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Theatre / Romeo and Juliet

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As the play is Older Than Steam and most twists in Shakespeare's plots are now widely known, all spoilers on this page are unmarked.
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet..."
Juliet Capulet

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous works of William Shakespeare and by extension one of the most famous pieces of fiction in the English language. The outline is thus:

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.

In other words: 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 in a fit of rage, then skips town. Girl agrees to dangerous plot to avoid an Arranged Marriage set up by her parents. Plot goes horribly right. Boy, hearing of Girl's "death," returns to town and kills himself for real at her grave. Girl, waking and discovering this, kills herself in turn. Grief-stricken families reconcile. The End!

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 the silver screen numerous times, perhaps most famously by the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli in 1968 and Baz Luhrmann's zany 1996 adaptation which moved the story to a modern setting. For more works based on the play, see the Derivative Works page.

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 might be 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.

A Trope, by Any Other Word . . .

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Juliet is two weeks away from her 14th birthday and does not live to see it.
  • Age Lift: In the original poem, Juliet and Romeo were both about 16, while in the Bandello novel, she was 18 and he was 20. The play knocks Juliet's age down to 13, but most adaptations bring her back up to 16.
  • An Aesop: Don't hold a grudge. The Montagues and the Capulets end up getting multiple members of their own families killed for this. Related to this is the message that "parents will pass on their mistakes to their children." The prince points out how it was ultimately the feud that drove Romeo and Juliet to the grave.
    See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
    That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love;
    And I, for winking at your discords too,
    Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish’d.
  • Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: The Nurse (who is more of a mother figure to Juliet than Juliet's own mother). In particular, her 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?"
  • And Call Him "George": Romeo and Juliet muse on wishing that he were a dove belonging to her until she predicts that this would happen.
  • Anti-Villain: Paris is Romeo's rival for Juliet's hand, and he does express eagerness to not only marry but sleep with the thirteen-year-old Juliet during a time period when that was considered ill-advised at best. That being said, he can certainly be played as a decent man, and even at worst, he's no worse than many other characters.
  • Anyone Can Die: Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Lady Montague, Romeo, and Juliet all kick the bucket. Of the younger generation of characters, only Benvolio survives.
  • Apothecary Alligator: Mentioned in the description of the apothecary's shop in Act V Scene I.
    Romeo: And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
    An alligator stuff'd, and other skins
    Of ill-shaped fishes
  • Artistic Licence Medicine: Juliet usually stabs herself in the heart holding the blade vertically, instead of between her ribs. In a real person, getting it through the ribcage like that would require a lot more physical strength than she seems to exert.
  • Attack! Attack... Retreat! Retreat!: Act III, Scene 5 opens with Juliet (presumably still sleepy) begging the now-banished Romeo to stay awhile since it can't be morning already. Romeo acquiesces and stays, but then Juliet realizes that it really is morning, and that Romeo needs to get the heck out of Dodge, at which point she switches to shooing him out of her room.
  • Badass Boast: Tybalt before dueling with Benvolio.
    Tybalt: Turn thee, Benvolio. Look upon thy death.
  • Balcony Wooing Scene: The Trope Codifier. The Balcony Scene, in which Romeo woos Juliet from the ground while she is at her window, has heavily influenced other versions to the point that other iterations may steal dialogue from this play. The name itself is a case of Beam Me Up, Scotty!, as the word "balcony" does not appear in the text and did not exist in the English Language at the time. This was instead popularized by later adaptations.
  • Barefoot Sage: Friar Lawrence is often portrayed as this (justified, since Franciscan friars often went barefoot). However, as "sagacious" as he is, he still makes a fatal mistake.
  • 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.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Romeo is known as a "noble and well-governed youth," according to Lord Capulet. But kill someone close to him (Mercutio, then Juliet), and he will snap.
  • Big "NO!": Some productions have Juliet utter a brief one when the watch arrives at the Capulet tomb following a failed attempt to follow Romeo by poisoning herself before she spies Romeo's dagger on his person.
    Juliet: Yea, noise? No! [looks around frantically and finds Romeo's dagger] Then I'll be brief.
  • Bilingual Bonus: "ill-shaped fishes" feature in Romeo's description of the apothecary's shop where he buys the poison. The French for fish is 'poisson'; 'ill-shape' it and it becomes 'poison'.
  • Black Comedy: Sometimes performed this way.
    • Mercutio provides some as he dies.
    Mercutio: Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
  • Black Comedy Rape: Act I Scene 1 is filled with rape jokes.
  • Blasphemous Praise:
    • Romeo begins his famous "But soft ... " speech comparing Juliet to the sun and moon and ends by straight up calling her an angel.
      "O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
      As glorious to this night, being o'er my head,
      As is a winged messenger of heaven
      Unto the white-upturned wond'ring eyes
      Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him."
    • Later, when he has been exiled, Romeo laments that "Heaven is here, where Juliet lives!"
