée's tomb. Although considering Romeo's mental conditions at the time, it doesn't come off as much of a surprise.
Romeo actually kills Paris because he tries to arrest him for breaking his exile (and breaking into the Capulet tomb). Although Paris is doing the right thing.
Mortal Wound Reveal: Mercutio's death is often played as this in modern versions - crops up in both Baz Luhrmann's and Franco Zeffirelli's screen adaptations.
No Antagonist: Tybalt is the closest thing the play has to an antagonist, and he dies in Act 3 of a five-act work.
Nice Guy: Paris, although how nice he is depends on the staging.
Romeo is also implied to be this, considering the fact that Lord Capulet doesn't actually care when he's told that Romeo is at his party and says he's heard nice things about the boy. Keep in mind, this is the guy that was trying to kill said boys father less then 24 hours earlier for no other reason than some old rivalry that no one remembers the cause of.
Plucky Girl: Juliet, especially considering the time period it's set in. She disobeys her parents, follows her heart and braves disownment and being trapped in a tomb to stay true to the man she loves.
Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Probably the main reason people think Romeo and Juliet are the model for a good relationship, and probably the reason a surprising number of people forget the ending in the prologue.
Ironically, the title has become a kind of shorthand for idolizing the very behaviors it exists to make fun of.
Another way to look at is in their reactions to the Tybalt situation: Mercutio's quick to fight (Id), Romeo resists until he can't any longer (Ego), Benvolio tries to keep the peace and stay out of it (Superego)
Also, the women of the Capulet family fit into this:
Lady Capulet, trying to get her daughter married to someone rich and suitable (Superego)
Juliet, especially at the beginning when she tries to please others rather than herself (Ego)
The Nurse, trying to get Juliet laid (Id)
Pun: A good handful of the characters, though Mercutio seems to live off of them. He even belts them out as he lay dying...
Reasonable Authority Figure: Yes, really. The Prince wants to stop the two families from fighting in the streets of his city, and it's explicitly stated he's showing Romeo mercy by banishing him instead of having him executed for Tybalt's death.
Downplayed with Lord Capulet. On his own turf, he's a gracious and generous host, and when Tybalt informs him that Romeo has snuck into their ball, his response is to shrug and say that he's heard the boy has a good reputation, and tells Tybalt to leave Romeo alone and not do anything since, after all, Romeo hadn't done anything wrong to him.
Red Herring: After Romeo kills Tybalt, Lady Capulet tells Juliet that she plans to send someone to Mantua to give Romeo "an unaccustomed dram" (or in other words, an assassin will poison him). Because the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet are going to die, but not exactly how, this line suggests that Romeo may be murdered at the end (which, of course, is not the case).
Replacement Goldfish: Juliet for the nurse's deceased daughter. Also probably Tybalt for Capulet's deceased children, and/or the Capulets for Tybalt's dead parents. While never explicitly stated to be dead, his parents never show up, and when he dies himself, Lord and Lady Capulet do all the mourning for them.
Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: One could say that this is Friar Lawrence's intention (although it's more like "screw societal tradition" than "screw rules"), although he ends up failing miserably.
Serial Romeo: Romeo, naturally. His object of hopeless affection changes on a dime in the play, and it's implied he's done this sort of thing before. He knew Juliet for about a minute, and was already making out with her.
Do thou but close our hands with holy words, Then love-devouring death do what he dare It is enough I may but call her mine. In modern English that can be summed up as "I'm so happy right now, after I'm married to Juliet death can do whatever he wants. I'll die happy." Death must have taken that as a challenge.
Trope Breaker: Any and all of the many attempts to update it have to work their way around the fact that the story hinges around two teenagers from well-off families being unable to communicate in time. Even just setting it post-plague raises issues; accept that the main characters would have the latest smartphones, Twitter and Facebook accounts and you have some serious plot-preservation problems.
Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Romeo's servant Balthazar tells Romeo that Juliet is dead, oblivious to the fact that the death has been faked. Romeo takes this badly.
Friar John is another Unwitting Instigator of Doom, although, ironically, this stems from his failure to deliver a letter. He doesn't know what it contains.
Villain with Good Publicity: Tybalt sees Romeo as this; when Tybalt tells Lord Capulet that Romeo has come uninvited to the Capulet masquerade ball, Lord Capulet lets it slide because Romeo has a decent reputation (not to mention Lord Capulet didn't want any trouble).
What the Hell, Hero?: Friar Lawrence's speech to Romeo in Act III is him calling Romeo out for crying like a baby, not realizing how lucky he is that he's not dead as a result of his idiocy, and for generally not manning up.
Women Are Wiser: Juliet is far and away the more sensible and level-headed one of the title duo. Also, when a street brawl breaks out, Lords Montague and Capulet try to fight, and their wives have to hold them back.
Even between the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, this trope is applicable - although in a darker way. Friar Lawrence sets about making tons of risky plans that, although well-intentioned, have a thousand ways to go wrong. The Nurse tells Juliet to be sensible and marry Paris, and give up Romeo for dead, because it involves less risk and heartache.
Young Love Versus Old Hate: The young lovers come from families that have been at war with each other for generations. The hatefulness of the older generation eventually led to the death of both characters.