Morning in the Italian Renaissance city of Verona. Romeo, son of Lord and Lady Montague, greets the awakening day. As the city comes to life, Romeo is joined in the lively town squareby two friends, Mercutio and Benvolio. The bitter enmity between the Montague and Capulet families emerges with the arrival of Tybalt, a Capulet. Innocuous teasing escalates into swordplay as Tybalt fights with Benvolio and Mercutio. Lord and Lady Capulet and Lord and Lady Montague enter and there is a brief lull in the fighting but soon the Lords also take up swords. The Duke of Verona enters with his guards and intervenes, chastening all of the combatants. As the crowd parts, the bodies of two dead young men are revealed.
In her bedroom, Juliet, the daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet, plays affectionately with her Nurse as she prepares for a ball. Her mother enters and tells her of Paris, an aristocratic suitor, whom they expect Juliet to marry. Her father enters with Paris. Juliet is uncertain about the arrangement but she receives her suitor graciously.
A lavish ball at the Capulet home. Juliet is being presented by her father to the assembled guests. Disguised by masks, Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio slip unannounced into the ball. When Romeo sees Juliet, he is immediately lovestruck. Romeo approaches her, professes his feelings and Juliet immediately falls for him. Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, suspects the interloper and unmasks him, revealing his true identity. Enraged at Romeo’s effrontery, the hotheaded Tybalt demands revenge but he is stopped by Lord Capulet. As the guests depart, Tybalt warns Juliet to stay away from Romeo.
Later that night, Romeo waits beneath Juliet’s balcony. When she appears at her window he makes his presence known. Juliet comes down to him and, despite the danger of their situation which has now become all too clear to both, they pledge their love to each other.
In the market square, Romeo, delirious with love, is gently mocked by Mercutio and Benvolio. Juliet’s Nurse arrives, bearing a letter to Romeo from Juliet, agreeing to secretly marry him. Romeo is overjoyed.
As planned, Romeo and Juliet meet with Friar Laurence, who has offered to marry them despite the risk, in the hope that it might bring peace to the warring families. He performs the marriage ceremony for the two young lovers.
Mercutio and Benvolio encounter Tybalt and taunt him. When Romeo enters, Tybalt challenges him to a swordfight but Romeo refuses. Mercutio is less reluctant and, after an exchange of insults, he and Tybalt cross swords and fight. Romeo seeks to intervene and stop them but inadvertently causes Mercutio’s death. A griefstricken and guiltridden Romeo takes up a sword and kills Tybalt. The Duke arrives and as his guards bear away the bodies of Tybalt and Mercutio, he angrily banishes Romeo, who flees Verona.
Juliet’s bedroom at dawn. Romeo, although banished, has stayed for their wedding night. But now, however sorrowfully, Romeo must depart before they are discovered. After Romeo has gone, Juliet’s parents enter with Paris and tell her that she is to marry him the following day. She protests but her father brutally silences her. In despair, Juliet rushes off to seek assistance from Friar Laurence.
In his cell, Friar Laurence gives Juliet a vial containing a sleeping draught that will simulate death. He plans to send word to Romeo, who will rescue her from the family burial vault when she has awakened.
Juliet returns to her bedroom where she pretends to bend to her parents’ will and marry Paris. Left alone, she takes the sleeping draught and falls into a death-like slumber on her bed. In the morning, Lord and Lady Capulet, Paris, the Nurse and several bridesmaids arrive to wake Juliet but find her unresponsive and believe her to be dead.
In the Capulet vault, Juliet lies still in her death-like sleep. Romeo enters, but not having received Friar Laurence’s message, believes Juliet is dead. In despair, he drinks a lethal poison to join her in death. As he dies, he sees Juliet awaken and realizes the cruel extent of what has happened. Juliet finds her beloved dead and kills herself in anguish. The Montagues and Lord Capulet, the Duke, Friar Laurence and others enter to discover the terrible scene. Realizing the part their enmity has played in the tragedy, the Capulets and Montagues reconcile in their shared sorrow.