Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Act 1, Scene 1

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Act 1, Scene 1

  • On the streets of Verona, two young Capulet servants, Sampson and Gregory, are hanging out and trash-talking the Montagues. Those are some loyal servants.
  • Then some young Montague servants (including Abraham) show up. Sampson and Gregory want to put their money where their mouths are, i.e., kick some Montague butt—but the Prince of Verona has laid out strict laws against starting fights.
  • So, instead, they try to get the Montagues to start the fight.
  • Sampson gives the Montagues the Elizabethan finger—he bites his thumb at them.
  • Success. In about 0.5 seconds, they're fighting.
  • Benvolio, the resident nice guy, shows up with a, "Why can't we all just get along?"
  • But Tybalt, resident Capulet mean-guy, dashes in and says something like, "I'm going to get medieval on your…personage."
  • All hell, which has been bursting at the seams up until now, breaks loose.
  • Adding fuel to the fire, the remaining members of each of the families come out to join the fight, or "fray," as they called it back then.
  • Like any good schoolyard brawl, some authority figure shows up and puts an end to the fun. In this case, it is the Prince of Verona. And he's m-a-d.
  • He orders the Montagues and the Capulets to cease and desist. (Except it takes him a lot longer to say it, and he adds a supplement that anyone breaking his rule will be put to death.)

(Click the summary infographic to download.)

  • BTW, Lord and Lady Montague say, has anyone seen their son, Romeo?
  • Romeo, we find out, has been moping around in a "grove of sycamore," which, by the way, is Shakespeare's way of hinting that Romeo is lovesick or "sick amour." (Get it? Syc-a-more?)
  • Not only that, says Benvolio, but Romeo never wants to hang out anymore.
  • Montague chimes in, complaining that all Romeo ever does (when he's not skulking around in sycamore groves) is lock himself up in his dark "chamber" (bedroom).
  • Yep, sounds like a lovesick teenager to us.
  • Benvolio, like any good friend, decides to spy for Romeo's parents.
  • Romeo wanders in and willingly tells Benvolio that he's in love with a girl who doesn't love him back. Cue Romeo's sighing, lamenting, and poetic musings.
  • Romeo reveals that his unavailable crush has taken a vow of chastity and he boo-hoos about the fact that the still unnamed beautiful girl will never have any beautiful children.
  • (It also means that Romeo will never get to make out with her in the back seat of his car, if you know what we mean.)
  • We interrupt this program for a tasty brain snack: Romeo has been acting like a typical "Petrarchan lover" in this scene. Petrarch was a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose sonnets were all the rage in Renaissance England. In fact, Shakespeare's own collection of Sonnets is, in part, inspired by Petrarch's love poetry, which was written about "Laura," a figure who was as unavailable and unattainable as Romeo's current crush.
  • Now back to our program.
  • Benvolio tells his friend to get over it already, ugh. He says Romeo should look at other girls, but Romeo is skeptical. No one will compare. Benvolio disagrees and says he'll make Romeo forget his crush or die trying. 

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