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kateanswers eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romeo and Juliet is set in Renaissance Italy, which establishes a cultural background for the feud between the houses of Montague and Capulet. During this period in Europe, especially in Italy, noble families were engaged in a dangerous game of social chess. Families used their influence, either in wealth or in name, to shape laws and social structure to benefit themselves. In fact, there was a practice at this time, known as Indulgences, where people might "buy" forgiveness for sins from the Church. In a society where money could excuse sins, imagine the power it held in government!

Noble feuds sprang up for a number of reasons and often lasted so long that younger generations forgot why the fighting began. This is the case in Romeo and Juliet. From the prologue, we know that "ancient grudge break[s] to new mutiny." This means that the feud between the Montagues and Capulets is a very old one which has erupted again in the current societal tensions. Though we do not really know why they began fighting, we can imagine it has to do with money and familial honor based upon the fact that both families are wealthy and the younger members of each house swear hatred on the name of the enemy alone. This is what makes the romance between Romeo and Juliet so "star-crossed"! Their fate has been determined by their families and they are intended to be enemies. If they had known each other's names before meeting, who knows if they would have fallen in love?