Act I: Prologue
The Chorus, often played by a single narrator, opens Romeo and Juliet with a brief summary of what's to come on stage. Just as the Chorus in ancient Greek tragedies provided a commentary on events in the play for the audience, so Shakespeare's Chorus sets the scene for tragedy by presenting his two young protagonists as the victims of fate whose lives are marred from the outset by the feud between their families: "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life." Any lack of suspense as to the outcome of the play serves to emphasize the major theme of fate — an omnipresent force looming over Romeo and Juliet's "death-marked" love.
The prologue is also a sonnet, a popular form of 16th-century love poem that often explored such themes as love in conflict. Shakespeare chooses this poetic form to outline the play's main issues of love and feuding and to present another major theme: how true love ultimately triumphs because the deaths of Romeo and Juliet end the feud between their families.
dignity: rank, or title.
fatal loins: fateful, unfortunate, offspring.
star-cross'd lovers: lovers destined to an unhappy fate.
piteous overthrows: their end or death, which arouses or deserves pity or compassion.
death-mark'd: doomed from the outset; fated.
two hours traffic: the usual duration of a play.
Act I: Scene 1
The scene opens with a brawl on the streets of Verona between servants from the affluent Montague and Capulet households. While attempting to stop the fight, Benvolio (Romeo's cousin) is drawn into the fray by Tybalt, kinsman of the Capulets. The fight rapidly escalates as more citizens become involved and soon the heads of both households appear on the scene. At last, Prince Escalus arrives and stops the riot, forbidding any further outbreaks of violence on pain of death.
After Escalus dismisses both...