Describe the context of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in Act I in detail.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we start with two families who hate each other. The prologue is a very brief overview of what happens in the play: we know that Romeo and Juliet are fated to love each other and die.

Scene one begins with the servants of the two rival families, fighting. Benvolio is trying to stop the unrest; the Montague parents are doing the same; Capulet enters, demanding a sword (though his wife suggests a crutch instead); Prince Escalus enters and warns both parties that they had better make peace or he will take drastic measures.

In scene two, Capulet and Paris discuss Juliet. Capulet wants Paris to wait before giving Juliet in marriage. He is firm, saying that she is too young and that it will do no harm to wait. In the meantime, Capulet says that Juliet will input regarding her husband.

In the next part of the same scene, Romeo is lamenting the fact that Rosaline does not love him. While he complains to Benvolio, a servant passes by with a list of people who are to attend the Capulet's party. The servant can't read, so he asks Romeo to list the names on the paper. In doing so, Romeo discovers that Rosaline will be at the dance, and all the young men decide to go.

Scene three introduces Juliet to the play. Her mother discusses Juliet's age, and the Nurse recalls that Juliet and Susan (the daughter the Nurse lost) were of the same age. With a long-winded speech, she declares they were weaned together.

Lady Capulet tells the Nurse to be quiet so that she cam speak to Juliet. She asks her daughter about getting married, and Juliet says that she had not thought of it before. Lady Capulet speaks of Paris and asks Juliet to check him out to see if she could feel something for him. Juliet says she will look, but makes no promises.

Romeo and his friends are on the way to the party, wearing masks so that they will not be recognized. Romeo offers to carry the torch for the others as he will do no dancing. As the men speak, Mercutio goes into a long speech about Queen Mab who helps people to sleep. He gives minuscule details about how Queen Mab travels and who accompanies her.


O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.

She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate stone...

Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs,

The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers;

Her traces, of the smallest spider's web;

Her collars, of the moonshine's wat'ry beams;

Her whip, of cricket's bone; the lash, of film...(I.iv.58-71)

As the men prepare to leave, Romeo delivers a speech that foreshadows his own death.


I fear, too early; for my mind misgives

Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,

Shall bitterly begin his fearful date

With this night's revels and expire the term

Of a despised life...

By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (I.iv.113-118)

At the start of his party, Capulet encourages all to dance. He asks a relative how long it's been since they danced. The Capulets argue. Meanwhile, Romeo asks a passing servant about Juliet, but he knows nothing. Tybalt recognizes Romeo's voice and gets angry. Capulet says that Romeo seems a nice young man—and Tybalt should leave him alone.

Romeo greets Juliet, and this is when they flirt. It is not until Romeo speaks to the Nurse that he discovers Juliet is a Capulet. Quickly Romeo figures out who he has fallen for, and for Juliet to discover that she is smitten by a Montague.