The prologue is the first thing that is said in the play, and it’s point is to tell you what the play is about. It is written in sonnet form giving a brief outline of the play, that is the first four lines are leading you into the play, setting the scene, giving you the background information you need so you can understand the play. This is so the first scene is not spent describing life up until that point. The rest of the prologue is spent telling you what you should expect in the play, this is so you can understand it better when it happens. Then on the last line it says,
“What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.”
This means that what you have not understood from the prologue, the play shall try to explain, again this is a reason for the prologue. You have the basic outline in the prologue but it is explained fully in the actual play, so in the end you come out with a better overall understanding.
Act One, Scene One
The play begins straight away with two of Capulet’s servants, Sampson and Gregory. The two are in good spirits, joking of how they are far more brave and superior to the Montague’s, the Capulet’s sworn enemy. Then two more servants enter, from the house of Montague, insults are flying around so the mood becomes very tense, and all it needs is a spark to set the whole thing into a big fight. This happens when Tybalt arrives (Juliet’s cousin, a Capulet), he has only five lines but in those lines we get a clear idea of what Tybalt’s character is.
“What, Drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word,
As I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee.”
He is aggressive, violent, merciless and has and absolute pure hatred for all Montague’s. He can’t stand the fact that they have drawn their swords, then stopped and talked of peace, he wants violence, he wants to show the Montague’s who is best, who is the bravest, this comes across to the others and is the spark that starts the fight. I like this start to the scene, we have been told in the prologue that there are two families that dislike each other, and then straight away we realise just how much. We then find out that this is not just a one off thing. The citizens who arrive to break up the fight are familiar with both houses and are sick to the back teeth of the constant anguish they are causing the city.
“Clubs, bills, and partisans! Strike! Beat them down!
Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!”
They are not in favour of either house, they hate them both and they are prepared to put up a fight against them. The mood then changes, the fight ceases, this is because of the entrance of the prince. The prince gives a speech showing his anger at the two families, and towards the end threatening them.
“If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.”
He is threatening them with their lives, but no doubt he has told them before, yet they take no notice.
“By thee old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets,”
It’s the third time they have had a major fight and the prince is fed up of telling them. When the prince has gone Montague, Lady Montague and Benvolio are talking, no longer is it about the hatred of the Capulet’s and how they are better than them, but it is about finding out what started the brawl, not who won it. Then for the first time Romeo is mentioned, we get a description of him and an idea of what he’s like, his nature.
Benvolio says that he saw him walking in the morning, alone, in the wood. This makes him appear very gentle, it is like he is one with nature, he is pure, he is purposely avoiding people so he can think about what troubles him, he seems like a troubled, timid teenager. Montague agrees with Benvolio, he has noticed that Romeo has been keeping to himself, although he doesn’t think he is in love, he thinks he is melancholy. We know this because he says,
“Black and portentous must this humour prove,
Unless good counsel may the cause remove.”
This is to do with an old science, “The Four Humours”, health of body and mind depends upon balance among the four elemental fluids: blood, yellow bile, phlegm, black bile. These correspond to the four elements: air, fire, water, earth. Which in turn relate to an illness, whether mental or physical, from this problem then you can derive which of the four humours is out of balance. Montague says, “Black and Portentous, must this humour prove” this is black bile, which means that he thinks Romeo is Melancholy.
When Romeo enters he is left talking with Benvolio, he says that he is miserable because of love,
Out of her favour where I am in love.”
But is he actually in love, or is he, as his father said, just melancholy. His language is very elaborate, maybe they are artificial emotions he talks of, maybe he thinks he is in love, when really he is not, he is only a teenager, can he really have true love? I think that he is not in love, just infatuated, he wants to think that he is in love but really he isn’t.
Overall I think that this is a good opening to the play, lots of characters have been introduced and already we know the nature of some of them. It gets straight into the plot, without needing to go through back up information that leads you in to the play very well.