Romeo and Juliet Act I Prologue

William Shakespeare

‘Romeo and Juliet Act I Prologue’ is a narrator spoken sonnet from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ which sets the scene, and alludes to events to come in Shakespeare’s world famous play.


William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare is considered to be one of the most important English-language writers.

His plays and poems are read all over the world. 

Act I Prologue’ which appears in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is read before the first actors enter the stage. These lines are spoken by the “Chorus” or a narrator or group of narrators who are there to introduce scenes, characters, or give necessary background detail. They are not seen or heard by the actors on the stage. 

Romeo and Juliet Act I Prologue
William Shakespeare

Two households, both alike in dignity,In fair Verona where we lay our scene,From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,Whose misadventured piteous overthrowsDoth, with their death, bury their parents' strife.The fearful passage of their death-marked loveAnd the continuance of their parents' rage — Which, but their children's end, nought could remove —Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;The which, if you with patient ears attend,What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Romeo and Juliet Act I Prologue

Summary of the Act I Prologue 

In the ‘Act I Prologue’ by William Shakespeare the chorus provides the reader with information about the setting, the “Two households” that the play hinges around and the “new mutiny” that stimulates the action.

The prologue alludes to the end of the play in which both Romeo and Juliet lost their lives. It is only due to that loss that their “parents’ rage” ends. The lines also specifically address the audience asking them to list with “patient ears” and find out how the events are going to play out. 

Structure of Romeo and Juliet Act I Prologue

These fourteen lines of the ‘Act I Prologue’ take the form of a traditional Shakespearean sonnet. This form, which became known due to Shakespeare’s mastery of it and fondness for it, is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM. 

As is common in Shakespeare’s poems, the last two lines are a rhyming pair, known as a couplet. They often bring with them a turn or volta in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. The Shakespearean sonnet is now considered to be one of the major sonnet forms, alongside the Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. 

Literary Devices in Act I Prologue 

Shakespeare makes use of several literary devices in ‘Act I Prologue’. These include but are not limited to allusion, alliteration, and enjambment. The first of these, allusion, is the most prominent. This entire fourteen-line sonnet is one extended example of allusion. The lines all suggest what’s going to happen next, tap into themes that are elucidated throughout the next scenes and acts, and suggest what the audience’s reaction is going to be. 

Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “break” and “blood” in lines three and four and “lovers” and “life” in line six. Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transition between lines five and six.

Analysis of the Act I Prologue 

Lines 1-4 

Two households, both alike in dignity,

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

In the first lines of the prologue to the famous play Romeo and Juliet the speaker, who is the “Chorus” addresses the audience. This person is all-knowing and has a full understanding of what is about to happen on stage. 

In the first line, the chorus tells the audience that it is in “Verona” a beautiful of “fair” city that the play is taking place. There are two major households in the city that have a long grudge between them. It has been at a standstill for a period of time but something new is going to happen. 

Lines 5-8 

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;

Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

These families each have a child who is going to be involved in bloodshed and death. It is from the “fatal loins” of the families that a “pair of star-cross’d lovers” emerge. This line is a great example of syncope. Additionally, the reader should take note of the phrase “star-crossed lovers”. Shakespeare coined this term in the ‘Act I Prologue’ which is now used frequently in everyday speech, novels, and movies. 

Lines 9-14 

The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,

And the continuance of their parents’ rage,

Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove,

Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;

The which if you with patient ears attend,

What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

In the third quatrain of the ‘Act I Prologue’, the speaker adds that these two children become lovers and commit suicide. It is their deaths that bring an end to the strife. It was only that which could possibly bring these families around and force them to realize what their feuding could result in. 

In the next lines, the chorus tells the audience to watch for the next “two hours” on the stage as the story of their lives, loves, and deaths play out. The audience should listen patiently and they will learn all the details that the chorus has missed in their introduction. 

Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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