Cambridge University Press
0521618703 - Romeo and Juliet - Edited by Rex Gibson

List of characters


The house of Capulet

CAPULET her father
LADY CAPULET her mother
TYBALT her cousin
NURSE to Juliet
PETER the Nurse’s servant
COUSIN CAPULET Juliet’s kinsman
SAMPSON servant to Capulet
GREGORY servant to Capulet
CLOWN servant to Capulet
PETRUCHIO Tybalt’s friend

The house of Montague

LADY MONTAGUE his mother
BENVOLIO his friend
BALTHASAR his servant
ABRAM Montague’s servant

The Court

ESCALES Prince of Verona
MERCUTIO his kinsman, Romeo’s friend
PARIS his kinsman, suitor to Juliet
PAGE to Paris

The Church

FRIAR LAWRENCE Franciscan priest
FRIAR JOHN Franciscan priest

The City

Musicians, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, Maskers, Torch-bearers,
Citizens and Officers of the Watch, Captain of the Watch


An apothecary

The Play is set in Verona and Mantua

Chorus (a narrator) gives a preview of the play: the bitter quarrels of
the Montagues and Capulets are ended only by the death of their children,
Romeo and Juliet.

1 What began the feud? (in small groups)

But why were the Montagues and Capulets such bitter enemies? Shakespeare never tells us and no one really knows. Talk together about why you think these two families should have been at each other’s throats for so long. Prepare a short scene to show what long-ago incident sparked off the age-old hatred (‘ancient grudge’) between two of Verona’s leading families. Present your scene to the class.

2 Oppositions – antithesis

Romeo and Juliet is full of oppositions: Montagues versus Capulets, parents versus children, for example. The language reflects those oppositions by the use of antithesis (opposing words or phrases, see also p. 216), as in line 3 where ‘ancient’ is set against ‘new’. Identify the opposition in line 14, and look out for other oppositions as you read through the play.

3 Perform the whole play! (in groups of six or more)

The Prologue gives an outline of the play. Work out your own short drama to show all the action described. One person reads the Prologue aloud, a line or section at a time. The others mime what is described. Each group shows its Prologue in turn.

4 Write your own sonnet

The Prologue is in the form of a sonnet (fourteen lines). There are several sonnets in Romeo and Juliet. Turn to page 217 to learn more about sonnets, and try your hand at writing one.

The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

The prologue


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.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes        5
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,        10
Which but their children’s end nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. [Exit]

Capulet’s servants, Sampson and Gregory, joke together and boast that they
are superior to the Montagues. Suddenly two of Montague’s servants appear.
Sampson urges Gregory to pick a quarrel with them.

1 Brave or cowardly? (in pairs ã as Gregory and Sampson)

Read lines 1–36 aloud together several times, changing roles. Try to emphasise all their wordplay of puns and double meanings. For example, in lines 3–4 Sampson’s ‘we be in choler, we’ll draw’ means ‘being angry, we’ll draw our swords’. But Gregory’s reply, ‘draw your neck out of collar’, turns the meaning into ‘pull your head out of the hangman’s noose’ (‘choler’ = anger, ‘collar’ = noose).

   After you have spoken the lines, talk together about these two characters. Are they really as brave as they brag they are?

2 What do you think?

Here’s what one student wrote about Sampson and Gregory:

Times never change! Like typical men these boneheads boast about their sexual prowess and turn everything into a sex-joke (‘stand’, ‘thrust’, ‘maidenheads’, ‘tool’, ‘weapon’). Why on earth did Shakespeare put such crude characters and language into a play that’s about love, not sex?

Write your reply to her question.

3 Set the scene

At the beginning of each scene, a location is given (here it is ‘Verona A public place’). But in Shakespeare’s theatre the action took place on a bare stage, with little or no scenery. Suggest a simple way in which you could convey to the audience that this scene takes place in the open air in Verona.

Act 1 Scene 1

Verona A public place

Enter SAMPSON and GREGORY, with swords and bucklers.

SAMPSON   Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals.

GREGORY    No, for then we should be colliers.

SAMPSON    I mean, and we be in choler, we’ll draw.

GREGORY    Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar.

SAMPSON    I strike quickly, being moved.      5

GREGORY   But thou art not quickly moved to strike.

SAMPSON    A dog of the house of Montague moves me.

GREGORY   To move is to stir, and to be valiant is to stand: therefore if thou art moved thou runn’st away.

SAMPSON A dog of that house shall move me to stand: I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s.     10

GREGORY   That shows thee a weak slave, for the weakest goes to the wall.

SAMPSON   ’Tis true, and therefore women being the weaker vessels are ever thrust to the wall: therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.      15

GREGORY       The quarrel is between our masters, and us their men.

SAMPSON   ’Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads.      20

GREGORY   The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON    Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads, take it in what sense thou wilt.

GREGORY   They must take it in sense that feel it.

SAMPSON    Me they shall feel while I am able to stand, and ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.      25

GREGORY   ’Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been poor-John Draw thy tool, here comes of the house of Montagues.

Enter two other SERVINGMEN, [one being ABRAM].

SAMPSON    My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back thee.

GREGORY    How, turn thy back and run?      30

Sampson and Gregory begin a quarrel with the Montagues. Benvolio (a Montague)
tries to make peace, but Tybalt (a Capulet) adds flames to the fire,
seizing the opportunity to fight.

1 Where would you set the play? (in pairs)

The American musical film West Side Story was based on Romeo and Juliet. It was set in modern New York, with the lovers belonging to opposing gangs, the Jets and the Sharks (see picture below). Baz Luhrmann’s film William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet sets the action in Verona Beach, a mythical modern Hispanic-American city (see pictures on pp. vi, xi and 225).

