The role of the families in Romeo and Juliet is perhaps one of the most important underlying themes. An ongoing feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is the catalyst for Romeo and Juliet’s downfall. Had this not been the case, the ending would have turned out far differently. This feud causes a secret relationship, the death of Mercutio and Tybalt and ultimately Romeo’s banishment, leading to the suicides of our main characters. “Two households, both alike in dignity, (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” (Prologue.1-4) Romeo and Juliet are driven to destruction by the wars of their families, having underestimated the hatred between their fathers and overestimating the belief that their love can overcome the longstanding family feud.
Romeo and Juliet sacrificed much for their star-crossed love and were intent on being together, despite their feuding families. Having met at the ball and falling in love at first sight, they knew they had to be together no matter the cost. One of the most famous lines from the play shows Juliet struggling in understanding her love for Romeo, knowing that he is an enemy of her family. “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” (JULIET: 2.2.36-39) Their impassioned love pushes them to risk their lives on more than one occasion, with Romeo consistently putting himself in danger to be with Juliet. He sneaks into the Capulet home and later scales the walls of the Capulet orchard. Juliet knows how dangerous this is for Romeo. “How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore? The orchard walls are high and hard to climb, And the place death, considering who thou art, If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”(JULIET: 2,2,62-4). Romeo’s decision is that of a teenager blinded by love, which makes him believe it is a good idea to sneak around the Capulet household to be with Juliet. The secret relationship that Romeo and Juliet are trying to maintain is found out by few people, even Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, is unaware of the forbidden romance. Romeo declares his love for Juliet to Friar Lawrence and asks for his help. Despite their relationship moving quickly and that marrying between the two families is forbidden, Friar Lawrence agrees in the hopes of bringing the feud to an end. “For naught so vile that on the earth doth live but to the earth some special good doth give, Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse: Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied; And vice sometime’s by action dignified” (FRIAR LAWRENCE: 2.2.17–22). The lovers eventually gain the support from the Friar Lawrence and the Juliet’s Nurse, but they have limits to helping them as they can get in serious trouble. “Pray you, sir, a word. And as I told you, my young lady bade me inquire you out. What she bade me say, I will keep to myself. But first let me tell you, if you should lead her into a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behavior, as they say. For the gentlewoman is young; and therefore, if you should deal double with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.” (NURSE: 2.4.165-174) Friar Lawrence does try to caution Romeo. Reminding him that he had recently declared his love for Rosaline. “Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here! Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear, So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes. Jesu Maria, what a deal of brine hath washed thy sallow cheeks for Rosaline! How much salt water thrown away in waste to season love, that of it doth not taste! The sun not yet thy sighs from heaven clears, Thy old groans ring yet in my ancient ears. Lo, here upon thy cheek the stain doth sit of an old tear that is not washed off yet. (FRIAR LAWRENCE: 2.3.69-80)
“O, let us hence. I stand on sudden haste.” ROMEO
“Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.” (FRIAR LAWRENCE: 2.3.100-101)
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Romeo, being the lovesick teenager he is, finds himself desperate and sneaks into the Capulet house on a night when they were hosting a party. Obviously, this was a very dangerous idea for Romeo and helped elevate Tybalt’s anger towards Romeo. Tybalt found out there were montagues at the party and had no intention of letting him stay. “This, by his voice, should be a Montague. Fetch me my rapier, boy. What dares the slave come hither cover’d with an antic face, to fleer and scorn at our solemnity? Now, by the stock and honour of my kin, to strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.” (TYBALT: 1.5.61-67) Tybalt wants to kill Romeo because he is a Montague and this starts the journey for Tybalt to his death. He seems blinded by the family name despite Juliet’s father asking Tybalt to pay no mind to Romeo when they noticed him at the party. Tybalt cannot seem to let it go, as he later searches for Romeo in the streets of Verona to dual him, claiming he is a villain for attending Lord Capulet’s ball. “Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford no better term than this: thou art a villain.” (TYBALT: 3.161-74). Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt because he has just married his love, Juliet, Tybalt’s cousin. Although Tybalt did not get to fight Romeo then, he later comes back for revenge, attempting to dual Romeo again. Tybalt stabs Mercutio as Romeo tries to stop them. Mercutio then dies, cursing both the Montagues and the Capulets “A plague o’ both your houses” (MERCUTIO: 3.1.87), “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man” (MERCUTIO: 3.1.93–94). Enraged, Romeo declares that his love for Juliet has clouded his judgement and that he should have fought Tybalt in Mercutio’s place. Then Tybalt, still angry, storms back and Romeo draws his sword. They fight, and Romeo ends up killing Tybalt. Romeo, shocked at what he has done, cries “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (ROMEO: 3.1.131) and flees.
