What warning does Prince Escalus give the street brawlers in Act I, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Short Answer: Prince Escalus warns that anyone who fights in the Capulet/Montague feud again will be put to death.

Shakespeare opens his play with violent action, foreshadowing the violent love to come. This immediate action appeals especially to the groundlings, the people who stand in the central ground area beneath the tiered seats. Often they would call out and engage with the action.

In the first scene, after the servants of both the Montagues and the Capulets exchange insults and Benvolio fails in his attempt to quell the disturbance taking place, Tybalt of the Capulets enters, drawing his sword against Benvolio, exclaiming, 

What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?
Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death. (1.1.65-66)

These words and reactions clearly indicate the bellicose nature of Tybalt and presage his future actions. Then, once the patriarchs of the two feuding families enter the fray, the commotion is loud enough to draw the attention of the prince of Verona, Escalus. Interestingly, the Prince uses the same word-play in order to make his point to the feuding families:

Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Prafaner of this neighbour-stained steel,
Will they not hear? What, ho!you men, you beasts....(1.1.80-83)

After ordering the men to throw down their swords, he reminds Lords Capulet and Montague that three-times that they have caused disturbances in Verona with their "civil brawls"; therefore, if they fight again, their actions will bring about their death:

If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace...(1.1.95-97)

Then, the Prince orders Capulet and Montague to accompany him to discuss further his judgment in this case.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Prince addresses the fighting members of the houses of Capulet and Montague, telling them to put their weapons down "On pain of torture." This means that he will have them tortured if they do not drop their swords and listen to him immediately. It is a clear warning: if they do not stop fighting, then they will be tortured.

In addition, the Prince says that the casual words of the lords Capulet and Montague have been responsible for three such fights thus far, fights that have led to peaceful and aged neighbors taking up arms against neighbors. As a result of the two families' pattern of hostility, the Prince warns that one more such violent altercation will result in their execution, presumably. He says that "[their] lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace." In other words, they will pay with their lives for another such incident. Then, he sends everyone else away, taking Capulet with him and ordering Montague to see him later to meet some other demand.