"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It's impossible to imagine there are many who don't know the plot, but here's a quick outline:
Two households, both alike in dignity,
What, can't read Shakespeare? Fine, in tropers' terms, then:
Boy Meets Girl. They fall in love. Problem is, 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, then leaves town. Girl engages in dangerous plot to avoid an Arranged Marriage set up by her parents. Plot goes horribly right. Boy, hearing of girl's "death", goes back to town and kills self at her grave. Girl, awaking and discovering this, kills self in turn. Families reconcile. The End!
And yes, it all happens about that fast—one of the major themes is that the two leads are rushing into it and should not have moved so quickly.
Your opinion of the play is also likely to be shaped by the quality of the actors you saw performing it. While that's true of most plays, it's especially true of this one. When done poorly, it's hours of Wangst. When done well, there's a verve and passion to the play that can be lacking in Shakespeare's more critically beloved works. When done with middle-aged or older actors in the title roles, it just doesn't make sense.
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, like all of Shakespeare's plays, there are many lighter moments. 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 silver screen numerous times, most famously by the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli in 1968. That production is widely regarded as an exceptional movie, though it's gained a measure of infamy for featuring teenagers Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting partially naked. Perhaps more well known today is Baz Luhrmann's zany 1996 adaptation which moved the story to a modern setting.
Note: The play's full title is The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. No one uses it, though.
- Romeo and Juliet, a 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film starring Olivia Hussey as Juliet.
- Romeo Must Die, a modern-day retelling moving the action to LA and changing the feud to one between rival black and Chinese gangsters.
- William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet, a somewhat polarizing update directed by Baz Luhrmann. It keeps Shakespeare's text but dramatically reframes it in a late-1990s setting in Mexican-influenced Southern California ("Verona Beach"). The nature of the duels is able to be retained by naming the characters' gun models after various types of bladed weapons instead (e.g. "Sword 9mm class").
- Romeo X Juliet, an anime adaptation set IN SPACE! with less Grey and Gray Morality (the Montagues are villains who ousted and all but extinguished the rightfully ruling Capulets)
- West Side Story, probably the most famous adaptation out there, telling the story of a romance between two teens from rival NYC gangs in the 1950s.
- Tromeo and Juliet, a typically outrageous outing from Troma Films with a rather different ending.
- Romeo Et Juliette De La Haine a Lamour, a French musical by Gerard Presgurvic, which has played in more or less similar format in Canada, Mexico, Japan and various countries throughout Europe and in a much Darker and Edgier Hungarian adaptation.
- The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, which followed up the first film's Lighter and Softer African Hamlet with a similarly brighter version of this story.
- Shakespeare in Love, in which we learn the real story behind the creation and first production of the play.
- Reefer Madness isn't actually based on this play, but it deserves honorable mention for how often (in The Musical, anyway) the young lovers Jimmy Harper and Mary Lane compare themselves to Romeo and Juliet. Despite their lack of understanding what this actually means, it turns out to be a tragically apt comparison.
- Romeo & Harriet, a musical parody of Romeo and Juliet.
- Romiette and Julio, a 2001 novel by Sharon Draper about two teenage lovers dealing with the taboos of interracial dating.
- You Never Dreamed, a 1980 Soviet film.
- Gnomeo and Juliet, a 2011 CGI animated family comedy film with living garden gnomes in place of the original characters.
- Romie O And Julie 8, a 1979 animated TV adaptation with robots.
- Romeo And Juliet Sealed With A Kiss, an animated adaption with seals playing the roles.
- Romeo & Juliet, a 2013 film by Carlo Carlei starring Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth.
- November 30, a 1995 Swedish movie with a Non-Indicative Name where the Official Couple consists of a Peruvian immigrant and repentant neo-Nazi.
- Warm Bodies, a 2013 romantic comedy (!) in which Romeo is recast as a zombie after the Zombie Apocalypse, and Juliet is one of the human survivors.
- Adult Fear: The two main characters, who are just kids, take their own short lives for each other. While many people may have thought it romantic or stupid when they were teenagers, it's pretty unsettling to any parent.
- An Aesop: Grudges are bad; don't hold them.
- There's also "love in moderation" and "do not jump into things you're not ready for."
- All Part of the Show: Variant in the Zeffirelli movie. Everyone thinks Mercutio, the local Sad Clown, is joking around after being injured by Tybalt; it is only when they check on him they realize his injuries are fatal.
