The Prologue in Romeo and Juliet

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The Significance of the Chorus in the Prologue

The Chorus was played by a single actor, whose purpose was to explain and comment on the action of the play.  He is not a character and has no personality.

This opening speech by the Chorus serves as an introduction to Romeo and Juliet.  We are provided with information about where the play takes place, and given some background information about its principal characters.

He simply tells us that we are now in Verona, and that this is a city divided by civil war between 2 noble families.  Their quarrel is an old one, an ‘ancient grudge’.  We never learn its cause, it seems to have become a habit for the Capulets and Montagues to hate each other.  However, if we cannot know the cause of the quarrel, we can be warned of its cure.

The words of the Chorus would be used by Shakespeare to silence the audience and settle them into an appropriate mood for the first scene.

Sonnet = a 14 line poem

Line #

Sonnet Prologue


1 Two households, both alike in dignity, 2 families of nobility ie. same social status
2 In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, Where the play is set in Verona
3 From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Old violent quarrel that has been long   standing
4 Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. Civil meaning belonging to fellow citizens where the conflict has been bloody
5 From forth the fatal loins of these two foes Bred from deadly vital organs of both   parents
6 A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Ill-fated lovers appear from these 2   quarrelling families
7 Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Unfortunate disasters are mended by the 2 lovers
8 Do with their death bury their parents’ strife. Their respective children’s death brings each family together
9 The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love, The course of the lovers love for each other is doomed to death
10 And the continuance of their parents’ rage, The parents are enraged at the deaths
11 Which, but their children’s end, nought could remove, But only the deaths of their children can stop the conflict and strife of the families
12 Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage; The business lasting 2 hours
13 The which if you with patient ears attend, The audience must watch with expectation
14 What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. To fulfil the prophecy of this Prologue as Romeo & Juliet will certainly die

 The Obvious Function of the Prologue

The obvious function of the Prologue as introduction to the Verona of Romeo and Juliet can obscure its deeper, more important function.  The Prologue does not merely set the scene of Romeo and Juliet, it tells the audience exactly what is going to happen in the play. The structure of the play itself is the fate from which Romeo and Juliet cannot escape.

“Star-crossed Lovers”

The Prologue refers to an ill-fated couple with its use of the word “star-crossed,” which means, literally, against the stars.  Stars were thought to control people’s destinies.  But the Prologue itself creates this sense of fate by providing the audience with the knowledge that Romeo and Juliet will die even before the play has begun.  The audience therefore watches the play with the expectation that it must fulfill the terms set in the Prologue.

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Writing an Essay on Conflict

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This information is related to the old VCE English curriculum context Encountering Conflict and is NOT part of the new VCE English curriculum from 2017 onwards.

The Challenge When Writing an Essay on Conflict

The challenge when writing an Essay is to think outside the box when it comes to the IDEAS that the prompt is based on.

Ask Yourself Questions about Conflict

The Context Encountering Conflict asks you to question the types, causes and consequences of conflict.  There are many different types of conflict, ranging from:

1.            Internal conflict: When a person is confronted with a difficult choice to make. It is a mental or emotional struggle that occurs within a character‘s mind.

Think about the movie A Separation by Director Asghar Faradi and the internal conflict of conscience Nader, Simin, Termeh and Razieh encounter searching for truth and justice.  The choice each one takes in order to deal with conflict has an enormous impact on the way they relate to each other and the final resolution.

2.            Conflict of conscience: When a person struggles internally either because they have done something they feel is wrong, or are being asked to overcome their conscience and do something that they feel is wrong.  See notes above on Internal Conflict.  The movie A Separation brings up other issues to consider: Conflict and expectations of society and the family / Conflict and individual’s perspective.  As the movie title suggests, people are literally ‘separated’ from each other and themselves by their different experiences with conflict.

3.            Cultural conflict: When people from different cultural backgrounds disagree, find it difficult to live with one another or even fight because of their inability to understand one another (either literally, in terms of language, or because of different beliefs, traditions and cultural practices)

4.            Interpersonal conflict: When two or more people disagree or fight

5.            Physical conflict: When there is a conflict that leads to physical violence

6.            Familial conflict: When there is conflict between people from the same family

7.            Generational conflict: When there is conflict between people from different generations (this often overlaps with familial conflict)

8.            Class conflict: When there is conflict between people of different social classes

9.            International conflict: Conflict between countries.

Think about the text Every Man in this Village is a Liar by Megan Stack where conflict in the Middle East is on a regional level that involves countries after 9/11.  Think about the complexities and issues of Conflict and nationhood / Conflict and political power / Conflict and cultures / Conflict in paradox / Conflict without hope or despair /Conflict and conscience.

10.          National conflict: Conflict within countries, such as different ethnic groups.  See notes above on International Conflict.

