What is the purpose of the servants in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 1, Scene 1, the audience witnesses an altercation between two servants of the house of Capulet -- Sampson and Gregory -- and two servants of the house of Montague -- Abram and another without name.  It takes place for no reason other than family pride and honor: Gregory frowns at the others and Sampson bites his thumb at them, a gesture of defiance.  When Abram asks if the gesture was meant for them, Sampson replies in the negative because the law is not on their side (the families have been warned by the Prince about their violence).  After a short exchange, Benvolio approaches, and Gregory and Sampson assert that their master is better than Abram’s.  And so the fight begins. 

This altercation between the servants sets the violent mood of the play as well as shows us just how ridiculous the feud between the families is.  The scene shows us the senseless violence that results from the feud, a disagreement, apparently, about nothing more now than family honor.  The fight lacks meaning, it has no purpose, nothing exists to be gained other than one more notch in someone's belt.  Certainly, the servants in this scene exist to help set the mood and pave the way for the senseless acts of violence to come.

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Romeo and Juliet

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