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parental Figure: The Nurse to Juliet. In particular, the whole 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?"
- Ambiguously Gay: Mercutio, in some modern productions, notably the 1996 film version, in which he's a drag queen.
- Anyone Can Die: Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Lady Montague, Romeo and Juliet all kick the bucket.
- Apothecary Alligator: Mentioned in the description of the apothecary's shop in Act V Scene I.
And in his needy shop a tortoise hung,
- Basilitrice: Metaphorically. Juliet laments apparent news of Romeo's suicide as follows:
Hath Romeo slain himself? Say thou but 'Ay,'
- 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 even kills a beloved family member.
- Black Comedy: Sometimes performed this way, as noted above. Mercutio provides black comedy in-story as he dies.
- Black Comedy Rape: Act 1 Scene 1 is filled with constant rape jokes.
- Break the Cutie: Both of the lovers, but especially Juliet.
Alack, that Heaven should practice stratagems
- Bromantic Foil: Mercutio to Romeo.
- Brother Chuck: Benvolio, one of the main characters in the first three acts, does not appear in the fourth or fifth. Nobody seems to notice this, which is weird since he's just about the only young person left alive at the end.
- 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.
- Cannot Spit It Out/Poor Communication Kills: Tybalt might not have killed Mercutio and subsequently gotten himself killed by Romeo if he'd kept calm long enough for Romeo to explain that the reason Romeo didn't want to fight him is that Romeo and Juliet had recently gotten married.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Balthasar, a servant who has a small appearance in the first scene of act 1, ends up indirectly causing Romeo's suicide in act 5.
- The Chessmaster: 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...
- Conflicting Loyalty: Romeo during the scene with Tybalt.
- Courtly Love: Subverted. Romeo abandons his courtly love for Rosaline as soon as he meets the much more... open... Juliet.
- 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.
- 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: Mercutio dies offstage, but there is no lack of drama there. A Plague on Both Your Houses!
- And Lady Montague, a much less important character, gets a couple lines for her offstage death. "Basically, the spectacle involved in a character's death is proportional to the importance of the character to the story."
- Demoted to Extra: Most adaptations seem to forget Paris. His death is one of the most frequently omitted sequences, even though it makes a nonsense of the Prince's "I have lost a brace of kinsmen" lines.
- 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.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Juliet stabs herself to death with a dagger. Fine. "O happy dagger, this is thy sheath." Huh.
- There's even more symbolism in that scene than is apparent to modern audiences. 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".
- Made even clearer in the 1996 version with Leonardo DiCaprio—Romeo and Juliet's lying position (in Juliet's coffin) after their double suicide was exactly the same as the morning after their wedding night (on Juliet's bed). This is implying sex = death.
- Not to mention all the French influence at the time. A French term for orgasm is petit mort, or "little death". So Romeo hooked up with Juliet for a petit mort, but ended up with a grand mort.
- Heck, the whole show is basically like that. Especially Juliet's "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds" monologue. "Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night."
- There's even more symbolism in that scene than is apparent to modern audiences. 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: Some of Mercutio's lines, overlapping with Get Thee to a Nunnery.
- Downer Ending: There is the glimpse of a Bittersweet Ending, as the rival families finally reconcile their differences.
- Driven to Suicide: The two leads, and arguably, Lady Montague.
- Due to the Dead: Romeo honors Paris' request to lay him beside Juliet, after having killed him because Paris though that Romeo was coming to do the evil version of this trope.
- Elopement: Romeo and Juliet run away to Friar Lawrence to get married, and apparently plan to run further away to get away from their families.
- Emo Teen: Romeo is this at first, moping around and reading emo poetry because of his one-sided love on Rosaline. And when he has to be separated from Juliet, he gets even worse than he was at the beginning.
- It is also worth noting that Romeo's lines regarding his romance of Rosaline were very over-used cliches in Shakespeare's time, but as soon as Romeo starts describing Juliet, his lines become very creative and much more poetic.
- 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.)
- Exact Time to Failure
- Faux Death: Juliet.
- Feuding Families: Montagues and Capulets.
- The Fighting Narcissist: Mercutio's description of Tybalt's ornate fighting style implies that Tybalt may fit this trope.
- Forbidden Fruit: Arguably the whole basis of Romeo and Juliet's relationship.