11.          Local community or neighbourhood conflict

12.          Science and Religious conflict: Conflict between science and religion is based on two conflicting ways of knowing, one based on faith and authority and the other on observation, reason and doubt.

Think about the text Life of Galileo by Bertolt Brecht where the great religious powers of the Catholic Church bring all their ideological firepower to battle against Galileo’s science because he was a threat to their supremacy in the universe.  Think about Conflict and power / Conflict and morality / Conflict and truth / Conflict and the individual.

In terms of more recent conflict with the Catholic Church have a think about writing on the Royal Commission Investigation into Child Sexual Abuse in not only Catholic institutions but also other groups who abused children.  Think of the consequences for the victims of conflict and the emotional stress and trauma taking on the might of the Catholic Church and other authorities long after the physical conflict is over.

Think about How Conflict Arises

What are the causes of a particular conflict, or conflict in general?  The causes of conflict may range from ignorance and prejudice, to self interest and fear, to the struggle for power, justice or truth.  One might even argue that conflict is an essential or inevitable part of human life.

Finally, Think about the Consequences of Conflict

You might like to think about how individuals, or a society as a whole, respond and react to conflict.  The way an individual or a community responds to conflict reveals a lot about them, especially their strengths and their weaknesses.  You might also like to think about the lasting consequences of conflict for individuals, families and communities.  Conflicts rarely end once the war is over, or the fight has been won.  There are winners and losers in every conflict, who remain affected long after the conflict is over.  The consequences may range from trauma and physical and emotional pain to more positive outcomes, such as change, opportunity and growth.

One thing is certain: people are changed by experiences of conflict.  Think about the Syrian refugee crisis and the fact that all these people will be irrevocably changed by their search for freedom from war in their homeland.  Unable to go back to Syria they have to go forward to a new country and a life they never dreamed of encountering.

See also notes above on Science and Religious Conflict and notes on The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse above and The Stolen Generation.

Real Life References of Conflict

I get asked by many students: What are the real life references of conflict that I can use for my own essay writing on the context?  In conjunction with my notes above here are some more of my ideas that may help you to formulate an essay.  Remember to link your text to the prompt given in the SAC or Exam:

1.            Truth and Reconciliation Commissions: A commission tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government in the hope of resolving conflict left over from the past, e.g. in South Africa after apartheid ended.  The purpose of the commissions is not punishment or revenge, but rather to get to the truth of the events that occurred, apportion responsibility and move forward together as a community (often aiming to re-integrate perpetrators into the community).  See notes on The Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse above.

2.            Reconciliation for the Stolen Generations. The ‘Stolen Generations’ are the generations of Aboriginal children taken away from their families by governments, churches and welfare bodies to be brought up in institutions or fostered out to white families. Removing children from their families was official government policy in Australia until 1969. A major recommendation of the Bringing them Home Report was that all Australian Parliaments apologise to the Stolen Generations for the actions of their predecessors in forcibly removing children from their families.

All State and Territory Governments have apologised. Many local governments, police forces, government agencies, non-government organisations and church groups have also apologised.  In 1999 the Commonwealth Government passed a ‘statement of regret’ for past practices.

Think about the play Stolen by Jane Harrison which tells of five Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families, brought up in a repressive children’s home and trained for domestic service and other menial jobs.  Segregated from their community, after their release they begin their journey ‘home’, not all of them successfully.

While Stolen the play is categorised under the Context of Identity and Belonging it is also worth considering the consequences of the physical conflict that the forced removal of the children has had on all generations involved.  Consider the how the play explores the pain, the poignancy and sheer desperation of their lives as seen through the children’s own eyes as they struggle to make sense of a world where they have been told to forget their families, forget their homes and forget their culture.  Look at the internal conflict the stolen generation has dealt with as adults in terms of disadvantage, low self esteem, depression, vulnerability to sexual abuse and lack of links with Aboriginal culture in the future.

3.            War protests: The division in countries participating in unpopular wars, such as the Vietnam war or the more recent wars in the Middle East.

4.            Wars and conflicts that have stemmed from prejudice: Apartheid in South Africa, the conflict in Sudan and the war in Sri Lanka are just some examples.

5.            Any situation in which individuals have to take sides

6.            Cold War witch hunts (of which The Crucible by Arthur Miller is symbolic): Refers to the heightened fears of communism in 1950s America, which led to the creation of the House of Un-American Activities Committee’s hysterical rooting out of suspected communists during this time, including the play’s author Arthur Miller.

Private Home Tutoring of English Not an On-Line Free Tutoring Service

I am NOT an on-line free tutoring service.  My resources on this website are for general use only.  I do not write student’s essays for them or give out advice on how to write essays from prompts.  However, for more intensive tutoring in a specific area of English, I will visit students in their own homes for private tutoring sessions that are paid on an hourly basis.