Romeo and Juliet

Context

  • The basic story, of 2 young lovers from opposing families in Italy, had been popular for hundreds of years before Shakespeare wrote the play.
  • It has become perhaps Shakespeare's best - known play.
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Plot

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.

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Romeo and Juliet;

Romeo; Romeo is moody. Romeo is sad and lonely (his father has seen him with 'tears'). Romeo fears for the future (before the party, talks about something 'hanging in the stars' as if he realises fate will destroy his future). He is not sincere at first (forgets about Rosaline as soon as he meets Juliet). He falls in love instantly (asks 'Did my heart love till now?' when he sees Juliet). He will do anything for her. He tries to do the right thing (refuses to fight Tybalt, even if he seems a coward). He can be immature. He is passionate about Juliet (kills himself in order to be with her).

Juliet; 13, daughter of Capulets. Juliet is quite (says very little in Act 1, Scene 3). Juliet is innocent. Juliet is not shy (lets Romeo kiss her at their first meeting). Juliet speaks directly (tells Romeo he kisses 'by th'book', meaning he kisses well). Juliet is in love (says he is her 'only love'). Juliet commits herself to him. She believes in him. She disobeys her mother (tells her 'i will not marry'. She is brave (is quick to committing suicide).

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Characters;

The Nurse; like a mother to Juliet. Takes a great risk in helping her, seems completely devoted to her. Talks a lot. However, she advises Juliet to marry Paris and does not seem to appreciate how much Juliet loves Romeo.

The Friar; like a father to Romeo. Often offers advice and clearly knows Romeo very well. However, he takes a huge risk when he secretly marries Romeo and Juliet. His actions lead to the deaths of the couple.

Benvolio; Romeo's friend. His name can be understood as 'good whispers', and he is determined to do all he can to stop fights between the 2 families.

Capulet; Juliet's father, ready to fight Montagues, but appears to be friendly and welcoming, inviting people to his party. Stops Tybalt from fighting Romeo in his house. However, Capulet is a very traditional father, he arranges Juliet's marriage to Paris and is furious when she does not obey him.

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Characters;

Lady Capulet; not very close to her daughter, Juliet. Will never take Juliet's side against her husband.

Mercutio; one of Romeo's best friends who loves entertaining people and making fun of them. Links many things with sex. Seems keen to pick a fight with almost anyone he meets.

Tybalt; a very aggressive character. Only seems interested in fighting Romeo's family, and everything he says is full of anger and hatred. 

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Themes, Love;

Love; Shakespeare presents love in different ways. There is Romeo's early love for Rosaline. This is like puppy love, which the Friar calls 'doting' and not 'loving' because it was only really Romeo who believed he was in love. Paris' love for Juliet is quite similar. He wants to marry her but approaches her father rather than Juliet (as was the tradition). He does not really show any deep feelings for her, and even says he has 'little talked of love'. This seems to indicate he wants a good marriage and has chosen her, rather than the 2 of them falling in love. There is another view of love - between friends. This is shown with the love Juliet shares with her Nurse, the Friar and Romeo, and the friendships between Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo. They all take great risks for one another; Mercutio dies to protect Romeo's honour. The love between Romeo and Juliet is our classic idea of romantic love - they will do anything for each other.

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Themes, Fate and Death;

Fate; 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. Romeo and Juliet's ill-fated lives are described as 'death-marked', and they are a 'pair of star-crossed lovers'. The idea of fate works on several levels. Shakespeare sets the 2 families against each other, and there is nothing Romeo and Juliet can do about this. The couple have a feeling that things will go badly for them. Romeo thinks something is 'hanging in the stars', while Juliet says a 'faint cold fear thrills through my vein'. 

Death; death is mentioned in lots of different ways, such as 'we were born to dies' or 'cold death', and 'death-darting eye'. Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet all die during the play. Death is a major topic in Romeo and Juliet.

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Key Quotes!!

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