The prologue in Romeo and Juliet is spoken by a chorus – a group of people. Shakespeare borrows this device from ancient Greek theatre; the original purpose of the chorus is to provide background information on the story that helps the audience to understand it on a deeper level. So, with the prologue below you can see that its purpose is to give us the context of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic tale. Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the meaning of the prologue in plain English, plus some key points of analysis!
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If you find this useful, you can look at our complete Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!
This course includes:
A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
Downloadable documents for each video lesson
A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
A bonus Macbeth workbook is designed to guide you through each play scene!
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 overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught 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.
MODERN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Two families, both as respectful as each other
(In beautiful Verona, where we set our story)
From ancient angry beginnings to new rebellions
Where the blood of innocent people in the city dirties the hands of these apparently
Born from the deadly loins of these two enemies
A pair of lovers take their life – they die/ commit suicide
This death finally ends their parents’ war.
The terrifying story of their love and death,
while their parents’ constant rage
which could only be removed by the death of the lovers
this is now the subject of our two hour long play
which, if you listen to it patiently
we will fill in all the gaps and details that we left out in this prologue.
The prologue helps us to understand what the perspective of the story should be: it is the ‘parents’ fault; the young lovers die tragically as a result of their stupidity.
‘both alike in dignity’ – irony, the houses are both as bad as each other – neither has ‘dignity’.
‘fair Verona’ – the setting of the play, a state in Italy, ‘fair’ has a double meaning of good and honest, but also beautiful
‘star-crossed lovers’ – ill-fated, a metaphor suggesting that the lovers are doomed
‘death-marked love’ – antithesis, two opposite ideas
‘parents’ rage’ – suggestion that the wider society disapproves of the union – evoking the tension between private and public duties
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