Romeo and Juliet Act I, Scenes 1–2: Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act I, Scenes 1–2: Summary and Analysis

Prologue

Before Scene 1 begins, the audience hears a prologue performed by the Chorus (usually a single actor who recites the prologue and epilogue of the play). Giving an overview of the play to follow, the prologue describes a long-standing feud between two families in Verona that has recently been reawakened. A relationship will begin between two young people from each of the families, and these lovers will end up taking their lives. In the end, the death of the two young lovers is what will finally bring an end to the terrible feud.

Act I, Scene 1

Scene 1 opens on the streets of Verona, Italy. Sampson and Gregory, two servants of Capulet family, walk down the street while discussing their desire to start a fight with someone from the rival Montague family. When they spot two men from the Montague house coming toward them, Sampson decides to bite his thumb at them. This rude hand gesture sparks a verbal confrontation, during which both sides argue that their respective employer is best. The conversation quickly escalates, and soon, both sides have drawn their swords and begun fighting. Benvolio, a member of the Montague family, appears. His attempts to break up the scuffle are thwarted by the arrival of Tybalt Capulet, who insists upon fighting Benvolio. A small group of citizens enter the stage with an assortment of weapons, chanting, “Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!” Lord and Lady Capulet enter, and seeing the fight, Lord Capulet calls out for his sword. Lord and Lady Montague enter as well. Capulet and Montague attempt to engage one another, but their respective wives hold them back. Suddenly, Prince Escalus and his retinue appear. Calling out to the brawling men before him, Prince Escalus orders them to lay down their weapons. The Prince declares that three riots have now been caused by the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, and each time, it has been left to the frustrated citizens of Verona to break up the fighting. The Prince warns that if anyone from either house disturbs the peace again, they will be killed. He then requests that Lord Capulet come with him to discuss the situation further and arranges to meet with Lord Montague later in the day. All exit except Lord Montague, Lady Montague, and Benvolio.

Lord Montague asks Benvolio how the fight started, and Lady Montague expresses her relief that their son, Romeo, was not present. Lady Montague asks Benvolio whether he has seen Romeo today. Benvolio replies that he glimpsed him in the Sycamore grove in the very early morning but says that Romeo clearly wanted to be alone—he hid when he saw Benvolio approaching. Lord Montague remarks that Romeo has often been seen crying and sighing in the Sycamore grove before dawn, yet no one has been able to discover the source of Romeo’s obvious misery. As Romeo approaches, Benvolio promises to try and get it out of him.

Romeo enters just as his parents leave. In response to Benvolio’s inquiries, Romeo confesses that his sadness stems from an unrequited love: Romeo loves the beautiful Rosaline, but she has sworn to remain chaste for the rest of her life. Benvolio urges Romeo to forget Rosaline by looking at other beautiful ladies. Romeo responds that Rosaline is the most beautiful of all and tells Benvolio that he cannot simply forget her. Benvolio takes this as a challenge and vows to make Romeo forget all about the fair Rosaline.

Act I, Scene 2

Capulet, County Paris, and a servant named Peter enter. Paris asks whether Capulet has given any more thought to his suit of Capulet’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Juliet . Capulet tells him that Juliet is still young and suggests that Paris wait two more years before considering marriage. In the meantime, Capulet tells Paris to go ahead and woo Juliet, for his own consent to the match will mean nothing if she does not wish to marry Paris. Capulet then says that he is throwing a grand party later that night and invites Paris to come, suggesting that Paris may not be so...

(The entire section is 2,090 words.)