Shakespeare’s five-act tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is a journey into an ill-fated romance between the two main characters in the story. It opens when Romeo, a Montague is informed of an annual party given by the Capulets, a rival family they have been feuding with for years, and is persuaded by his friend and kinsman Benvolio to attend in hopes of finding a love interest for him. In spite of the rivalry, Romeo decides to go in the hopes of seeing Rosaline, a woman he has fallen in love with.(1)
Benvolio’s wish comes true when Romeo meets with Juliet, the only daughter of Capulet. The feelings are mutual as she is also enamored with him. In fact, he has fallen so deeply in love that after the party, he climbs the wall surrounding the Capulet garden in search of Juliet. When he sees her on the balcony overlooking the gardens he compares her to the rising sun where the moon pales in comparison.
Juliet, unaware that Romeo is nearby declares that if he would refuse his name, she would surrender herself to him or if he would make a vow of love to her, she would deny her own Capulet name.
After he reveals himself to her, they spend time together before Juliet proposes marriage to him. Before they part, arrangements are made for Juliet’s nurse to find out his answer the following morning.
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The next day, Juliet’s nurse meets Romeo where he tells her to have Juliet meet him that afternoon in Friar Lawrence’s monastery. There they secretly marry but before they can consummate their union, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin challenges Romeo to a duel. He refuses, knowing that they are now related by marriage but Mercutio accepts the challenge instead.
Mercutio is killed in the fight, putting Romeo in the position to have to choose between getting revenge for his friend’s death or being loyal to his new wife. His choice is to get revenge to honor his friend and as a result kills Tybalt. The result is that an order is given from the Prince of Verona for the Montagues and Capulets to cease fighting under punishment of death, Romeo is banished and he is forced to flee to Mantua after only one night with Juliet.
Capulet, in an attempt to relieve Juliet’s grieving arranges for her to marry the young man Paris, and in desperation, she meets with Friar Lawrence who gives her a potion that will make her appear dead. The ruse is designed to stop all efforts for her to marry the nobleman Paris. Arrangements are made to send a message to Romeo informing him of the plan and instructing him to come to the Capulet vault where he will awaken her and together they can flee to Verona.
Initially, the plan works and Juliet is laid to rest in the Capulet’s vault but because of the plague over the land, Romeo never receives the message of the plot. He only hears that Juliet is dead. He then buys a dose of the poison himself and drinks it just before Juliet wakes up.
Friar Lawrence, realizing what Romeo is about to do arrives at the vault too late to stop him. He tries to persuade Juliet to leave but in her grief she takes Romeo’s dagger and gives herself a fatal stab. The tragic end to the lives of the two young people hits the feuding families hard and they abandon their constant fighting and work together to build a statue in honor of the two lovers and place it above the grave where they have been buried together.
The message Shakespeare teaches us through this tragic story is that no matter how tragic circumstances may appear, it is always wise to take the time to think before making any decisions. Impulsive actions can often make a sad situation even worse. It also reinforces the need to become an effective communicator. This is clear by the role that Friar Lawrence took in trying to help the two lovers. He never anticipated that his messages would not get through to Romeo in time and the lack of effective communication yielded the worse possible outcome; death of two different people.(2)