In Romeo and Juliet the two lovers share the role of protagonist, and their desire to be together brings them into conflict with their feuding families. Both Romeo and Juliet begin the play feeling trapped. Romeo has a hopeless crush on a woman who has sworn to remain a virgin, and he rejects his friends’ suggestion that he seek another lover: “I am not for this ambling” (I.iv.9). Juliet, by contrast, has been ordered by her mother to think about marrying, even though she doesn’t feel ready: “It is an hour that I dream not of” (I.iii.68). When Romeo and Juliet meet, they find their mutual desire freeing. However, given that the two lovers remain on opposite sides of their families’ feud, pursuing their desire for one another entails great risk. Things grow especially complicated after Romeo and Juliet secretly marry. For instance, when an enraged Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, Romeo refuses to fight because he now considers Tybalt his kinsman. But Romeo finds himself in a quandary when Tybalt fatally wounds Mercutio. To avenge his friend, Romeo slays Tybalt, which results in his banishment from Verona.
At the end of the play, both characters openly defy the rules of their families and of society at large in order to pursue their love. Juliet, for instance, finds herself in a difficult situation after rebelling against her father and, by extension, against the patriarchal authority vested in him. Her act of rebellion involves a double betrayal. Not only does she refuse to marry the man her father’s preferred suitor, Paris, but she also marries the son of her father’s sworn enemy, Montague. After Romeo’s banishment, Juliet disobeys her father yet again by faking her own death, thereby evading marriage to Paris once and for all. Romeo acts with similar defiance against the rule of law when he chooses to ignore his banishment order and illegally returns to Verona. Unfortunately the lovers die before they achieve what they’ve struggled for, and their lives are cut short before they have a real chance to grow as characters. Nevertheless, Romeo and Juliet’s fortitude does effect bigger-picture change. Their love, as well as their deaths, reveal to their parents (and also to Verona) the cruelty and pointlessness of their feud, and so brings resolution to a longstanding conflict.