Literature Study GuidesRomeo And JulietPrologue And Act 1 Scene 1 Summary

Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Prologue and Act 1, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides in-depth summary and analysis of the Prologue and Act 1, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet | Prologue and Act 1, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Before the action begins, a chorus establishes the setting—Verona in northern Italy—and reveals the major events that will happen in the play. The chorus also delivers necessary information about the "ancient grudge" between the Capulets and Montagues, which is the cause of recent violence in the city.

Servants of the feuding households pick a fight with each other in public. Sampson and Gregory "of the house of Capulet" argue with two Montague servants. Benvolio, a Montague, tries to stop them. Tybalt, a Capulet, joins the fight. Townspeople soon come and try to stop the feud with clubs. Finally, Lord Capulet and Lord Montague arrive with their wives. The old enemies move toward each other with their swords drawn, but before they can act, the prince enters and stops the fight. The prince threatens to execute anyone who breaks the peace again. He orders Lord Capulet to leave with him and Lord Montague to come later that day for a private conversation.

Lady Montague asks Benvolio for news about Romeo, her son. Romeo has been crying, sulking, and hiding from his family and friends, and they are all concerned. Romeo arrives as Lord Montague and Benvolio discuss his unusual behavior, and Benvolio promises to find out what is bothering Romeo.

Benvolio learns that Romeo is in love with Rosaline, a woman who does not love him back. Worse, she has sworn to lead a life of chastity. Benvolio teases Romeo and tries to cheer him up, telling him to "examine other beauties." Romeo swears he cannot love anyone else. Benvolio bets that he can make Romeo forget about the woman he loves.

Analysis

The Prologue and Act 1, Scene 1, have set the plot on a course that cannot end well. The chorus suggests that love will ultimately triumph but not until hate has stormed through Verona. Love is "a madness" and a "choking gall," or bitterness, and to love a woman is to suffer jealousy and loss of self. And what is love if, as Benvolio suggests, the objects of our love can be easily exchanged? The play will probe love in all of its complexities and expressions, but as it does, violence will escalate. Hatred as much as love will drive the story of Romeo and Juliet's "death-mark'd love."

The servants' hatred is as strong as their masters' hatred for each other's households. Sampson makes his brutal intentions clear, saying, "When I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids; I will cut off their heads ... or their maidenheads," suggesting both murder and rape. (The term maidenhead is used for virginity.) Violence spreads from the servants to the actual members of the feuding families to the community, supporting important ideas that will be considered throughout the play: hatred is infectious and its source is human weakness, and hatred can be stronger than love. Ominously, it requires the intervention of a government authority, representing the ideas of justice and the law, to stop the disease in the community.

The scene's subject shifts from hate to love when Romeo appears. The bloodstained street and the sounds of fighting linger, making a background for Romeo's despair. Even though Romeo was not part of the fight, his internal state is as battered as the fighters' exteriors are. His speech is broken, full of contradictions and exclamations that illustrate the chaos inside him. Romeo's pain is so intense that he feels lost and estranged from himself. "This is not Romeo," he says to Benvolio. "He's some other where."

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