Describe the significance of the Prologue and the opening scene in "Romeo and Juliet".

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sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many things happen in this story, and it would be easy as a viewer to get distracted by the variety of characters and speeches.  Should we focus more on Mercutio's death, or the leadership of the Prince?  Is this about parental control or the power of love?  Shakespeare tries to make his own purpose clear in the prologue and opening scene.

The prologue summarizes the focus of the story and the theme.  We are told that that this is a place where "civil blood makes civil hands unclean."  We are told that there is an "ancient grudge."  We are also told that about Romeo and Juliet and that they are "star-crossed lovers".  However, we are not told that it is there love that is the important part - it is the feud that we are meant to focus on:

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,(10)
Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

Shakespeare clearly states here that it is the rage and the ending of that rage that is the "traffic" of his play.  He then backs that up in the first scene by NOT introducing Romeo right away.  Instead, he introduces the families through their servants and has those servants get into a brawl, demonstrating the power of this feud and the need for it to end.