What societal rules do the Capulets and Montagues break in the play Romeo and Juliet?

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andrewnightingale eNotes educator| Certified Educator

in any society, the maintenance of peace and order is of primary importance. So important that laws have been created to ensure that this particular need is met. A transgression can result in an extreme sanction. For peace to exist, it is, therefore, necessary that citizens behave in a civil manner. They should respect others' need for privacy, safety, and peace of mind by ensuring that their actions do not disrupt the lives of others or endanger them in any way.  

The Montagues and Capulets fail on all counts. Their age-old feud spills out into the streets of Verona and does not only destroy the peace and calm every citizen has the right to, but also puts them in danger. Members and supporters of the two families openly confront one another in the streets of Verona and get involved in very public sword fights and brawls.

It is not only the noise that the unruly adversaries make which causes a disturbance, but also the fact that onlookers are in danger of injury or death as the fights spill over into all areas of the city. In fact, some citizens are compelled to defend themselves and soon get caught up in the melee. Others try to avoid the brawls and are anxious about not only their own safety but those of their families as well. The fights are violent and filled with so much anger and malice that all and sundry can become targets.

The prologue states:

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.

A mutiny is a rebellion against some or other institution, person or authority and implies a defiance of the rules. In the Montagues' and Capulets' case, they defied the rules mentioned above. The reference to 'civil hands' suggests that even those citizens who were well mannered and of good behaviour were negatively affected by the two families' actions. The suggestion is, therefore, that beautiful Verona had turned ugly because even its disciplined citizens committed violent and disruptive acts for the reasons I have already suggested.

It is for this reason that the Prince of Verona is compelled to intervene and lay down a severe censure: 

If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace...

...Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.

His command warns that anyone who disturbs the peace again will be executed. He also requests that the leaders of the two households, Lords Montague and Capulet, should visit him to confer about the situation, probably to urge them to end their feud before any lives are lost.

The Prince's urgings and admonitions are of no avail, however, since, as the play progresses, many die because of the unmitigated and irrational hatred between the two houses which forces characters into desperate situations.

Read the study guide:
Romeo and Juliet

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