Why are the Montagues and Capulets fighting?

In Romeo and Juliet, the Montagues and Capulets are fighting because of a long-standing feud between their families. The drama begins when the continuing conflict between them escalates into a violent public disturbance which is halted by the Prince of Verona, who threatens severe penalties for further disruptions in the city. Romeo and Juliet become the feud's final victims as the plot leads to reconciliation between the families and an end to the fighting.

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The drama Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare relates the tragedy of two “star-crossed” lovers who are separated and victimized by fate, primarily because of an ongoing feud between their families, the origins of which are left a mystery. Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet; the two...

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The drama Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare relates the tragedy of two “star-crossed” lovers who are separated and victimized by fate, primarily because of an ongoing feud between their families, the origins of which are left a mystery. Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet; the two fall in love, but their relationship is doomed by the feud. Before the start of the play, Shakespeare sets the stage through a prologue, in which the chorus introduces the overall conflict between the families of the lovers, which leads to their demise by suicide and the reconciliation of the families:

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 foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

Romeo and Juliet was written at a time in English history when feuds were common; a few decades prior, King Henry VIII separated the country from the Roman Catholic Church, sparking a religious feud. Shakespeare does not specify the exact nature of the “ancient grudge” in the prologue, but begins with actual fighting between the Montagues and Capulets that continues the ongoing struggle by describing the eruption of a brawl in the city square of Verona, Italy. Following the exchange of insults among some servants of the respective families, Montague’s nephew, Benvolio, draws his sword hoping to resolve the squabble, and instead is charged by the ill-tempered Tybalt, nephew of Lady Capulet, who subsequently attempts to meet Benvolio’s challenge. As the war of words escalates, Capulet enters the dispute, and Montague and Lady Montague arrive at the scene.

But despite Lady Montague’s plea to halt any violence, a riotous confrontation results among supporters of both families until the Prince of Verona arrives to end the disorder in the street. Because of the ongoing feud that already caused public disturbances and bloodshed in the past, the Prince threatens to put the parties to death unless the conflict ends. It is at this point when the main plot of the play actually begins in act I. It is not the Prince that ends the dispute between the families, but the unfortunate deaths of Romeo and Juliet sparked by fate and the “ancient grudge” continued by their parents.

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