How to Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet

Two Methods:Getting StartedShakespeare Terms Guide

Having trouble reading Romeo and Juliet? Can't understand it? Here are steps on how to read it.

Getting Started

  1. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 1
    Go to your local bookstore and purchase a book that tells the story in simpler words. Normally these books are called "Shakespeare Made Easy", and cost around $6.99.
  2. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 2
    Look at the two sides of the book. You'll notice that one side is written in Shakespearean language and the other side is English translated. Read the Shakespearean and when you come along a difficult spot, look to the other side for help.
  3. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 3
    Go to "Cliffs Notes" or "SparkNotes" online if you don't want to purchase the book. They have excellent pages on each act, descriptions of the characters, analyses and quizzes.
  4. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 4
    Read with a partner. Sometimes if you read alone you might miss a deeper meaning. If you read in a group or with a friend you have more thought and insights than your own.
  5. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 5
    Go and see the play or movie. This way you can see what is going on, and get the main idea. However, remember that each director and actor has their own interpretation about the roles and the story.
  6. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 6
    Get a little information on Shakespeare and the Elizabethan England before you read the book. This way you will understand his time and the whole work. (Look up Shakespeare, the Globe Theater, the Renaissance, etc.)
  7. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 7
    Be able to recognize poetry forms. William Shakespeare was a genius in the art of writing. With almost every sentence he used some form of structure. If you know what a sonnet is or a couplet, then the book will seem a lot more meaningful. Here is an example of a sonnet, that he used in the beginning to start of this story:

    "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
    A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
    Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
    Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
    The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
    And the continuance of their parents' rage,
    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."'
  8. Image titled Read and Understand Romeo and Juliet Step 8
    As you read, think about the characters and scenes. What are characters' traits? What is going on in the story (what's the relationship between the Montagues and the Capulets? How come Shakespeare never states where the hatred came from?)? How do they function? What might they mean? Try to catch as many details that occur to be meaningful to you as possible. If you can, write them down and think as you read, and find more information about them later.

Shakespeare Terms Guide

Sample Shakespeare Terms


  • If you watch the movie or play it might be changed around a bit, so on an exam you might get an answer wrong. It's always best to read the book.
  • Get a detailed plot outline for the story. If you know what's going to happen, you will have a better time following along.
  • Go to they have an interactive version.
  • If you read the book with Shakespeare Made Easy, do not only read the right side. If you receive a test, you might get a few questions wrong. For example, if they give you a quote from the left side you will have no clue what it says!
  • A (Shakespearean) Sonnet is a 14 lined poem that rhymes in this format: AB AB CD CD EF EF GG. Before Shakespeare's time, there were also sonnets with other rhyming forms.
  • If you work in a group, pick members who won't goof off, that way you will actually spend your time deciphering this story.
  • Romeo and Juliet is a play, and Shakespeare intended for it to be watched and heard, not read. Seeing it acted out can help you get the full feel of what Shakespeare was trying to convey.


  • Don't cheat and rely on the cliff notes. This is taking out the fun and appreciation of learning about Shakespeare.

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Categories: Studying Literature