Shakespeare presents fourteenth century Verona as a city of distinct social classes, prominent families, and civil discontent.
Social class differences are very evident in Shakespeare's Verona. Romeo and Juliet both come from upper class families. They will never want for anything and will never have to work a day in their lives. Romeo spends his days moping around Verona, and his father says that "away from light steals home (his) heavy son and private in his chamber pens himself" (133-134). In fact, Romeo's problems are fairly trivial, but since his social status shields him from real problems, he can do nothing but dwell on such trifles: "Ah, word ill urg'd to one that is so ill! In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman" (205-206).
The nurse's social class also proves important in Act II when Mercutio insults her by calling her "something stale and hoar ere it be spent" (122). He shows her no respect despite the fact that she is an older woman.
Juliet is equally blessed and her only major problem is having to consider an arranged marriage to Paris, a handsome nobleman. Unlike Juliet, her nurse is delighted, for she comes from a lower class background and has to deal with a different set of problems. She once had a child Juliet's age, and she probably would have loved such a match for her daughter, who passed away in infancy (22-23), a problem far too common in lower class societies of the Renaissance.
Shakespeare also shows that prominent families were important in life in Verona. In fact, the family you belonged to said a lot about who you were, so being from an "old" family was very significant. For example, both Romeo and Juliet came from prominent families, so they were recognized as either a Montague or a Capulet everywhere they went, not as their individual selves. For example, when Juliet notices Romeo at the ball, she sends her nurse to ask who he is, and Tybalt immediately recognizes him as a Montague. The importance of what family you came from was so extreme that even the servants felt it. When explaining the brawl in Act I, scene i, Benvolio states, "Here were the servants of your adversary and yours, close fighting ere I did approach" (102-103). The servants feel so loyal to their masters' families that even they will fight each other in the streets of Verona.
This fight was not the first of its kind and not the last. In fact, the Prince of Verona is tired of having to deal with such melees. In Act I, scene i, he states, "Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word...Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets" (85 &87). Later, another brawl claims the life of Juliet's cousin Tybalt, which ultimately seals Romeo's tragic fate.