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It's a hot July Sunday in Verona, and we find the servants of the Capulets out looking for trouble. What better way to start something, they figure, than to insult the servants of their masters' old enemies the Montagues? The plan works, and before long servants, friends, relatives-and, finally, Lord Capulet and Lord Montague themselves-are at each other's throats. Verona's Prince Escalus has to personally break up the fight, and he isn't happy about it. He heavily fines both families and warns them that if they fight in the streets again, they'll face the death penalty.
Lord and Lady Montague are glad their son Romeo wasn't involved in the brawl, but they're worried about him anyway. They ask Benvolio, Romeo's cousin and best friend, why Romeo has been off by himself so much lately, and Benvolio soon finds out: Romeo is in love. But the object of Romeo's affections, a gorgeous girl named Rosaline, couldn't care less, and Romeo is nursing his grief. To cheer him up, Benvolio suggests that they disguise themselves and secretly attend the Capulets' ball that night. Rosaline will be there, and Benvolio promises to find Romeo a girl who will make Rosaline seem like a crow in comparison. Romeo has a sudden, mysterious feeling of danger, but agrees to go along with Benvolio and their witty friend Mercutio.
Meanwhile, excitement is high at the Capulets' house. Not only are they preparing for a big party, but Count Paris-a relative to the Prince, and Verona's most eligible bachelor-has come to ask Lord Capulet if he can marry his only daughter, Juliet. Capulet claims that Juliet is too young to be married yet, but he's obviously thrilled. Thirteen-year-old Juliet is beautiful and full of life. She's never been in love, and she promises to do her best to like Paris when she meets him at the dance.
But that night, Juliet meets Romeo, and suddenly Paris and Rosaline are forgotten. The two see each other across the room, meet, and by the time they kiss, they are madly in love. But all is not well. Tybalt, Juliet's quick-tempered cousin, recognizes Romeo. Tybalt thinks this Montague's gatecrashing is a terrible insult, and he vows revenge.
Only after the evening is over do Romeo and Juliet separately discover the identity of their new loves.
After the party, Romeo hides from his noisy friends and unexpectedly finds himself in an orchard beneath Juliet's window. In the romantic and sexy balcony scene, Romeo and Juliet joyfully swear their love for each other, and decide to marry in secret.
Friar Lawrence, a Franciscan monk and father figure to Romeo, is very worried about the suddenness of their passion. He finally agrees to marry them, hoping that their wedding will eventually end the bloody fighting between their families.
The couples' secret world of love is soon shattered. Fresh from the wedding, Romeo finds Mercutio and Benvolio with Tybalt, who has come looking for revenge. Tybalt calls Romeo a villain and dares him to fight, but Romeo refuses. He calls Tybalt "cousin" and swears he loves the name Capulet as much as his own. Everyone is amazed at Romeo's refusal, and the hot-blooded Mercutio takes Tybalt's challenge instead. When Romeo rushes between them to stop the fight, Tybalt kills Mercutio.