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SCENE SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
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.
Act I, Scene 1
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, the nephew of Lady 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.
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, a Montegue, 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.