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?
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
A 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.
What does this stanza tell us about the two families from Verona (The Capulets and the Montagues)?
What About Their Families?
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?
A 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.
According to the narrator, what will happen to The Capulets and Montagues after Romeo and Juliet die?
So Why Give Away The Ending?
Because 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?
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.