What is the major conflict in Romeo and Juliet?
Possible answers are:
Juliet's parents are forcing her to marry Paris.
The families of Romeo and Juliet have been feuding for years.
Romeo loves Rosaline who loves Paris who loves Juliet.
In my opinion, the major conflict in Romeo and Juliet is the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Evidence for this theory is given in the prologue to the play.
"Two households, both alike in dignity(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.From forth the fatal loins of these two foesA pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,Whose misadventured piteous overthrowsDoth with their death bury their parents' strife.The fearful passage of their death-marked loveAnd the continuance of their parents' rage,Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove."
The events of the play begin with a brawl in the town center between servants of the house of Montague and Capulet. The prince threatens both families with the punishment of death if the streets are disturbed in this way again.
The conflict between Tybalt and Romeo comes from the feud between these two families. Tybalt is insulted that Romeo and his friends come uninvited to a party thrown by the Capulets. He entices Romeo to fight, but Romeo refuses. Romeo's quick-tempered friend Mercutio doesn't resist fighting, and Mercutio is tragically killed when Romeo tries to stop the fight.
In response to his friend's death, Romeo seeks revenge and kills Tybalt. This results in his banishment from Verona. Romeo and Juliet have already secretly married at this point, so the friar concocts a plan to fake Juliet's death so that she can escape with Romeo because the two are inconsolable. This plan would have worked, but the communication the friar sends to Romeo never reaches him. When Romeo finds Juliet dead, he kills himself. She awakens to find him dead and kills herself. They are so desperate to be together that they can't imagine life without each other. They can't tell anyone in their family about their love because of the feud between the families.
In the end, through the death of the two young lovers, their parents are able to make peace. But this peace comes at a tragic price. At the root, all the deaths in this play are a result of the ancient conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues.
The central conflict in Romeo and Juliet is different from the central conflict in most of Shakespeare's plays. In this play the conflict is not between Romeo and Juliet or between one of them and some other character. They are two young lovers whose lives are ruined by a conflict that has been going on between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets, for many years. In this respect the play resembles an epic in which the lives of relatively powerless humans are affected by the clash of powerul forces, such as the war between the Greeks and Trojans in Homer's Iliad or the war between the North and South in Gone With the Wind. Neither Romeo nor Juliet can be called the protagonist or antagonist in Shakespeare's play. The heads of their families are the protagonist and antagonist, and it would seem that the head of the Capulet family (Juliet's) would be considered the protagonist and the other the antagonist, because the Capulet's cause the problem by trying to force their daughter to marry Paris. Tolstoy's masterpiece War and Peace is another example of a literary work in which the protagonist and antagonist, France and Russia, are clashing over greater issues than those affecting the small, individual characters portrayed.
Montagues vs Capulets