Romeo and Juliet

by: William Shakespeare

What Does the Ending Mean?

At the end of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo returns to Verona because he believes Juliet is dead. When he arrives at her tomb she appears lifeless, and in his grief he kills himself by drinking poison. Moments later Juliet wakes, and, finding Romeo dead, she plunges his sword into her breast. This ending replays in miniature the structure of the play as a whole. Throughout their story, the lovers have been drawn together by their love for one another, and yet they’ve simultaneously been pulled apart by the hatred and violence that rages between their families. At the play’s end, the love they share and the violence that separates them become one and the same. Though they shall be buried together, laying forever in each other’s arms, the lovers will also remain forever apart, separated by death. Prince Escalus underscores this unity of love and death when he chastises Capulet and Montague: “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, / That Heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!” (V.iii.292–93). The Prince thus informs the men that they have killed their own children, and the instrument of their murder has been Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other.

In addition to unifying the play’s themes of love and violence, the ending also brings an end to the longstanding feud between the Capulet and Montague families. However, peace between the families may turn out only to be temporary. After the Prince blames Capulet and Montague for their children’s deaths, the two men pledge their desire to resolve their conflict. Capulet begins by addressing Montague as his “brother,” then asks for his hand in friendship. Montague responds by one-upping Capulet. He claims that he will commission a statue of Juliet to be fashioned from pure gold, and he concludes with a boast: “whiles Verona by that name is known, / There shall no figure at such rate be set / As that of true and faithful Juliet” (V.iii.300–2). Capulet immediately retorts: “As rich shall Romeo’s by his lady’s lie, / Poor sacrifices of our enmity” (V.iii.303–4). Reconciliation quickly becomes corrupted by a contest of wealth, indicating that Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy will not bring full reconciliation so much as what the Prince calls “A glooming peace” (V.iii.305).