- Foregone Conclusion: It's stated in the very beginning that the title characters die... on line six of the Prologue, to be precise. Supposedly, there was a happy alternate ending that contemporary audiences could vote for in lieu of the tragic ending. No one has ever discovered it, though.
- 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 of four days.
- Freudian Trio:
- The Montague lads:
- Also, the women of the Capulet family fit into this:
- Lady Capulet, trying to get her daughter married to someone rich and suitable (Superego)
- Juliet, especially at the beginning when she tries to please others rather than herself (Ego)
- The Nurse, trying to get Juliet laid (Id)
- Gallows Humor: "Ask for me in the morning, and you will find me a grave man."
- Genre Busting: It was the first play to combine the idea of comedies and tragedies. In a typical comedy, there are young lovers who live Happily Ever After. In a typical tragedy, there are political figures and families that feud and kill people. All of this happens in Romeo and Juliet. Except the happily-ever-after part.
- Genre Shift: It looks exactly like your typical Shakespearian comedy until Mercutio kicks it in Act III. From there on in, it's a tragedy. The only other comedic character was the Nurse, and even then, after Mercutio dies, she and Juliet have a falling out.
- The Ghost: Rosaline. Though she's not even that important anyway.
- Grey and Gray Morality
- Hanlon's Razor: Two teens in "love" die because of a problem with the post. Not much malice against them from anybody except Tybalt, who proves pretty pathetic.
- 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, as mentioned previously, at this point in the play, his wife is trying to stop him from jumping into the fight.)
- "Aqua Vitae, ho!" Note that Aqua Vitae is archaic for Whiskey. Whats worse, the Nurse says it, and Lady Capulet was the next to speak.
- Also Romeo talking about his "Well-flowered pump." "Pumps" were (and still are) shoes, which would be adorned with flowers at dances and other gatherings.
- There are several with Capulet as well, such as "You are a saucy boy" and "You are too hot," the latter being said to him by his wife.
- Heterosexual Life Partners: Mercutio and Benvolio are typically viewed as these in the Fanfiction universe.
- Hot-Blooded: Tybalt. He's responsible for most of the fighting that goes on.
- Romeo, too. When Mercutio kicks the bucket, his immediate reaction is going to Tybalt and fight him.
- Romeo's reaction to Paris threatening to arrest him was to fight him. He won, as well.
- Hell, even Mercutio has a little of this. Basically every young guy in this play who's not Benvolio.
- It's beyond the young people. Capulet and Montague wanted to fight each other, but their Lady's held them back. In Act III, Capulet went berserk when Juliet refused to obey him.
- 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. This being Shakespeare, the Prince loses his two kinsmen 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: The beginning of the first scene, or act 2, scene 4. Despite being hidden in Shakespeare's archaic English, they're in there.
- I Need a Freaking Drink: Whenever the Nurse asks for "aqua vitae", it's pretty much this...
- Idiot Ball: Friar Lawrence for coming up with faking Juliet's death and Juliet for thinking it would work.
- Romeo was holding the idiot ball long before that. If he had turned in Tybalt for killing Mercutio instead of going after him himself, the entire rest of the play would not have happened.
- Impeded Messenger: Due to the black 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.
- In Love with Love: Romeo, particularly with Rosaline.
- Incredibly Lame Pun: A good handful of the characters, though Mercutio seems to live off of them. He even belts them out as he lay dying...
- Large Ham: Mercutio loves to make dramatic speeches.
- Lost in Imitation: The two are a pair of shallow barely-teens who want to have sex. Good luck finding anyone who realizes this today.
- Love At First Sight: The title characters fell in love like this. They fell HARD.
- Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: By their times's standards. Compare their behaviors: Romeo is the one with emotional reactions for better or worse, whereas Juliet is more practical and stages their doomed escape.
- Masquerade Ball: Capulet holds one, which just so happens to be the place Romeo and Juliet fell in Love At First Sight.
- Matron Chaperone: The Nurse.
- Meaningful Background Event: Lady Montague may have had a Bus Crash, but she evened the death toll to 2:2:2- 2 for the Capulets (Juliet and Tybalt), 2 for the Montagues (Romeo and Lady Montague), and 2 for the Prince's family (Mercutio and Paris)
- Moral Dissonance: Romeo's murder of Paris, who commits the terrible crime of putting flowers on his fiancée's tomb. Although considering Romeo's mental conditions at the time, it doesn't come off as much of a surprise.
