The prologue of Romeo and Juliet calls the title characters "star-crossed lovers"—and the stars do seem to conspire against these young lovers.
Romeo is a Montague, and Juliet a Capulet. Their families are enmeshed in a feud, but the moment they meet—when Romeo and his friends attend a party at Juliet's house in disguise—the two fall in love and quickly decide that they want to be married.
A friar secretly marries them, hoping to end the feud. Romeo and his companions almost immediately encounter Juliet's cousin Tybalt, who challenges Romeo. When Romeo refuses to fight, Romeo’s friend Mercutio accepts the challenge and is killed. Romeo then kills Tybalt and is banished. He spends that night with Juliet and then leaves for Mantua.
Juliet’s father forces her into a marriage with Count Paris. To avoid this marriage, Juliet takes a potion, given her by the friar, which makes her appear dead. The friar will send Romeo word to be at her family tomb when she awakes. The plan goes awry, and Romeo learns instead that she is dead. In the tomb, Romeo kills himself. Juliet wakes, sees his body, and commits suicide. Their deaths appear finally to end the feud.
Early printed texts
Romeo and Juliet was first printed in 1597 (Q1) as a quarto that is markedly different than any subsequent early printing: it is shorter, the wedding scene is radically different, and the language widely differs in the last three acts. The play appeared as a quarto in 1599 (Q2) in a text that seems to have had a different source than the one behind Q1; this version of the play was reprinted in 1609 (Q3) and in 1623 (Q4). The play is included in the 1623 First Folio, with a text that differs from Q3 beyond what we would expect typesetters to change. Most modern editions, like the Folger, are based on Q2.
Picturing Romeo and Juliet
As part of an NEH-funded project, the Folger digitized thousands of 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century images representing Shakespeare’s plays. Some of these images show actors in character, while others show the plays as if they were real-life events—telling the difference isn't always easy. A selection of images related to Romeo and Juliet is shown below, with links to our digital image collection.
More images of Romeo and Juliet can be seen in our digital image collection. (Because of how they were cataloged, some images from other plays might appear in the image searches linked here, so always check the sidebar to see if the image is described as part of a larger group.)