What purpose does the prologue serve in Romeo and Juliet?
At the begining of Act one scene four Shakespeare has benvolio say something about prologues and their purpose.
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In the play Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows the outcome of the play even before we meet the main characters. The chorus begins the play by presenting the Prologue. This introduction to the play sets up the story by explaining the plot that is about to take place. The chorus explains the centuries long feud that exists between the Montagues and the Capulets that will end after a child from each of the warring families falls in love with one another. However, this will not be our typical happily ever after love story as the two families will only have peace and come together after the deaths of the innocent children.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes(5)
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Doth, with their death, bury their parents’ strife.
The prologue serves as an introduction to events which are about to unfold on stage. It is similar to a thesis statement in an essay and is much like a preview to a movie to pique an audience's interest--Shakespearian style. The prologue serves to whet the audience's appetite.
Benvolio makes the following statement:
"The date is out of such prolixity:
We'll have no Cupid hoodwink'd with a scarf,
Bearing a Tartar's painted bow of lath,
Scaring the ladies like a crow-keeper;
Nor no without-book prologue, faintly spoke
After the prompter, for our entrance:"
What he is saying is that their arrival at the Capulet's masked ball will be unannounced, unlike when Cupid, bearing a toy-bow made a speech to introduce a group of ladies to an audience. Their arrival will be intrusive and since they are enemies of the Capulets, they would not want their arrival to be made public. Also, because they will be in disguise, no one will recognise them and their arrival would not, therefore, be announced anyhow.
Benvolio is referring to the general nature of plays where an actor appears on stage assisted by a prompter who reads from a book (obviously the text of a play) to help the actor should he/she forget his/her lines. In this instance, however, there would be no such prompter or book.
Furthermore, he is also making an indirect reference to the prologue of this play, where the audience is informed. Their audience, however, will be unprepared and would therefore not know what to expect.
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