What effect does Gregory and Sampon's crass joking have on the mood of the scene in Act I Scene I of Romeo and Juliet?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act I, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet the crass joking between Gregory and Sampson, servants of Romeo's family the Montagues, makes the long feud between the two families seem ridiculous and comical.  Even when Montague and Capulet, the heads of their respective families, get involved in the sword fighting, the scene still seems essentially funny because these two men are so old that they are incapable of fighting each other effectively. Both their wives hold them back. When Capulet cries:

What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!

Lady Capulet cries:

A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?

The fact that Capulet calls for his "long sword" is funny because such a weapon would be so heavy he could hardly brandish it with both hands. He has forgotten that he has grown old, just as he has probably forgotten the reason for the feud in the first place.

The feud is becoming meaningless and merely self-perpetuating. The clownish servants have gotten involved in it purely out of bravado and a vague, misguided sense of duty to their respective masters. However, the brief confrontation between Tybalt, a Capulet, and Benvolio, a Montague, is intended to suggest that this antiquated feud could have serious consequences in the future--as it does. It is really only Tybalt who is taking the feud seriously. He is doing so out of pure egotism, since he has not been personally injured by a Montague.

The scene not only offers the audience some amusement but also introduces most of the important characters, including Montague, Capulet, their wives, Benvolio, Tybalt, and the Prince of Verona, whose edicts will have an important influence on the outcome of the play. Later Romeo himself will appear in the same scene, although Juliet does not appear until Act 1, Scene 5. 

Mark Twain depicts a senseless but devastating feud between two families, the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, in Chapters 17-19 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885).

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