  • Blood Knight: Tybalt lives for fighting.
  • Break the Cutie: Both of the lovers, but especially Juliet.
    Juliet: Alack, that Heaven should practice stratagems
    Upon so soft a subject as myself!
  • Bromantic Foil: Mercutio to Romeo.
  • Bus Crash: Lady Montague, who has an important role in the first scene, then disappears almost entirely until the last scene where Montague mentions she died offstage. Her death serves to even the death toll to two from every house — Romeo and Lady Montague, Juliet and Tybalt, and Mercutio and Paris, who belong to the prince's family.
  • Cargo Envy: From Romeo:
    Romeo: See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
    O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
    That I might touch that cheek!
  • The Cassandra: No one ever listens to pragmatic pacifist Benvolio.
    Benvolio: I pray thee, good Mercutio, let's retire:
    The day is hot, the Capulets abroad,
    And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl;
    For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.note 
  • Character Filibuster: Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech.
    Romeo: Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Thou talk'st of nothing.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Balthasar, a servant who has a small appearance in the first scene, ends up indirectly causing Romeo's suicide in Act V.
  • The Chessmaster: Deconstructed. 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.
  • Child Marriage Veto: Juliet refuses to marry Paris. She's already married to Romeo, but her parents don't know that...
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: As in the prologue, the internal revelation that strife was reconcilable comes too late. The entire back half of the plot is also avoidable if Romeo and/or Juliet disclose their marriage. Their families may not like this, but this is Italy and marriage is a Catholic sacrament, which is irrevocable. Shakespeare's audience likely found this to be character blindness as well. The Church of England existed with Catholicism banned as a consequence of the latter's doctrine of marriage.
  • 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, even though he's the only significant member of the younger generation left alive at the end.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Most modern adaptations have the various houses wear outfits of the same color to help the audience keep track of who they belong to. For instance, the Capulets wear red, the Montagues wear blue, and the prince’s house wears either earthen colors, yellow, or purple.
  • Conflicting Loyalty
    • Once Romeo marries Juliet, he is tied to both houses. This makes for an awkward decision when Juliet's cousin Tybalt challenges him to a duel.
    • The Nurse fails Juliet in the end because of her conflicting loyalties to Juliet and to Juliet's parents.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Romeo laments being one after he kills Tybalt.
    Romeo: O, I am Fortune's fool!
  • Courtly Love: Subverted. Romeo abandons his courtly love for Rosaline as soon as he meets the much more open Juliet.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Faking Juliet's death wasn't quite crazy enough.
  • Cycle of Revenge: What is perpetuating the feud.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Mercutio's bawdy misogyny and bitterness toward love imply a past relationship that did not end well.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: A lot of scholarly ink has been spilled on the question of, how much of Romeo and Juliet's love is real love, and how much of it is the lure of the forbidden? This trope is downplayed in the ball scene, because Lord Capulet acknowledges that Romeo has a good reputation.
  • Death by Despair: Lady Montague, who died after learning of Romeo's exile. Also, the presumed cause of Juliet's first "death" by those who don't know about the friar's potion.
  • Death Is Dramatic:
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The discussions around Juliet's young marriage are meant to show how far the Veronans had fallen:
    • While it's true that wealthy girls were generally married off young, the marriages were largely not consummated until they were older. "Younger than she are happy mothers made" is the way the play puts it. Having children that young was widely seen as detrimental to the girl's health and that it could render her infertile, especially since girls started menstruating a lot later than they do (at least in the developed world) today. The most famous aversion of this was Queen Elizabeth's great-grandmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was still fresh in the populace's memory. She gave birth four months shy of her fourteenth birthday and was never able to have another child. Even at the time, this caused a huge outrage and was generally avoided from there on out.
    • Additionally, marriage of teenagers was not the norm in Elizabethan England; popular health manuals and observations of family life (Elizabethan English folk generally lived in nuclear family homes rather than in multigenerational homes) led to the common belief that motherhood before age 16 was dangerous and that early marriage and its consummation permanently damaged a young woman's health, stunted a young man's mental and physical development, and thus created stunted children. Few Elizabethan noblewomen were married younger than 16. The common English people were usually at least 20 when they first married, with 25-26 as the most common age of for grooms (around the time that apprenticeships ended) and about 23 as the most common age for brides, almost a decade older than Romeo and Juliet. A couple could only marry without parental consent if both the bride and groom were aged 21 and older. The idea of an underage female secretly marrying without her family's consent was scandalous to Elizabethans, who pressed for very public engagements and weddings because of fear of clandestine weddings. Apprenticeships and service jobs were a way to keep young people from marrying and setting up house before they could properly support themselves.
    • Shakespeare might have lowered Juliet's age to just short of 14 as a kind of joke to emphasize the ridiculousness as well as the danger of marriage at such an early age, like he is arguing that "Young people can't be trusted to make wise decisions about such things!"
