Romeo and Juliet Prologue: Summary, Meaning, and Analysis

You’re looking for sad love poems, are you? I’m not sure you can handle the sadness of the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet. Don’t think it’s sad? Wait until you read this analysis and summary.

The Prologue to Romeo and Juliet

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-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
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.

Rhyme Scheme, Meter, and Rhythm

Romeo and Juliet Study Guide

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The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet makes all those sad love poems you’ve cried over seem like silly little limericks. Let the summary and analysis begin.

  1. The prologue is a sonnet. The rhyme scheme of a Shakesperean Sonnet is ababcdcdefefgg. A Shakespearean Sonnet consists of three quatrains, four line groupings, and a couplet. Each quatrain is one unit of thought in the poem. The ending couplet comments on the preceding three quatrains. The meter of a sonnet is iambic pentameter. Sonnets are a traditionally preferred method for writing love poems. Try it. Just make sure the person to whom the love poem is addressed already loves you; otherwise, she’ll make fun of you
  2. Shakespeare creates rhythm through the use of poetic devices, puctuation, and meter variations: The first foot of line 1 is a spondee, not an iamb, drawing attention to the word “two.” The poetry scholar must ask him/herself why? Shakespeare purposely emphasizes the word “two” because the poem is about two lovers and love is about two lovers. (If all these crazy words describing meter and rhythm make no sense, I strongly advise you take a look at an explanation of meter and rhythm in poetry.)
  3. In line 3, “break to” is a trochee (stressed, unstressed). The poetry scholar must ask why? Notice that the setting of the sonnet changes with the word break. Everything prior to it discusses the ancient grudge; everything after it refers to the current feud between the two families. The dash before “break” further emphasizes the break in time and adds to the break in rhythm, a dash signifying a break in thought. As you see there’s more to writing a love sonnet than writing fourteen lines in iambic pentameter. It takes thought, much in the same way love does.
  4. “Civil blood” and “civil hands” in line 4 are examples of synecdoche, a special type of metaphor where the part represents the whole or the whole represents the parts. In this case, both “heart” and “hands” represent an entire person. The use of synecdoche parallels the feud insomuch that the feuding families affect the safety and well being of the entire city. Ironically, the love expressed by Romeo and Juliet (part of each family) does not extend to the whole family. In this sense, the part does not represent the whole.
  5. The use of alliteration in line 5 marks a change in subject (discussed in the summary of the Prologue to Romeo and Juliet below).
  6. Death is personified in line 8. Death reigns over the families by the end of the play.
  7. Death-marked love is an oxymoron, a seemingly contradictory phrase that is, however, true. The feelings love produce are oxymoronic.
  8. Two hours traffic” in line 12 is a metaphor for a play.
  9. “Patient ears” is a metaphor (it could also be classified as synecdoche).

A Summary of the Romeo and Juliet Prologue

Romeo and Juliet Lesson Plans

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Now that you have a general idea of the framework, it’s time to get to the summary:

  1. The families in question are equal in rank and stature. The use of “dignity” suggests that both families are of noble blood.
  2. The setting is “fair Verona.” The use of “fair” to describe the city, by contrast, highlights the disruption caused by the families’ quarrel. It also indicates the time of year, Spring.
  3. The family fight began before anyone can remember and has recently escalated.
  4. “Civil” is used twice. “Civil blood” suggests that Verona citizens have died. “Civil hands” indicate that Verona citizens have caused the crime and are, therefore, “unclean.” “Civil” also indicates the feud is public and affects the affairs of government.
  5. Line 5 contains alliteration: “From forth the fatal loins of the two foes.” This begins the second quatrain and marks a change in focus from the feud of the two families to the dalliances of the two lovers in question. “Fatal loins” is also a pun. Both Romeo and Juliet have come from the loins of feuding families. Loins also represent sexual organs, and the young lovers’ lust for each other contributes to their downfall.
  6. The lovers mentioned in line 5 are cursed and commit suicide.
  7. Their tragic fate…
  8. causes the feud between the families to end.
  9. What happens to these two lovers whose love ends their lives…
  10. The end to their parents’ hatred…
  11. which can only be ended by the death of these two lovers…
  12. is what the play’s about.
  13. The final couplet of a Shakespearean Sonnet comments on the preceding twelve lines and offers some sort of resolution. In this case the last two lines inform the reader that the play they are about to see will answer any questions they might have.
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