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SCENE Summaries With Notes

PROLOGUE

Summary

In old English drama, the prologue made the audience aware of the nature of the play before it began. The prologue to this play discloses the differences between the Capulets and Montagues, the two important families of Verona, and the role of fate in bringing them together in the end. The Prologue then tells that the children of these two warring families innocently become victims of the conflict; they fall in love, marry secretly, and kill themselves in order to be together in eternity since they feel they cannot be together in Verona. The Prologue states, in sonnet form, that the story of their ill-fated, death-marked love is the theme of the play.

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Act I, SCENE 1

Summary

Act I begins with the servants of the two households carrying on the enmity of their masters. Samson and Gregory, the Capulet servants, and Abraham and Balthazar, the Montague servants, start a sword fight in a public square in Verona for no real purpose. Benvolio, a nephew of the Montagues and also a good friend and cousin to Romeo, intervenes and stops the fight. Then Tybalt, a Capulet, arrives on the scene. When he notices a sword in Benvolio's hand, Tybalt challenges him to a duel. When the former refuses, Tybalt declares that he hates all the Montagues. A crowd, which has gathered, now starts fighting with each other.

Hearing the noise, the heads of both the families, accompanied by their wives, arrive on the scene. So does Prince Escalus, who angrily orders the crowd to throw down their weapons and stop the fighting. The Prince accuses the lords of the two families for being the cause of such outbreaks and warns, "If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay forfeit of the peace," words that foreshadow the climax of the play. Lord Capulet and Lord Montague do not pay with their own lives, but their children die as an indirect result of the age-old conflict.

Lady Montague, happy that Romeo has not been a part of the brawl, asks Benvolio about her son's whereabouts. Benvolio answers that he has seen Romeo sighing and weeping earlier in the morning and feels that he definitely has some serious problems. As Benvolio speaks, Romeo approaches them. When questioned about his behavior, Romeo discloses that he is in love with a woman who does not love him. The young romantic then goes on to describe his love for the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Unfortunately, she seems to have the mind of the goddess Diana, scorning love and swearing to remain single. Benvolio suggests that Romeo forget the girl, but Romeo states he cannot.



Notes

The first scene begins with unimportant characters, but it is lively and immediately captures the attention of the audience. Servants in brightly colored Renaissance dress begin fighting, and the stage is suddenly filled with action and the sounds of striking swords. The purpose of the street brawl is to visibly show the animosity that exists between the house of the Capulets and the house of the Montagues, not just at the highest levels, but all the way down to the servants who are fighting. More important characters soon begin to arrive on stage. Benvolio, a Montegue, comes in as a peacemaker and tries to stop the fighting. Tybalt, a Capulet, enters with temper flaring and challenges Benvolio to a fight. Lord Capulet and Lord Montague arrive and are ready to enter the brawl if necessary in spite of their advanced age and nobility. This is no ordinary quarrel, but a long-standing feud based on familial history and bitter hatred. The Prince of Verona, Escalus, knows the conflict has greatly affected his fine city and wants it stopped. When he hears the noise of the fighting, he comes on the scene and threatens punishment if peace is not reached.

Romeo has not taken part in the brawl, but wanders on the stage after the fighting has ceased. He is a handsome, idealistic, and romantic youth who is in love. He tells Benvolio of his deep feelings for a beautiful young lady (later identified as Rosaline). He seems to worship her, but it is from afar, for she is aloof and does not return his love. As a result, Romeo moons about, feeling very melancholy. Shakespeare places this scene at the beginning of the play in order to show the romantic character of his hero; the scene will also be contrasted later in the play when Romeo reacts to Juliet in a very different manner. He thinks he loves Rosaline; he truly loves Juliet.

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Act I, SCENE 2

Paris, a young nobleman and kinsman of the Prince, asks Lord Capulet for Juliet's hand in marriage. At first the father tells Paris that his daughter, at age fourteen, is too young, but later agrees to the marriage if the idea pleases Juliet. He advises Paris to woo her and win her love. Capulet then invites Paris to a feast that he is hosting the same night (the same Sunday that the brawl took place earlier). Juliet, as well as all the Capulet beauties of Verona, will be present.

Capulet then sends his servant off with a list of the guests to invite to the party. The servant goes out to accomplish his task, but he is illiterate and cannot read the list of names. When he sees Romeo and Benvolio, the servant asks them to read the list to him. It includes Rosaline's name; Romeo's supposed lady love. Romeo and Benvolio then find out where the party is to be held and decide to attend since it is a masked affair. Romeo, of course, hopes to see Rosaline there. Benvolio hopes that Romeo will see another beauty, who will take his friend's mind off Rosaline.

Notes

In this brief scene, the audience learns more about Juliet, the heroine of the play who has not yet been introduced on the stage. She is young girl of fourteen and obviously Capulet's pride and joy. The father says of Juliet that "the earth has swallowed all hopes but she." When Paris asks Capulet for her hand in marriage, he hesitates at first; then he says that he will agree if the idea pleases Juliet. In the thirteenth century, when noble marriages were usually arranged by the family, it is a loving father who wants to please his child. His concern for Juliet is similar to the concern for Romeo revealed by Lady Montague in the first scene. Even though these families hate one another, they dearly love their children.

Paris is introduced for the time in this scene. He is formal and peaceful, following all the rules as he consults Capulet about his interest in marrying Juliet. Unlike Romeo's infatuation with Rosaline, Paris's attraction to Juliet seems low-keyed and practical. His protocol in approaching Juliet with the father's permission is in sharp contrast to Romeo's later approach to Juliet, first as a masked party crasher and then as an impassioned lover in the garden.

The role of fate will be very important throughout the play, and fate begins to work in this chapter. The illiterate Capulet servant just happens to see Romeo and Benvolio and asks them to read the list of guests invited to the Capulet feast. If he had not been illiterate and needed the help of a Montague, he never would have spoken to Romeo. If this meeting had not taken place, Romeo would never have known of the party. If Rosaline's name had not been on the guest list, Romeo would have had no interest in attending the party. If it had not been a masked affair, Romeo would never have been able to go into the home of the Capulets. If he had not been at the party, Romeo would not have met Juliet and fallen in love with her. Fate is obviously pulling Romeo and Juliet together.

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