  • 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. (Specifically, the final tragedy plays out only because the friar is temporarily detained by a plague quarantine, and thus is unable to get to Romeo and tell him the truth about Juliet's fake suicide.)
  • Did They or Didn't They?: Many productions take Lady Capulet's disproportionate grief over Tybalt's death to imply that the two have been romantically involved. After all, the two are closer in age than Lord and Lady Capulet, and the Love Triangle can justify some of the malice between Lord Capulet and Tybalt, Lord Capulet and Lady Capulet, and Lord Capulet and Juliet when she disobeys him.
    • The Hong Kong Ballet version of the play has them outright having an affair.
  • Died in Ignorance: One of the most famous examples in history, Romeo commits suicide by ingesting poison believing that Juliet is dead, not knowing that Juliet was only Faking the Dead as part of a plan for the both of them to finally be together. When she uncovers this, she despairs with a lengthy monologue and kisses Romeo hoping some of the poison will still be on his lips with the ambition to be Together in Death.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Tybalt's initial response to Romeo's showing up at the party is to call for his sword and announce that he's going to kill him.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The death scene is rife with sexual imagery. The bit where Juliet welcomes being penetrated by Romeo's dagger is still pretty clear to modern audiences, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. 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".
  • Double Entendre: Almost every one of Mercutio's lines, overlaps with Get Thee to a Nunnery. Romeo, Juliet, the Nurse, and even Lord Capulet all get in on the action at some point.
  • Downer Ending: There is a glimpse of a Bittersweet Ending, as the rival families finally reconcile their differences, but two statues raised in pure gold above Verona are poor compensation for the loss of their children. Some adaptations do away with the reconciliation altogether and end with both families simply feeling guilt over the tragedy without actually ending their feud.
  • Drama Queen: Romeo literally throws himself on the ground sobbing at one point.
  • Driven to Suicide: The two main characters, who are just kids (Juliet is 13 in the play — Romeo's age isn't given, but he's most likely in his mid-to-late teens), take their own short lives for each other.
  • Due to the Dead: Romeo honors Paris's 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.
  • Dying Curse: Uttered by Mercutio while dying as a side effect of the house feud.
    Mercutio: A plague on' both your houses!
  • Elopement: Romeo and Juliet run away to Friar Lawrence to get married. After Juliet's arranged marriage to Paris is announced, Friar Laurence plans to help them run away for good. It doesn't work.
  • Emo Teen: Romeo is this at first, moping around and reciting emo poetry because of his unrequited love for Rosaline. He improves upon meeting Juliet, but when he has to be separated from her, he gets even worse than he was at the beginning. It is also worth noting that the metaphors Romeo uses to express his infatuation with Rosaline were very overused cliches in Shakespeare's time. But as soon as he starts describing Juliet, his poetry gets far more original and interesting.
  • Enter Stage Window: Probably the Ur-Example.
  • 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.)
    • Averted for the Nurse in the Polish translation, where she goes by the name Marta.
  • Exact Words: When Abram, one of the Montagues' servants approaches, Sampson quibbles with Abram:
    Gregory: I will frown as they pass by, and let them take it as they list.
    Sampson: Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it. [Sampson bites his thumb]
    Abram: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
    Sampson: I do bite my thumb, sir.
    Abram: Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
    Sampson: [to Gregory] Is the law of our side if I say ay?
    Gregory: No.
    Sampson: No sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: From the lovers meeting to getting married to their inevitable deaths, the entire play takes place in a little less than four days.
  • Fatal Flaw: Arguments can be made for a wide variety for each protagonist.
  • Faux Death: Juliet. Unfortunately, it's shortly followed by actual, self-inflicted death.
  • Feuding Families: The Montagues and the Capulets.
  • The Fighting Narcissist: Mercutio's description of Tybalt's ornate fighting style implies that Tybalt may fit this trope. Given Mercutio's tendency to criticize others for flaws in himself, he could easily be one as well.
  • Foe Romance Subtext:
    • Between Romeo and Tybalt. "The reason that I have to love thee," indeed...
    • While evidence in the original text is scarce, many adaptations portray Tybalt and Mercutio this way, often with sexual taunting, sometimes with a "Take That!" Kiss, and once in a film from Quebec, even a BDSM sex scene that leads to Mercutio's death.
    • Some productions play up this aspect between Tybalt and Benvolio as well. Again, there's not a lot of evidence for it in the text but the fact that Tybalt specifically targets Benvolio in the first brawl and even seems to single him out among all other Montagues ("Peace? I hate the word as I hate Hell, all Montagues, and thee [Benvolio]!") has garnered some speculation as to why that might be.
  • Foil:
    • Rosaline and Juliet. Rosaline is aloof, and quiet, sworn off marriage and the pleasure of the flesh, and is uninterested in Romeo, while Juliet is talkative, interested in Romeo, and wants a relationship with Romeo right after she met him.