- Romeo actually kills Paris because he tries to arrest him for breaking his exile (and breaking into the Capulet tomb). Although Paris is basically doing the right thing.
- Mortal Wound Reveal: Mercutio's death is often played as this in modern versions - crops up in both Baz Luhrmann's and Franco Zeffirelli's screen adaptations.
- Name and Name
- Nice Guy: Paris, although how nice he is depends on the staging.
- Romeo is also implied to be this, considering the fact that Lord Capulet doesn't actually care when he's told that Romeo is at his party and says he's heard nice things about the boy. Keep in mind, this is the guy that was trying to kill said boy's father less than 24 hours earlier for no other reason than some old rivalry, the cause of which no one remembers.
- Noodle Incident: During his "Queen Mab" speech, it soon becomes clear that Mercutio was once greatly hurt by a woman.
- Only Sane Man: Benvolio. No wonder he disappears after Act III.
- And is the only major surviving character of the younger generation.
- Parental Substitute: The Nurse for Juliet.
- A Plague on Both Your Houses: The Trope Namer, uttered by Mercutio when he was dying from a wound delivered from Tybalt.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Mercutio, when he died, things went to hell real quick.
- 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.
- Popcultural Osmosis: Probably the main reason people think Romeo and Juliet are the model 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 exists to make fun of.
- On the other hand, it seems that reminding people that this is the case is becoming a subtrope in its own right since at least 2000.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Yes, really. Lord Capulet is portrayed as not taking the feud nearly as seriously as the younger generation; when Tybalt informs him that Romeo has snuck into their ball, his response is to shrug and say that he's heard the boy has a good reputation, and tells Tybalt to leave Romeo alone and not do anything since, after all, Romeo hadn't done anything wrong to him.
- The Reliable One: Benvolio (notice a pattern to his tropes yet?), the Nurse.
- 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.
- Romantic False Lead: Paris shows up asking for Juliet's hand before she meets Romeo.
- Runaway Fiancee: The Faux Death set up by Juliet was an attempt to get out of marrying Paris.
- Sad Clown: Mercutio, in some versions.
- Secret Relationship: The root of the tragedy.
- Serial Romeo: Romeo, naturally. His 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: Tybalt has about 3 scenes in the play, but without him it would be a vastly different story.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Trope Namer. Possibly an Unbuilt Trope, as the play can be read as a Deconstruction of same.
- Tag-Team Suicide: Juliet uses Romeo's dagger to kill herself.
- Together in Death: Romeo and Juliet.
- Too Dumb to Live: It's probably easier to list the characters who don't act like idiots...
- A Tragedy of Impulsiveness: Impulsiveness is the downfall of many characters, up to and including the lovers themselves.
- Tragic Mistake: Romeo's killing of Tybalt in vengeance for Mercutio, leading to his banishment. Everything goes straight to hell for both lovers because of it.
- Translation Convention
- 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 of Doom, although, ironically, this stems from his failure to deliver a letter. He doesn't know what it contains.
- Upper Class Wit: Mercutio.
- The Villain Must Be Punished: Prince Escalus has warned the Montagues and Capulets that any more fighting between them, and he will start executing the perpetrators. It seems the elders are willing to let bygones be bygones to save their children's lives; Tybalt, however, isn't as reasonable. He challenges Romeo to a duel for crashing the Capulet party but ends up fighting the prince's nephew Mercutio instead, who is scrapping for a fight. Romeo tries to break it up, reminding Tybalt of the edict, but Tybalt takes the opportunity to stab Mercutio fatally. In revenge for his best friend, Romeo kills Tybalt before fleeing to the church for sanctuary. The adults come too late to break up the aftermath; Lady Capulet demands justice for Tybalt when Benvolio, for once not causing the fight, reports what happened. The prince isn't amused with Lady Capulet's Selective Obliviousness; he points out that a Capulet murdered his beloved nephew, who was an outsider to the feud and royalty. Since he knows that Romeo was only defending his friend and according to Benvolio tried to stop the fight, he remits the sentence to exile for Romeo and fines the Capulets to compensate for the loss of his kin.
- 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).
- What the Hell, Hero?: Friar Lawrence's speech to Romeo in Act III is basically him calling 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.
- 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.