Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scenes 1 - 2 Summary

     This tragic play by William Shakespeare begins with a prologue, which is an introduction spoken by the chorus and written in the form of a sonnet, a fourteen-line rhyming poem. Shakespeare uses the prologue to introduce the conflict and reveal to the audience how the play will end. He tells them that "a pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life" to stir up questions and capture their attention. Audience members will want to know how and why this tragedy occurs. He then invites them to sit back and enjoy the show.

     The action mostly takes place in Verona, Italy in the 1300's. The first scene begins with servants from the two rival families, the Capulets and the Montagues. They feel loyal to the people for whom they work; therefore, they hate those who belong to or work for the opposing family. The Montague servants begin by joking around and making fun of the Capulets. Then when some Capulets show up, they decide to see if these men might be looking for a fight. Sampson decides that he will bite his thumb at the Capulets, which is a gesture similar to giving someone the finger today. The Capulets are insulted, and a fight ensues. While the two sides are fighting, Benvolio, a Montague, steps in and tries to break it up as he is a pacifist. Tybalt, a Capulet, approaches and forces Benvolio to defend himself. All of these men carry swords with them as that was common practice during this time.

     A crowd gathers around the fighting, which draws the attention of Lord Capulet, the head of the family, who wants to join in; however, his wife, Lady Capulet, holds him back. Lord Montague has a similar reaction and response from his wife. Finally, Prince Escalus arrives who is in charge of maintaining law and order in Verona. He orders all of the men to throw their weapons to the ground and end the fight, and the men obey. The Prince declares that these fights have occurred three times before, and he's tired of breaking them up; therefore, the new rule he decrees is that anyone caught fighting will be immediately put to death. He asks that Lord Capulet come with him to speak in more detail, and Montague should come visit him that afternoon in order to ensure that both families understand and promise to abide by the new law.

     Lord Montague then pulls his nephew Benvolio aside to ask who began the fight, and Benvolio blames Tybalt. Lady Montague inquires as to whether Benvolio has seen her son Romeo. Benvolio says he saw him wandering in the forest. Lord Montague admits that he has often seen Romeo there lately when he is not locking himself into his bedroom, closing himself into the darkness. Benvolio offers to speak to his cousin Romeo to find out what is making him so sad. He then sees Romeo nearby and leaves his aunt and uncle to pursue the cause of Romeo's depression.

     Romeo admits to Benvolio that he is upset because he loves a girl who does not love him back. Then Romeo sees the evidence of the most recent fight, and he becomes even more upset because, like Benvolio, he too hates the fighting between the families. He uses oxymorons, which are two opposite words put together, such as "loving hate" and "cold ice" to explain how the fighting makes no sense to him. Benvolio then tries to discover the name of the girl whom Romeo loves. Romeo evades the question but does admit that this girl has taken a vow of chastity; therefore, she has sworn off of all men, not just him. When Benvolio hears this news, he advises Romeo to find another girl since clearly this one isn't interested. However, Romeo has his heart set on her, so Benvolio makes him a deal that he can find him someone better, or he will die trying.

     Scene two features Lord Capulet talking to Paris, a young count, about Paris's interest in marrying Lord Capulet's daughter, Juliet. Capulet is not opposed to the idea but thinks that Juliet, being only thirteen years old, is too young to marry. He asks that Paris wait two more years before they arrange a marriage. However, he goes on to tell Paris that he is having a party at his house that evening. Juliet will be there, so Paris can talk to her and perhaps win her affection. If Juliet wants to marry Paris, then they do not have to wait the two years.

     Capulet then gives a guest list to one of his servants and asks him to go through town and invite all of the people on the list. The servant agrees although he is worried about fulfilling this obligation since he is unable to read. The servant decides he must find someone who can read him the list of names, so he can memorize it and invite the guests as requested by his master. He then happens to run into Benvolio and Romeo. After some teasing, Romeo reads the servant the list. As a token of gratitude, the servant invites the two men to the party as long as they are not Montagues. He does not realize that Romeo is the son of Lord Montague, but even still Romeo decides to accept the invitation. One of the names on the list of guests was Rosaline, the girl whom Romeo so desires. Even though it's a bit risky, Benvolio agrees to accompany Romeo to this party in order to find him a new girlfriend, which Romeo thinks is unlikely as he merely plans to pine after Rosaline.

     The opening scenes establish many of the characters along with the main conflict in the story. The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues has been going on for so long that no one even remembers why they're fighting, but they refuse to stop. The younger Montagues, including Benvolio and Romeo, a clear romantic, seem frustrated with the violence, but they don't have a way to stop it.

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