After hearing he is to be exiled from Verona, Romeo reacts with understable drama, as he is grief-stricken and overcome by his passion for Juliet. Collapsing on the floor, he refuses to listen to reason and threatens to kill himself. “Spakest thou of Juliet? How is it with her? Doth she not think me an old murderer, Now I have stained the childhood of our joy with blood removed but little from her own? Where is she? And how doth she? And what says my concealed lady to our cancelled love?” (ROMEO: 3.3.101-106) Romeo worries that his murder of Tybalt, an act of hatred, may have destroyed Juliet’s love for him. Friar Laurence and Juliet’s Nurse try to prevent Romeo from committing suicide as he believes Juliet will hate him for killing her cousin. “Hold thy desperate hand! Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art. Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote the unreasonable fury of a beast. Unseemly woman in a seeming man, or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both! Thou hast amazed me. By my holy order, I thought thy disposition better tempered. Hast thou slain Tybalt? Wilt thou slay thyself, and slay thy lady that in thy life lives, by doing damnèd hate upon thyself?” (FRIAR LAWRENCE: 3.3.118-128) Juliet, on the other hand, displays significant growth from the simple girl to the mature and loyal woman we see near the end. Romeo’s banishment creates a separation between him and Juliet which ultimately tests their love for one another. After the banishment, Romeo heads to Mantua to live out his exile. In an attempt to get Romeo and Juliet together once again, Friar Lawrence devised a plan. Juliet must agree to marry Paris, knowing that she will drink a sleeping potion that will make it appear that she is dead the night before the wedding. Then, the Friar will send notice to Romeo, who will retrieve her when she wakes up and they will be free to be together in Mantua.
Unfortunately, Romeo is unaware of the plan and hears of Juliet’s death from Balthasar, “Then I defy you, stars” (ROMEO: 5.1.24) Romeo, devastated, rushes to Verona to say goodbye to his wife. Believing that he cannot live without Juliet, he plans to kill himself. Romeo, being the depressed, confused teenager he is at this point in the story, goes to the Apothecary to buy poison to kill himself. Romeo persuades the Apothecary to sell this illegal substance to him, “Put this in any liquid thing you will and drink it off; and, if you had the strength of twenty men, it would dispatch you straight.” (Apothecary: ) which he intends to use to be with Juliet forever. Romeo heads to the tomb in which Juliet sleeps and comes across Paris. They fight because Paris decided Romeo had come to dishonour Juliet’s corpse in hate of the Capulet’s, “And here is come to do some villainous shame to the dead bodies. I will apprehend him.” (PARIS: 5.3.59-60). Romeo and Paris duel to the death. Paris falls to the ground, “Oh, I am slain! If thou be merciful, open the tomb. Lay me with Juliet.” (PARIS: 5.3.80-81) Romeo fulfills his request, then goes to Juliet. Standing over her as she lays in the tomb, Romeo drinks the poison to hopefully be with Juliet in spirit. “O, here will I set up my everlasting rest, and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world-wearied flesh! Eyes, look your last. Arms, take your last embrace. And, lips, O, you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss a dateless bargain to engrossing death” kisses Juliet “Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavoury guide! Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on the dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark! Here’s to my love!”, drinks poison, “O true apothecary, Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.”(ROMEO: 5.3.88-120) After Juliet awakes to see Romeo’s dead body beside her, Juliet does not know how to live without her true love and kisses Romeo to get the poison off his lips to kill her and be with Romeo once again, this does not work, so she unsheathes Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself.