What were the disturbances on the quiet streets of Verona in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare opens with a prologue describing the basic narrative of the play as a tale of two "star-crossed" lovers, who belonged to warring houses in the fair city of Verona. The Prologue suggests that the feud between the two houses has affected not just the two families involved, but also brings civil strife to Verona, and thus that the play is not just about teenage love but also about the nature of civil society and how family feuds can cause larger social problems.

The opening scene of the play illustrates this. Servants of the house of Capulet, who are armed in preparation for violence, insult and provoke servants from the house of Montague. Benvolio and Tybalt are drawn into the quarrel and then the heads of the houses and their wives and the local citizens, and thus the quarrel evolves into a riot. When the Prince arrives, he complains:

Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word,

By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,

Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets ...

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Romeo and Juliet

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