Verona. The house of Capulet. Young Juliet is in love with Paris. Paris is in love with her. They are to be married - Paris has asked for and received her father's consent.
But Juliet has a secret - a dark, terrible secret. Ever since she was a child her cousin Tybalt has been sexually molesting her. She tries speaking of this to her mother but her mother loves Tybalt and will not hear a word against him. She tells her nurse about it and is advised to say nothing, for she will only bring shame upon herself. Yet Juliet cannot bear the idea of letting Tybalt go unpunished, cannot stand the thought of him leering at her across the family table for the rest of her life. She must have revenge.
But how is this to be accomplished? She considers confessing all to Paris, but what if he doesn't understand? What if he blames her? Besides everyone knows that Paris is no good with a sword and Tybalt is a master-duelist. Even if Paris did take her side she would only succeed in getting him killed. What is she to do?
She is still thinking about it at the ball when she sees young Romeo gawking at her. She has heard about this Romeo from her friend Rosalind. He is an awkward, immature boy, given to writing bad poetry and making obscene puns with his good for nothing companions. But they say he is a good swordsman. And besides, he is a Montague, and the Duke has decreed that any further fighting between the Montagues and the Capulets will be punished by death. All she has to do is lead this silly boy on a little, then sic him onto Tybalt. A fight between them will end in death for both. It means killing the boy as well as Tybalt, but he's a Montague and probably deserves it.
But can she make the boy fall in love with her? It can't be that hard. She's beautiful, she knows, and with a face like that the boy can't have much luck with women. Rosalind, she knows, won't give him the time of day. A little encouragement should do the trick.
So she smiles at him, looks repeatedly in his direction, pretends to be drawn to him. It works. He comes up to her, strikes up a conversation. Thinks he's being witty. Very well. She can keep up this kind of badinage easily enough. When Paris is not looking she allows him to kiss her. She can see Tybalt has spotted them. He's furious. Any moment now he and Romeo will come to blows. No, her father is stopping Tybalt, sending him away. Damn.
No matter. She'll just have to string this boy along a little more. He seems pretty far gone already. And to think that a few hours ago he was telling Rosalind how crazy he was about her. Men.
He turns up in her garden a little later, huffing and grunting like a pig. She pretends she hasn't seen him and proceeds to declare her love for him. He laps it up. He makes further protestations. What is she to do? She tries to lead him on a bit more, then realizes she mustn't overdo it - he mustn't think her too easily won, more than anything else he must respect her. She mentions marriage. He seems keen on the idea. Is she going too far? She retreats into her room, pretending that the nurse is calling her. But what's the harm? Why not marry the fool? It's not like she'll have to consummate the marriage. All she has to do is go through with the ceremony then tell him about Tybalt afterwards. If she's his wife he can't possibly refuse to fight for her. And then he'll either kill Tybalt and be executed or be killed by Tybalt and cause his execution. In either case, she'll be rid of them both. She goes back to the balcony, whispers a few more sweet nothings, tells him she'll send word to him the next day.
After that, it all goes swimmingly. He arranges the wedding. She goes through with it. Then tells him her secret. He swears vengeance, pulls on a sword, goes charging off to find Tybalt. It is done.
Only it doesn't quite work out the way she expects. Romeo realizes he can't just fight a duel with Tybalt - the Duke will have him executed if he does. So when Tybalt tries to pick a fight with him he backs off, thinking he'll arrange to meet with Tybalt in private later. Then Mercutio intervenes. Romeo sees his chance. If Tybalt kills Mercutio, who is the Duke's kinsman, surely then the Duke will not have Romeo punished for killing Tybalt? At a critical moment Romeo distracts Mercutio, blocks his arm. Mercutio is killed. Tybalt is wounded, frightened to have killed a kinsman of the Duke. Romeo fights with him, purportedly to avenge Mercutio's death, and slays him. The Duke, as expected, does not sentence Romeo to death for this, but, moved by Lady Capulet's tears, exiles him.
When Juliet hears of this she is distraught. Tybalt is dead at last, but Romeo is only banished, and banished is not good enough. How can she marry Paris with Romeo still alive? The friar is sure to object. To make things worse Romeo shows up in her chamber. He wants to consummate their marriage. She has no choice. She goes through with it, then considers keeping him there with her till he is discovered and put to death. Then she thinks the better of it. How will she explain what he was doing there? Her reputation will be ruined. Paris will never marry her then.
Meanwhile her father is trying to force her to marry Paris, little suspecting that it's what she wants most of all. But how to square the friar? She goes to him, feeds him some story about how she would rather kill herself than marry Paris. The friar's suspicions of her are allayed. He suggests a desperate stratagem. It sounds dangerous but she can see no other way. She figures if she can get Romeo to come to her in the crypt she can kill him there and afterwards convince the friar that now that he's dead there's no point in making their marriage public and that he should just keep it a secret and let her marry Paris.
Of course this doesn't work out either. She wakes from the friar's potion to find Romeo bragging to her of having killed Paris. She is enraged. This stupid boy has destroyed all her hopes. She still has some of the potion the friar gave her. She gives it to him, tells him it's a special love charm. The silly ass is just sentimental enough to believe it. He drinks it, then falls down in the semblance of death. She presses the cup into his hand.
It's only after she's put him to sleep that she considers her own position. What is she to do now? Her beloved Paris is dead. Any moment now the friar will arrive and then there will be all the tedious explanations to go through, at the end of which she will end up having to live with the hateful Montagues. If she's lucky. It hardly seems worth it. The friar arrives. He tells her he plans to have her put in a nunnery. No, no, that would be too terrible. She shoos him away. Why did Paris have to die? There is no future for her anymore. In despair, she takes up a dagger, kills herself. Her last thought is that by the time Romeo wakes from the potion she has given him, they will have buried him alive. It is a small satisfaction.