   Talk together about other possible settings where the quarrels (that Shakespeare set in Verona) could take place. Look through the illustrations in this edition and decide which location and period you prefer. Set out the reasons for your preference in writing.

Image not available in HTML version

2 Tybalt – what’s he like? (in small groups)

Tybalt speaks only five lines (lines 57–8 and lines 61–3), but they tell a great deal about him. Choose one word from each line and work out a short mime using those five words to show Tybalt’s character.

SAMPSON   Fear me not.

GREGORY   No, marry, I fear thee!

SAMPSON   Let us take the law of our sides, let them begin.

GREGORY   I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as they list.

SAMPSON   Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them if they bear it.   35   

ABRAM   Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

sampson   I do bite my thumb, sir.

ABRAM   Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?

SAMPSON   [Aside to Gregory] Is the law of our side if I say ay?      40

GREGORY   [Aside to Sampson] No.

SAMPSON   No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I bite my thumb, sir.

GREGORY   Do you quarrel, sir?

ABRAM   Quarrel, No sir      45

SAMPSON   But if you do, sir, I am for you. I serve as good a man as you.

ABRAM   No better.

SAMPSON   Well, sir.


GREGORY   [Aside to Sampson] Say ‘better’, here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.      50

SAMPSON Yes, better, sir.

ABRAM   You lie.

SAMPSON   Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy washing blow.

They fight

BENVOLIO   Part, fools!      55

Put up your swords, you know not what you do.

[Beats down their swords.]


TYBALT   What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death.

BENVOLIO   I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me.      60

TYBALT   What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.Have at thee, coward.

[They fight.]

A furious riot develops. Capulet and Montague join in. Prince Escales, angry
and exasperated, stops the fight. He rebukes Montague and
Capulet, and threatens death if they fight in public again.

1 A snapshot at the height of the riot (in large groups)

Each group member takes a part. There are at least eleven speaking characters so far. You can add as many other servants and officers as you wish. Use the hall or drama studio if you can, but it will work well in the classroom if you clear some space.

   Each group prepares and presents a snapshot photograph (a ‘tableau’ or ‘frozen moment’) showing the height of the riot at line 72, ‘Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace’.

   Your group ‘snapshot’ shows precisely what each character is doing at that moment. This means thinking carefully about what your character has said so far, then ‘freezing’ as that person at this moment in the riot. Remember, each character is doing something in relation to other characters, so try to show those relationships. For example, both Lady Capulet and Lady Montague seem to rebuke and mock their husbands. It takes time to think out, experiment and then present the most dramatic picture.

   Hold your ‘freeze’ for at least sixty seconds – with no movement whatever. The other groups watch for that time. They identify exactly who is who.

2 The all-powerful Prince (in groups of four)

The Prince holds the power of life or death over his subjects. He uses elaborate language (e.g. bloodstained swords are ‘neighbour-stainèd steel’). Read the speech aloud, each person reading just one line at a time. Read it again around the group, with a different person beginning the speech. After your readings, write notes advising an actor playing the Prince how to speak the different sections of the speech.

Enter [several of both houses, who join the fray, and] three or four Citizens [as officers of the Watch,] with clubs or partisans.

OFFICERS   Clubs, bills, and partisans! Strike! Beat them down!
Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!      65

Enter old capulet in his gown, and his wife [LADY CAPULET].

CAPULET   What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!

LADY CAPULET   A crutch, a crutch! why call you for a sword?

CAPULETM   My sword, I say! old Montague is come, And flourishes his blade in spite of me.

Enter old MONTAGUE and his wife [LADY MONTAGUE].

MONTAGUE   Thou villain Capulet! – Hold me not, let me go.      70

LADY MONTAGUE   Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe.

EnterPRINCE ESCALES with his train.

Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbour-stainèd steel –
Will they not hear? – What ho, you men, you beasts!
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage      75
With purple fountains issuing from your veins:
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground,
And hear the sentence of your movèd prince.
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,      80
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets,
And made Verona’s ancient citizens
Cast by their grave beseeming ornaments
To wield old partisans, in hands as old      85
Cankered with peace, to part your cankered hate;
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
For this time all the rest depart away:
You, Capulet, shall go along with me,      90
And, Montague, come you this afternoon,
To know our farther pleasure in this case,
To old Free-town, our common judgement-place.
Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.
Exeunt [all but Montague, Lady Montague, and Benvolio]

Benvolio recounts the story of the riot. He tells Lady Montague how Romeo
has avoided meeting him. Montague confirms that Romeo has been keeping to
himself, preferring night to day.

1 Show Benvolio’s story of the riot (in small groups)

Take each moment in the developing fight as Benvolio tells it (‘Here . . . adversary’; ‘And . . . approach’; ‘I . . . them’; ‘in . . . prepared’, and so on). Notice how Benvolio mocks Tybalt’s style of fighting in lines 100–3.

   Present a slow-motion version and a fast-motion version of the story, showing each action described in lines 97–106. It helps to appoint a narrator who speaks the words as the other group members present the mime.

   As you watch other groups presenting their mimes, see if they perform every incident that Benvolio mentions. You’ll have to watch the fast-motion versions very carefully!

2 Give Lady Montague a voice

Lady Montague speaks only two lines, then is silent. She never speaks again in the play. Her silence suggests the powerlessness of women in Verona. Step into role as Lady Montague and write an entry in her diary. In it she expresses her concern for Romeo and also says what she thinks about the feud and the fight she has just witnessed.

3 What’s the matter with Romeo? (in pairs)

Take parts as Benvolio and Montague and speak lines 109–33 several times, changing characters. Talk together about Romeo’s behaviour as described in the speeches. Why is he behaving like this? Suggest a number of possible reasons.

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