A famous romantic tragedy of Shakespeare, but with bawdy language and sexual content.
Romeo is in love. The object of his passionate affection is the fair Rosaline, who, unfortunately, has pledged never to marry; for this reason Romeo is in the depths of sorrow. Attempting to bring him out of his depression, his friend Benvolio suggests his attending a banquet at the house of Capulet, where Rosaline will also be feasting and where Romeo will be able to compare her to other young women and see that she is not as fair as he once thought her. Determined to prove his friend wrong, Romeo goes. There he sees and, all thoughts of Rosaline fleeing, falls desperately in love with the lady Juliet, who shares his feelings.
Alas for the two lovers, for while Juliet is of the house of Capulet, Romeo is of the house of Montague. The two families have been in a feud with each other for time out of mind, and Romeo and Juliet's love for each other is doomed.
The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues is long and senseless, with neither really remembering the reason for it at all. Some characters argue and insult one another in Shakespeare's typical style, and there are brawls. Juliet lies to her parents in some parts and speaks to Romeo secretly. Romeo himself is not a very steadfast person, jumping from Rosaline to Juliet without any lead-up; Friar Laurence's words on the matter apply sum it up: "What a change is here! Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear, so soon forsaken? Young men's love then lies, not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes!"
Friar Laurence is a major character, and one other monk makes a brief appearance. Romeo and Juliet go to visit him in the monastery and the fact that he hears confessions is mentioned several times. The ancient gods of Rome, especially Aphrodite and Cupid, are mentioned in the romantic speeches.
The story opens with a fight in the streets of Verona, Italy, where two men swordfight until the prince comes and breaks them up. Later two other men do the same, with one of them dying; he is then avenged and the killer himself is slain. A man commits suicide by poison and a woman stabs herself to death with a knife.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Poison is employed, as well as a drug that lowers the pulse and makes one appear dead.
Romeo waxes eloquent about first Rosaline's beauty and then Juliet's, though he never goes into much detail. His friends, however, are not quite so delicate; many of Mercutio's comments are immodest and lewd. When Romeo has been gone almost all night, Friar Laurence asks him if he was with Rosaline (he was not). After Romeo and Juliet wed, she gives a long speech by herself about her desire to consummate the marriage.
There are sexual euphemisms that may go unnoticed if not read with enlightening footnotes. Mercutio often uses references to harlots in his comments, and Romeo also uses a wordplay on the same line. On Juliet's wedding day, her nurse makes a couple indecent comments while waking Juliet.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
Quite a number of incorrect uses of God's name and Jesus', as well as exclamations such as "Holy Saint Francis" and "Mary!" Shakespeare's word plays can get quite bawdy, especially coming from the character Mercutio (see Sexual Content). "Wh***" is used not infrequently, as is "wench."
Romeo and Juliet, though probably Shakespeare's most famous work, is by no means his most original; it was based off an Italian work which based off another Italian work, which may have been history and was probably only fiction. It does contain some of the writer's most well-known lines - Juliet's "Wherefore art thou Romeo?" when she laments his allegiance to the house of Capulet, and Romeo's "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" as he sees Juliet standing at a high balcony.
Romeo and Juliet is the kind of work that is generally either loved or hated; if the reader is a fan of romance and romantic discussions, and of tragic ends, this will probably appeal to them. If the reader is a severe critic of such works and fonder of action than the theme of passionate monologues, this is probably not the best play for them to begin their reading of Shakespeare with. And, classical state aside, it is certainly ill-suited for the library of young readers and should not be assigned to pre-teens unless they are quite mature.