    • Paris to Romeo. He is from nobility; has traits the Capulets find desirable for marrying their daughter and follows the rules of society. Romeo ignores normal standards and approaches Juliet directly rather than through family and could not fall in love with Juliet because he is a Montague. They also both have different reasons for wanting to be with Juliet, with Romeo wanting to be with Juliet because she’s attractive and Paris wanting to marry Juliet to have connections to money and power.
    • Nurse and Lady Capulet. The Nurse is strict, loving, warm, and encourages Juliet to make her own choices, while Lady Capulet is not close with Juliet, stiff, cool towards Juliet, and only cares about how Juliet will make the family look to others.
    • Tybalt and Benvolio: Tybalt: Tybalt is prone to act fast/violently if felt dishonoured. Benvolio tries to soothe his temper, is calm, and is a mediator.
    • Romeo and Mercutio. Romeo falls in love constantly, and keeps to himself more, while Mercutio is witty, outgoing, and cynical about love.
    • Lord and Lady Montague are this to Lord and Lady Capulet. Lord and Lady Montague are close to Romeo and care about him and do not seem to force him to do things he does not want to. Lord and Lady Capulet are not close to Juliet, abuse and manipulate her, and threaten to disown her if she doesn't comply with what they want. Lord Montague is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, who may be an aggressive chap, but still, a loving father and husband, while Lord Capulet on the other hand is Faux Affably Evil and is for the most part rotten on the inside.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Even if by some strange power, you've never heard 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.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Romeo is heartbroken about Mercutio's death . . . for as long as it takes him to kill Tybalt in a revenge-fueled rage. After Tybalt dies, Mercutio is forgotten, and Romeo expresses far more grief over Tybalt's death than Mercutio's.
  • Forced Sleep: To get out of the wedding, Juliet drinks a drug that puts her into a deep sleep for "two and forty hours".
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Romeo (melancholic), Juliet (sanguine), Mercutio (choleric) and Benvolio (phlegmatic).
  • 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 four days.
  • Freudian Trio
    • Romeo - passionate, intensely emotional, and romantic (Id).
    • Mercutio - cynical, snarky, explosive, and driven (Ego).
    • Benvolio - levelheaded, keeps the others in check (Superego).
  • The Friends Who Never Hang: Juliet reacts to the news of Tybalt's death with heartbreak and tears over her beloved cousin. The Nurse exclaims that Tybalt was her best friend. Tybalt never spent time on stage with either of them. This could be explained with the theory that Tybalt and the Nurse were originally played by the same actor.
  • Gallows Humor: Most of Mercutio's dying speech.
    Mercutio: Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
  • Garden of Love: The iconic second encounter between Romeo and Juliet takes place in Capulet's garden.
  • Gendered Insult: When Romeo is weeping after he's sentenced to exile and then says he'll kill himself over it, Friar Lawrence rebukes him, saying "Art thou a man? Thy form declares thou art-thy tears are womanish!"
  • Genre-Busting/Genre Shift: Unusual for its time in combining comedy and tragedy. A typical comedy contains bawdy humor, farce, and young lovers who live Happily Ever After, despite the interference of the older generation. A typical tragedy contains unquiet political figures, and drama, a Tragic Hero who makes mistakes and dies in the end, despite his best efforts. Romeo and Juliet explores all of this, except the happily-ever-after part. Mercutio's death in Act III marks the definitive shift from comedy to tragedy.
  • The Ghost: We hear quite a lot about Rosaline, Romeo's unrequited love at the start of the play, but she never makes it onscreen. According to the guest list, she attends Capulet's feast, and some productions make her a more obvious presence there.
  • Gone Horribly Right: 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 in time to comfort her. If she'd woken up five minutes earlier, Romeo would have come upon her awake. It's because he didn't get the message that he doesn't know about the poison.
    • Benvolio decides that the only way to cure Romeo's pining for Rosaline is for the two of them (plus Mercutio) to crash Lord Capulet's party in the hopes that Romeo will realise that there's other fish in the sea. The plan works perfectly, and Romeo ends up completely forgetting about Rosaline. Unfortunately, it's because the party allowed him the opportunity to meet Juliet, thus setting in motion all the tragedies that follow.
  • Greed: Romeo makes the point when he's paying the poor apothecary that money makes more people die than poison, and is just as bad, if not even worse, for the soul than poison is for the body.
    "There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls,
    Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
    Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.
    I sell thee poison. Thou hast sold me none."
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Both families seem equally responsible for keeping the feud alive.
  • Gut Punch: Mercutio's death, up to which everything is played like a romantic comedy.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper
    • Tybalt, as everyone around him knows. He reacts to catching Romeo at the Capulet feast by calling for his rapier.
    • Lord Capulet, despite admonishing Tybalt for the same trait during the feast, has an explosive, violent reaction to Juliet's Child Marriage Veto.
  • Hanlon's Razor: The tragic heroes die because of a problem with the post. Not much malice against them from anybody except Tybalt, who proves fairly ineffectual.
