Play Duration

The original source, The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet has the action taking place over the course of three months.

Shakespeare’s play takes place over four days. This is no accident; Shakespeare is keen to constantly let the audience know the day and time. Why? Well, tension is one big reason. __With everything happening so quickly, it makes more sense that things get out of hand. __As the scenes occur at all hours of the day, it makes the days themselves appear to run into one another, further building this momentum.


Shakespeare’s characters are meant to be __like real people. __Therefore, it is important to look at the __environmental factors __that affect them.

Romeo’s love for Juliet and allegiance to Mercutio play a role in his actions. It is likely his age does too. But another element is often overlooked: sleep.

We first meet Romeo lamenting the loss of Rosaline at around 9am on Sunday morning. Benvolio informs him of the time, and Romeo is shocked it is still so early, implying he has been up for a while. That evening he meets Juliet at the party; he is still talking with her when she says “Tis almost morning” and then when he goes to Friar Laurence he is surprised how early Romeo is up.

Therefore we can assume he hasn’t slept.

Then it all kicks off that afternoon. With Tybalt and Mercutio dead, Romeo is told to go to Juliet by the Nurse at night time.

When we next see Romeo and Juliet he is concerned he has just heard the morning lark and needs to go; again he hasn’t slept. He goes to Mantua and before Balthasar enters, talks about a nightmare he has had. So that implies he has had some sleep but not good sleep. Also goodness knows where, seeing as we meet him on the streets of Mantua. And then he returns to Juliet by that night. Having met Romeo on Sunday morning, it reaches Wednesday night, and he has barely slept.

Shakespeare is constantly talking about the time in the play. Undoubtedly Romeo is driven by love, loyalty and the like. But don’t underestimate the impact of a tasty dose of sleep deprivation!

Malleable Time

Cleverly, Shakespeare presents time as being changeable and illogical.

One of Romeo’s opening lines is that “sad hours seem long,” implying that the pace of time is determined by circumstance. Slow time always appears to be torturous.

When Juliet is impatiently waiting for the Nurse to return in Act 2, Scene 4, she comments that “love’s heralds should be thoughts, Which ten times faster glide than the sun’s beams.”

And yet, the rapid pace of things is viewed as being a negative by other characters. Friar Laurence wants the lovers to move “wisely and slow.”

Even Juliet herself spots the folly of their rushed union, saying it is “too rash, too unadvis’d, too sudden…too like the lightning.” She does not heed her own warning.

The reality is though, that time is a shifting force in the play. This adds to the impact of the idea of fate, as if forces are able to speed up and slow down something which should be constant, at will.