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William Shakespeare

Romeo & Juliet

Act 1

Rosann Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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The prologue is the introduction to the story. A choir or perhaps a single narrator appears on the stage and presents a summary of the story and characters so that, when the events start to unfold, the audience is not in the dark.


Part of the reason for a prologue was that the bulk of the audience in Shakespeare's day consisted of illiterate urban labourers who were slow in thought. They could not read about the play and could not understand a billboard.

The prologue therefore helped them to get up to speed with the story quickly. Today we are given brochures to read ahead of the play to acquaint us with the plot and characters.

It is also possible that this prologue did not originally form part of the play at all but was performed repeatedly in public places -- like the market -- as an advert for the play.

In other words, it took the place of our modern pasting up of posters around the town to advertise the play.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

What is the purpose of the prologue? (2)

[Need help?]

Explain what form this prologue takes. (4)

[Need help?]

"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."
  • Name the "two households"? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why should they have been "both alike in dignity"? If you know the play, would you agree? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the meaning of "ancient grudge" and "mutiny". (4)

[Need help?]

  • Explain what is meant by, "Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean". (3)

[Need help?]

"A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love."
  • A major theme of this play is the intervention of fate into the lives Romeo and Juliet. List the three phrases by which the prologue introduces this theme? (3)

[Need help?]

  • What is meant by the term "star-cross'd lovers"? (3)

[Need help?]

  • How could Romeo and Juliet "with their death bury their parents' strife"? (2)

[Need help?]

"The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend."
  • What does the narrator mean by this? (4)

[Need help?]

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See also:
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