Romeo and Juliet begins with a Chorus setting the scene in the Italian city of Verona, where the Capulets and the Montagues – two aristocratic families – are locked in a long-standing feud. When a brawl breaks out in the opening scenes, Prince Escalus has to step in to stop it.
Romeo, the only son of the Montagues, is at first in love with Rosaline. We never meet her and it becomes apparent that he is more in love with the idea of love than with Rosaline herself. To snap him out of it, his friends Benvolio and Mercutio take Romeo to a masked ball at the Capulets’ house where he meets Juliet. They fall instantly in love and are married in secret by Friar Lawrence the next day. But when Juliet’s cousin Tybalt starts another brawl, Mercutio is killed and Romeo takes revenge by killing Tybalt.
Banished by Escalus, Romeo flees to Mantua, but not before spending the night with his wife. Juliet discovers that her parents are planning on marrying her to Count Paris. She consults Friar Lawrence, who advises her to take a drug that will allow her to mimic death, and to escape to Romeo in Mantua when she wakes up in the family tomb. But the messenger, Friar John, does not reach Romeo in time to explain the plan. Finding Juliet in the tomb and thinking her dead, Romeo commits suicide. When Juliet wakes, she sees Romeo and kills herself too. In closing, the Montagues and the Capulets resolve to use their shared grief to put an end to the feud.
Click here for a short PDF summary of the sources relating to Romeo and Juliet from 'Discovering Literature: Shakespeare'.