IS THIS ONE REASON FOR THE PROLOGUE TO ROMEO AND JULIET? In connection with the Shakespeare on the Sound production of Romeo and Juliet, Mary Jane attended a lecture by Professor Mark Schenker. She came back very enthusiastic. I asked her to write down some of her comments, and here they are: “Professor Schenker opened my eyes this week! During his presentation of comments and scenes from Romeo and Juliet, he said something that really hit me. He explained that to a theater audience of that time, “tragedy” meant one thing, the fall of a great man. If a playwright wrote a play about two young lovers, the expectation was that it would be a comedy. And, at the end, there would be a happy marriage. So Shakespeare was innovating, and he had to make it clear to his audience they were going to get strife and death with this love story. Well, of course, I thought, and that’s why he gives the whole plot away in the Prologue.”

The prologue is short, and the main thing it tells the audience is that the lovers will die. Here is the plot summary in the prologue:

“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.”

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