  • 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 at this point in the play, his wife is trying to stop him from jumping into the fight. Or the Nurse calling for "Aqua Vitae, ho!", and getting a response from Lady Capulet.
    • When Romeo asks who Juliet the Nurse's answer ends with her saying "he that can lay hold of her shall have the chinks." What she means is that whoever marries Juliet (gets hold of her) would be rich and have fancy porcelain, which is what "chinks" is referring to. But nowadays it's only seen as a racial slur against east Asians.
    • Romeo talking about his "Well-flowered pump." "Pumps" were shoes, which would be adorned with flowers at dances and other gatherings. Of course, this scene is built on Double Entendres.
    • Lord Capulet to Tybalt:
      Capulet: You are a saucynote  boy.
    • Lady Capulet tells her husband, "You are too hot," meaning "angry."
  • The Hero Dies: Both Romeo and Juliet at the end.
  • Hot-Blooded: Mercutio exists in a state of constant, violent enthusiasm, whether reveling, soliloquizing, or dueling to his own death.
  • 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. The prince loses his two relatives 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: Both the start of Act I Scene 1 (between the Capulets' servants Gregory and Sampson), and the middle of Act II Scene 4 (between Mercutio and Romeo).
    • From Act I, Scene I:
    Sampson: Gregory, o' my word, we'll not carry coals.
    Gregory: No, for then we should be colliers.
    Sampson: I mean, an' we be in choler, we'll draw.
    Gregory: Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of the collar.
  • Hypocrite:
    • Mercutio is all over the place.
      • He disdains Romeo for being a victim of love, even though much of Mercutio's own dialogue implies he is himself bitter over past hurt.
      • He accuses Benvolio, the famous pacifist, of having a Hair-Trigger Temper, of which his own actions later in the scene are more suggestive.
      • He blames his own death on the pointless feud between the houses, despite having enthusiastically inserted himself into Romeo and Tybalt's conflict.
      • He rants at length about how dangerous a swordsman Tybalt is and how Romeo wouldn't stand a chance against him, then takes personal offense when Romeo declines to fight Tybalt.
    • Lord Capulet as well. He chides the "saucy" Tybalt for his dramatic reaction to Romeo's infiltration of the feast, yet explodes in an even more dramatic fashion when Juliet declines the marriage, he arranged for her.
  • Idiot Ball: Friar Lawrence fails to consider the one most likely factor interfering with Juliet's faked suicide — Romeo perhaps not getting the message. This is exactly what happens.
  • Idle Rich: Romeo, is the heir of a rich merchant family. Mercutio is a noble, as well.
  • Ignored Confession: Juliet confesses to her mother that she wishes to marry Romeo rather than Paris, but Lady Capulet assumes that Juliet just means she is so opposed to wedding Paris that she rather would marry anyone else, even her cousin's killer.
  • Impeded Messenger: Due to the 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.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Whenever the Nurse asks for "aqua vitae", it's this.
  • Informed Flaw: Mercutio describes Benvolio as hot-blooded, willing to start a fight for any reason at all. Considering that we have only ever seen Benvolio try to stop other people from fighting, it seems more likely that Mercutio is conflating Benvolio with Tybalt or himself.
  • In Love with Love: Romeo, particularly with Rosaline, and it is implied she's just the latest girl he's crushing on.
  • Inspiration Nod: In Act II, Mercutio sarcastically disses several mythical Love Interests, including Thisbe, the heroine of Pyramus and Thisbe, a much older version of the Romeo and Juliet story.
  • Know When to Fold Them: This is essentially how the Nurse feels about love. She was all for Romeo and Juliet being together for most of the play, especially after meeting Romeo and confirming he's a good egg and seeing how happy he makes Juliet. But after he gets banished, and after Lord Capulet forces Juliet into the arranged marriage and won't listen to her, she sees no other alternative than to tell Juliet to just make the best of things with Paris. Juliet takes this badly, to put it mildly.
  • Large Ham: Mercutio loves to make dramatic speeches.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In the final scene, the prince considers all of the tragedies that befell Capulet, Montague, and himself to be their just deserts for their failure to stop the ancient grudge:
    See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate
    That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.
    And I for winking at your discords too
    Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punish'd.
  • Let Me at Him!: During the opening riot, Lords Capulet and Montague are first introduced demanding to be allowed to join the fray and fight each other while their wives try to dissuade them. Lord Montague, in particular, is explicitly being held back by Lady Montague.
    Lord Capulet: What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!
    Lady Capulet: A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?

    Lord Montague: Thou villain Capulet— Hold me not, let me go.
    Lady Montague: Thou shalt not stir a foot to seek a foe.
  • Lost Aesop: If Romeo And Juliet was intended as condemnation of hormonal teenagers who think their first relationship is true love and then try to prove it despite receiving plenty of advice otherwise, it failed horribly.
  • Love at First Sight: The title characters fell in love like this. Or at least, they think they did.
