A woman pointing and saying,

Shakespeare gives away the ending of Romeo and Juliet...at the beginning of the play!

It's right there in the prologue:

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life

Does that make Shakespeare a bad storyteller? Far from it! Shakespeare's goal is to get you ready for the tragic tale you're about to witness.

Why A Prologue?

A standup comedian on stage saying,

The prologue sets the scene for Romeo and Juliet so we can understand:

  • Where the play will take place

  • What the story's central conflict will be

Flaticon IconA Closer Look

Think about the three points above when you read this stanza:

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.

Quiz

What does this stanza tell us about the two families from Verona (The Capulets and the Montagues)?

They'll have a new reason to fight

They're from different backgrounds

They've hated each other for a long time

What About Their Families?

A scene from the 1996 movie Romeo and Juliet. Romeo tells Juliet, We know Romeo and Juliet won't make it out of the play alive.

But what will happen to their families? Will they still be at war with each other?

Flaticon IconA Closer Look

Read the stanza below. Focus on what the narrator says will happen to the Capulet and Montague families after Romeo and Juliet die.

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,

Whose misadventured piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.

Quiz

According to the narrator, what will happen to The Capulets and Montagues after Romeo and Juliet die?

The families will both leave Verona

Their feud will get worse

They'll finally stop fighting each other

So Why Give Away The Ending?

Flaticon IconBecause it makes the play more tragic!

Take a look at the final stanzas:

The fearful passage of their death-marked love

And the continuance of their parents' rage,

Which, but their children’s end, naught 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.

Shakespeare is using a dramatic technique called foreshadowing: when a narrator or author tells you how things are going to end, and then fills in the details as the story moves on.

As you watch the play over the next two hours, Shakespeare wants you to know that Romeo and Juliet will be sacrificed to bring peace between their families.

No matter what Romeo and Juliet do, their destiny as "star-crossed lovers" is to die.

How sad is that?

Jimmy Fallon making a crying face over the text: about to ugly cry.

Take Action

Romeo hugging Juliet as she lies unconscious beside candles

Get your tissue box ready!

The play will fill in the details of how Romeo and Juliet meet their deaths.

Just like in the prologue, you'll come across some words and phrases that made perfect sense in Shakespeare's time, but might be hard to understand for modern English speakers to understand.

As you read or watch Romeo and Juliet:

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This Byte has been authored by

SB

Steve Birek

Virtual Facilitator