Why do Sampson and Gregory fight with Montague's men in Act 1, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet

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yaday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The quarrel in Act I scene I starts, initially, because Samson decides to “bite his thumb” at Abram; this gesture is synonymous to the middle finger.   The Capulets have drawn their weapons are waiting for the Montagues to make the first move.  Sampson says to Gregory, “Nay, as they dare.   I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them if they bear it”(1.1.44-45).   By insulting the Montagues, Sampson hopes to provoke them into a fight which would allow him to later say the Montagues intiated the brawl.   The examination of the servants at the beginning of the play provides the reader the feeling that this “ancient grudge” exists throughout each family’s household – from top to bottom.