  • Love Hurts: But Mercutio challenged Romeo to hurt love back, challenging him multiple times to forget the mercurial Rosaline and look elsewhere to quench his desire for love, perhaps setting the gears of the plot into motion:
    Mercutio: If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.
  • Maid and Maiden: Trope Codifier, The Nurse is the Maid who plays Secret-Keeper for Juliet the Maiden as she tries to get with Romeo.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: Romeo laments that Rosaline, who is determined to "live chaste," is wasting her beauty by refusing to pass it on to future generations.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: By their times's standards. Romeo is the one with emotional reactions for better or worse, whereas Juliet is more practical and stages their doomed escape. Romeo kills himself with poison, which is considered a feminine way to commit suicide, whereas Juliet uses Romeo's dagger, which was a weapon used typically by men.
  • Master Swordsman: Tybalt, whose devotion to ornate classical fighting styles drives Mercutio crazy.
  • Masquerade Ball: Capulet holds one, which is where Romeo and Juliet fall in Love at First Sight.
  • Matron Chaperone: The Nurse.
  • Mature Work, Child Protagonists: Juliet is written as 14 years old (though is rarely cast with an actress that young) but gets engaged and married before killing herself.
  • 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.
    • Benvolio means "Goodwill" and he is the most reasonable of the Montagues.
    • Mercutio:
      • Related to mercurial, meaning changeable, which Mercutio certainly is.
      • Mercurial itself is derived from the name of Mercury, the messenger god of the Roman pantheon. As a member of the house of Escalus, Mercutio is at least poised to serve as a messenger between the warring houses.
      • Although it is unlikely that Shakespeare knew the element mercury by that name, it connects in several ways: mercury is notable for its liquid state at room temperature — neither a solid nor a gas (neither a Montague nor a Capulet); it is used both to measure temperature and to form highly reflective surfaces, just as Mercutio's mood measures and reflects the current state of house tensions; and it is toxic after prolonged exposure — like Mercutio.
    • Escalus sounds like "scales", relating to his attempts to restore justice and order throughout the play.
  • Memorial Statue: Lord Montague announces at the end that he'll raise one for Juliet, as a gesture of reconciliation between the families.
  • Mirroring Factions: The titular characters are from "two houses, both alike in dignity" and standing in society. While they hate each other viciously, they're pretty clearly inclined to the same type of behavior, down to ignoring their children so thoroughly the two are pushed to suicide.
  • Mistaken Death Confirmation: Romeo enters Juliet's tomb, finds her drugged to look as though she's dead, and believes her to be truly dead and kills himself.
  • Name and Name: No points for guessing the main characters of this play.
  • Never My Fault: Mercutio blames his death on the feud between the houses, despite having eagerly stepped forward to take Romeo's place in his conflict with Tybalt.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Benvolio is a generally inoffensive pacifist.
    • Paris, although how nice he is depends on the staging.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Friar Lawrence's well-intentioned intervention instead leads to the death of both protagonists.
  • No Antagonist: Tybalt acts as an antagonist for a while, but he dies in Act III of a five-act work. Capulet can be seen as the antagonist, as he would be when the play is a comedy, but it's ultimately implied that the feud and pointless hatred themselves were to blame for the play's conflict rather than any one person.
  • Not So Above It All: Benvolio acts as though he is above the housing conflict and will not takes sides. But in his account of the duel in Act III, he makes it sound as though Tybalt challenged Mercutio, when in fact it was the reverse, which has a significant effect on the prince's judgment on the affair.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Despite the grudge between the Capulet and Montague families, they have more in common than not, as pointed out in the very first line: "Two households, both alike in dignity ..."
  • Oh, Crap!: Friar Lawrence gets one when Friar John returns with his letter in tow, realizing that his plan to get the lovers back together just went to hell in a handbasket.
  • Outliving One's Offspring:
    • Both of the titular characters died with surviving parents.
    • The nurse herself mentions having a dead daughter.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and the other Montague revelers waltz into their arch-enemy's ball-wearing masks. No one is recognized save Romeo, and then only because he talks.
    Tybalt: This by his voice should be a Montague!
  • Parental Substitute: The Nurse to Juliet, whose mother is herself in her twenties and unequipped to be the guiding influence Juliet needs.
  • Pay Evil unto Evil: After Romeo kills Tybalt, Lord Montague protests that, since Tybalt had just killed Mercutio, Romeo was merely expediting justice. This, along with the fact Mercutio was Escalus's cousin, likely contributes to Escalus's decision to banish rather than execute him.
  • 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.
  • Poor Communication Kills: This is one of the major things that contributed to Romeo and Juliet's deaths. Most notably, the reason the whole play ends in tragedy rather than with a happy reunification of the lovers is that Friar Lawrence isn't able to warn Romeo that Juliet is only feigning death before he hears about it from someone else.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Probably the main reason people think Romeo and Juliet are the models 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 can be argued to make fun of.
