The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare: Synposis as program note

This summary was written as a program note, intended to give an audience who might have some difficulty with the language of the play a general sense of the action so they can follow the story, but not so much information that it ruins the ending. Usually, it’s best not to reveal the precise ending of a play in a summary. Even in the case of one of the most famous plays of all time, with an ending implied in its title, a hint is often enough.

The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

In Verona, as the play begins, an ancient feud between the Montague and Capulet families erupts. The Prince forbids further fighting, with death as the consequence. Romeo finds out by mistake that the Capulet family is holding a party and that Rosaline, his unrequited love, will be a guest. He and cousin Benvolio decide to sneak into the party. At the party, Paris, cousin to the Prince, has asked for Juliet’s hand in marriage. Tybalt, the hotheaded Capulet responsible for reigniting the feud, overhears Romeo express his enchantment with Tybalt’s cousin and Capulet’s daughter, Juliet. Tybalt reports his discovery to the senior Capulet and prepares to fight the Montague, Romeo, but Capulet tells him to keep his peace.

Drawn to each other across the party, Romeo and Juliet meet and instantly fall in love; but Juliet is called away by her nurse and learns Romeo is a Montague. Romeo makes his way into her garden and overhears Juliet confess her love for him, whereupon he reveals himself and they confirm their mutual love. Romeo goes to the Friar and asks him to marry them, telling Juliet’s nurse to convey the arrangement. Juliet sneaks out to meet Romeo at the Friar’s where they are married.

Romeo’s companions, Mercutio and Benvolio encounter Tybalt, and the hostility between them escalates. Romeo enters, coming from his secret marriage, and tries to diffuse the tension, but Tybalt mortally stabs Mercutio. This enrages Romeo who confronts and kills Tybalt. The Prince orders Romeo banished from Verona.

Juliet, anticipating Romeo’s arrival, learns from her Nurse that Tybalt is slain and Romeo is banished. Romeo goes to the Friar for counsel who advises him not to act rashly, but rather go to Mantua and wait there until the passage of time makes possible a reconciliation with the Prince. Juliet’s nurse arrives and arranges for Romeo and Juliet to spend one night together before he has to leave.

In the meantime, not understanding why Juliet seems so upset over Tybalt’s death, her father decides to move the marriage to Paris up to the day after next. Juliet refuses, and goes to the Friar to find a way out. He gives her a potion that will make her appear dead, but will allow her to awaken the next day, after her burial. He tells her he will send notice to Romeo so he can meet her when she wakes. Juliet takes the potion, and she is found and presumed dead. Hearing she has died and not wishing to live without his Juliet, Romeo buys poison for himself and travels to her graveside. Juliet awakens from her death-like sleep, but not in time to forestall their tragic destiny.

(447 words)