William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. His father was a glove salesman and quite a prominent person in town. Shakespeare was one of eight children, and he was the eldest son. He most probably went to the local grammar school. Shakespeare was married when he was just eighteen to a woman named Anne Hathaway. She was eight years older than him. Together, the couple had two girls and a boy.
We do not know for certain when Shakespeare began to write, or when he started theatre. What we do know is that he became a leading member of a theatre troupe called “The Lord Chamberlain's Men.” The company became tremendously popular eventually, so much so that King James 1 granted it the permission to perform in his court. Then it became known as “The King’s Men.”
Shakespeare penned more than thirty plays for “The King’s Men”. He also often wrote roles for certain actors. “The King’s Men” became the most successful theatre company around, and Shakespeare played a large part in that.
Shakespeare was a very successful and popular playwright of his time, and to this day, the audience remembers his works quite fondly.
At the time of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Italian culture was very popular. In fact, many people in England and across Europe were inspired by and even copied different Italian architecture, sculpture, paintings, poems, songs, and plays. People also were familiar with tragic love stories and they responded well to plays that were relatable and meant to make them cry and feel sad about the characters.
In the sixteenth century, it was unacceptable for teenagers and youngsters to go against the wishes of their parents or guardians. Youngsters were expected to be very obedient. In a small town, everyone knew each other. So, reputation was very important and gossip traveled fast. If two people were out on a secret date, their families could easily find out.
The basic story of Romeo and Julietcenters around two young lovers from opposing families in Italy. What makes Romeo and Juliet exceptional, though is that it has widely become Shakespeare’s best-known play because of the way he tells the story. The play has been reimagined and adapted multiple times, and across multiple mediums of storytelling, from old versions to animated versions. We also find many references to the play in our daily life. For example, any boy who falls in love easily and wears his heart on his sleeve is most commonly referred to as a “Romeo,” no matter what his nationality is.
Romeo and Juliet is the most prominent love story of its time. Shakespeare explores the many different kinds of love in this play. There is Romeo’s early infatuation with Rosaline, a kind of ‘puppy’ love. There is the love between friends, the kind shared between Romeo and Mercutio. However, passionate, youthful, romantic love, especially the love between the two protagonists, is the most central focus of the play.
At the start of the play, we find that a long-standing and continuing feud between the Capulet and Montague families is now upsetting the peace and atmosphere of Verona, a small city in Northern Italy. A fight between the servants of the two opposing households leads the Prince of the city to threaten both the families with death unless they sort things out.
Romeo is deeply in love with a certain Rosaline. His friend, Benvolio, advises him to forget about his unrequited love for Rosaline, and go after another beautiful woman. That night, the Capulet family arranges a grand masquerade ball, in hopes of bringing Juliet, their daughter, and Paris, a relative of the Prince, together. Juliet’s family hopes that she falls in love with Paris. Romeo and Benvolio go to the ball sneakily concealing their actual identities behind masks. Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love at first sight at the ball, but then, by the end of the evening, they find out each other’s identities.
As he is coming back home from the ball, Romeo climbs into Juliet’s orchard to see her again. Juliet comes on her balcony, and the couple makes promises of love, and decide to marry the next day. Love at first sight is a widely discussed concept. Some say that people’s appearance rather than personality plays a large role in falling in love, others say that people may find true love instantaneously. Shakespeare suggests this idea in the play. Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers, meaning that even though they are prevented by fate from being together from the start, they still truly love each other. Although their actions may seem rash, their commitment to marry each other after they meet shows how much their love means to them.
The next day, Romeo requests Friar Lawrence to perform the marriage ceremony. Friar Lawrence is reluctant in the beginning but then agrees to marry the two lovers that afternoon, in hopes of reconciling their families and restoring a healthy atmosphere in Verona.
Not long after, Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, challenges Romeo to a battle. When Tybalt confronts him, Romeo turns down the challenge to fight as they are now related. But Romeo’s short-tempered friend Mercutio takes up the challenge. Romeo tries his hardest to break the fight between them, but tragically, Mercutio gets fatally injured under Romeo’s arm. Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death. He then runs away from the city. Romeo’s vengeful decision to kill Tybalt illustrates the dutiful love between him and Mercutio. He tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the duel between them, but he does not hesitate to avenge his friend’s death.
The Prince declares that Romeo must be banished for Tybalt’s murder. Romeo, hiding in the Friar’s place, becomes frantic and anxious about the news, but the Friar assures him that he will not let the Prince banish Romeo and that he would make Romeo’s marriage to Juliet known to the public. Romeo and Juliet consummate their marriage before Romeo leaves for Mantua.
The play presents a moving portrayal of the pain and sorrow that love can bring, especially when we are separated from the person we love. Romeo laments the fact that street dogs will be able to revel in Juliet’s beauty while he will not because of his banishment.
When the news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment reaches Juliet, she is thrown into an emotional turmoil. But she soon realizes where her loyalties lie and takes comfort in the reality that the person she loves still lives. This shows the complications of love.
Juliet then finds out that her father wants her to marry Paris on Thursday. The Capulets, not knowing that Juliet is grieving her husband’s banishment instead of her cousin’s death, think that this wedding will take her mind off mourning. Juliet becomes isolated from her family and upset at the idea of a false marriage. Juliet is being forced to marry Paris when she is already loyal to and married to Romeo. She goes to Friar Lawrence for advice, who comes up with a hopeful plan. The Friar gives her a potion that would help her feign death for forty-two hours. During this time, the Friar will send a message to Romeo, so that he can come back in Verona in time to find Juliet alive and awake.
Juliet goes home to let everyone know that she is ready to marry Paris. Her family is so happy with this news that they make a quick decision to shift the wedding from Thursday to Wednesday. Consequently, this reduces the time for the message to reach Romeo.
Juliet takes uncertain risks by swallowing the Friar’s potion. She is terrified and uncertain about the future, yet she drinks it anyway. She is willing to take the risk and make the sacrifice because she loves her husband.
Juliet’s outwardly lifeless body is placed in the tomb of the family in the early hours of Wednesday. Unfortunately, the Friar’s messenger fails to go out of Verona because of a plague outbreak. So, instead of the message that they planned, Romeo now receives the news that Juliet is actually dead. He then desperately purchases poison from an apothecary and returns to Verona. Romeo enters Juliet’s family tomb late that night. Paris confronts Romeo at the tomb then. Romeo fights and kills him. Romeo takes the poison and dies, still not aware that Juliet is, in fact, alive and well.
The Friar arrives too late to discover the bodies as Juliet begins to put together what has happened. He asks Juliet to come with him, but Juliet refuses and stabs herself with her husband’s dagger. As the next day begins, the guard arrives, followed by the Prince, who demands a thorough investigation into what lead to the lovers’ deaths. The two families also arrive, and the Friar steps forward to fully explain the order of events. The tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet ultimately bring the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets to a close, and the two families peacefully join hands with one another.