  • Prince Charmless: Sometimes Paris is played as this, making the audience sympathize more with Juliet for not wanting to marry him.
  • Pungeon Master: Goddammit, Mercutio.
    Romeo: Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and in such a case as mine, a man may strain courtesy.
    Mercutio: That's as much as to say, such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure
    • Prince Escalus can be played as such. He 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. However, it can be argued that his intervention has in fact escal-ated the conflict.
    • Lord Montague, as opposed to Lord Capulet, is never shown to be bad in any way and shows genuine concern for Romeo in the first scene.
  • The Reliable One
  • 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.
  • Riddle for the Ages: It's never explained why exactly the Capulets and Montagues are at each other's throats, and indeed, that's the point: the cause of their feud is forgotten to time so they're just continuing it for the sake of tradition, resulting in several senseless deaths.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: After Tybalt's death, Lady Capulet is right that Benvolio's "affection makes him false; he speaks not true." But it wasn't because Benvolio's affection for Romeo made him invent an excuse to kill Tybalt; it was his affection for Mercutio that made him downplay Mercutio's aggression against Tybalt.
  • Roaring Rampage of Romance: Romeo and Juliet's romance causes six deaths:
    1. Mercutio: Killed defending Romeo.
    2. Tybalt: Killed by Romeo in a duel to avenge Mercutio.
    3. Romeo's mother: Died of sadness because of Romeo's banishment.
    4. Paris: Killed by Romeo.
    5. Romeo: Killed himself by ingesting poison.
    6. Juliet: Killed herself by stabbing herself with Romeo's knife.
  • Romantic False Lead: Paris shows up asking for Juliet's hand before she meets Romeo. Or, if Juliet is the protagonist, Romeo shows up besotted with Rosaline before he meets Juliet.
  • Runaway Fiancée: The Faux Death set up by Juliet was an attempt to get out of marrying Paris.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Mercutio and Tybalt die in Act III, after which the play begins to take shape as a tragedy.
  • 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 the rules"), although he ends up failing miserably.
  • Secret Relationship: The root of the tragedy.
  • Sentenced Without Trial: In every version of the play, Romeo is banished from Verona without a trial after killing Tybalt. This was mercy on the part of Prince Escalus, because the other alternative was to put him to death for continuing the violence of the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets by killing Tybalt, and the main reason that Romeo wasn't executed was because he was seeking revenge for Mercutio's death at Tybalt's hands, not for anyone on his family's side.
  • Serial Romeo: Romeo's 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.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: After Mercutio's death, the play turns into a tragedy.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Gregory and Sampson, two servants of the Capulets, only appear at the very start of the play, but they rile up the feud by taunting the Montague servants, and the ensuing brawl leads Escalus to declare that further breach of the peace will be punished by death. A third nameless servant whom Lord Capulet sends to invite people to his house for supper ends up crossing paths with Romeo and Benvolio and unwittingly invites them to attend; Benvolio drags Romeo to the party in the hopes of weaning him off Rosaline (who'll be attending) but then Romeo ends up meeting Juliet...
  • Snicket Warning Label: The prologue tells the audience, barely six lines in, that the play will be a tragedy and the star cross'd lovers will take their lives.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The play never reveals what happened to the apothecary, but the source story ends with him being sentenced to death.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Romeo and Juliet are kept apart by a string of misfortunes. However, it's also an Unbuilt Trope, since it shows how reckless and foolish the lovers were to rush into things.
  • Tag Team Suicide: Juliet uses Romeo's dagger to kill herself after Romeo kills himself by ingesting poison.
  • Take a Third Option: Lady Capulet demands that Romeo be executed for killing Tybalt. Lord Montague professes that since Tybalt killed Mercutio, Romeo was acting justly. The prince compromises by subjecting Romeo to exile from Verona with the threat of the death penalty if he comes back.
  • Take That!: To the Catholic Church, personified by Friar Lawrence. Zigzagged as he's one of the more sympathetic characters and is even Spared by the Adaptation, which was actually kind of daring for a play written in Protestant England.
  • Tempting Fate: Romeo, just before his wedding:
    Romeo: 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.
  • Threatening Mediator: In Act I Scene 1, The Prince of Verona enters in the middle of a brawl that includes servants from Capulet and Montague, the hot-blooded Capulet heir Tybalt and his cronies against the Montague youths, and the heads of the houses. The prince commands them to stand down, "on pain of death." At the end of the scene, he makes it clear to the heads of the houses that if another brawl erupts, punishing their servants won't be enough: the Lords themselves will be executed.
  • Together in Death: Romeo and Juliet, who actually end up lying side by side (or at least sufficiently close) in the middle of the Capulet mausoleum.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Between the Feuding Families making each other and themselves miserable, impulsive teenage lovers, and poor communication, it's probably easier to list the characters who don't act like complete idiots.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth:
    When he shall die,
    Take him and cut him out in little stars,
    And he will make the face of heaven so fine
    That all the world will be in love with night
    And pay no worship to the garish sun.
  • A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: The entire romance is a string of acting on impulse, and the plot really starts to go south when Romeo kills Tybalt without thinking first.
  • Tragic Hero: It has been argued that both Romeo and Juliet are this, that neither quite makes it, that they make one up together, that only Romeo is, and that only Juliet is.
  • Tragic Mistake: Romeo's killing of Tybalt in vengeance for Mercutio, leads to his banishment. Everything goes straight to hell for both lovers because of it.
  • Translation Convention: The play is set in Italy.
  • Trauma Conga Line: From Mercutio's death to the discovery of the dead lovers is a chain of deaths, suicides, and murders. Tybalt, Lady Montague, Paris, Romeo, and finally Juliet die in very quick succession (it's sometimes implied that Benvolio has too). When it's all over, the Prince tells both families that there has been quite enough death over this feud and it's time to bury the hatchet.
  • Unbuilt Trope: The story is nowadays shorthand for Star-Crossed Lovers, especially of the teenage/young adult romance variety or "Romeo and Juliet + X" high concept. The romance itself in the story is very thin, immature, and ultimately quite tragic due to the extremely young ages of the characters and the Extremely Short Timespan. Almost all modern works invoking the tropes or backbone of the story develop much greater depth and a greater focus on the merits of the impossible romance rather than the tragic car wreck of it.
  • Unstoppable Rage: Mercutio's death imbues Romeo with so much vengeful fury that he manages to defeat Master Swordsman Tybalt. Later, after Juliet's supposed death, Romeo kills Paris, the prince's cousin, when he tries to deny Romeo entry to the tomb.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Shakespeare occasionally uses die as slang for orgasm, particularly in Juliet's wedding-night soliloquy.
  • 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, 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). Conversely, the entire Capulet household is fiercely devoted to Tybalt, the play's apparent antagonist.
  • Wedding/Death Juxtaposition: In the scene after Romeo and Juliet marry in secret, Juliet's cousin Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel. Because Romeo chooses not to fight him, knowing Tybalt is now his family, Romeo's friend Mercutio defends his honor and is killed instead, followed shortly by Romeo killing Tybalt in vengeance. This kickstarts a string of events that will lead to the deaths of three more people, including Romeo and Juliet themselves.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Where the hell does Benvolio go after Mercutio dies? This could be explained by the first quarto, in which Lord Montague offhandedly mentions that Benvolio died. Benvolio's death could be foreshadowed by Benvolio's last line in the play, "This is the truth or let Benvolio die"— which he says after ammending the truth a little to protect the images of Mercutio and Romeo while framing Tybalt as a bully. Additionally there is the possibility that in the original production of the play, the actor playing Benvolio could have doubled for a role more critical to the second half of the action.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Friar Lawrence's speech to Romeo in Act III in which he calls 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. She's also looking after Juliet's well-being, because if she was impregnated by Romeo, she may pass the child as Paris'.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): Mercutio gives a very detailed description of how skilled a swordsman Tybalt is. He later starts up a fight with Tybalt himself and ends up getting killed by him.
  • 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.
  • Youth Is Wasted on the Dumb: The fights are often portrayed as this.

    Productions and adaptations add examples of: 

  • Ambiguously Gay: Mercutio, in some modern productions in which he's in love with Romeo.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Very commonly seen to distinguish the two families and highlight how irreconcilable they are. In the 2013 film adaption, the Montagues wear red, and the Capulets wear blue.
  • Composite Character: Many adaptations such as the 2013 film , have Benvolio take the role of Balthasar in the final acts since otherwise, he disappears without explanation.
  • Dance of Romance: Though Juliet off-handedly mentions that Romeo doesn't like to dance, some renditions have the duo dance together before they exchange dialogue.
  • Demoted to Extra: Most adaptations seem to forget Paris. His death is one of the most frequently omitted sequences, even though it makes nonsense of the prince's "I have lost a brace of kinsmen" lines. (This may be because Romeo murders him, which is odd coming from the hero.)
  • The Dying Walk: Some adaptations of the story have Mercutio doing this after or while he's uttering his Dying Curse.
  • Race Lift: The Hong Kong Ballet version obviously makes all the characters Asian, except for Paris, who remains white.
  • Relationship Upgrade: The Hong Kong Ballet version adds in a subplot of Lady Capulet and Tybalt having an affair.
  • Setting Update: The Hong Kong Ballet version transports the action to 1960's Hong Kong and makes the two warring families warring triads as well.
  • Spared by the Adaptation:
    • Some film versions and some productions leave Paris and Lady Montague alive since their deaths have little impact on the plot.
    • In the Spaghetti Western adaptation, The Fury Of Johnny Kid, the characters based on Romeo and Juliet live — but everyone else dies, mostly by each other's hands (with a lone gunslinger cleaning out the rest).

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.


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The legendary tragic love story is summed up in three angry words.

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