How effective is the Prologue as an introduction to Romeo and Juliet?

Authors Avatar

        In my opinion, the prologue is a striking and extremely effective introduction to one of the greatest tragedies ever written. One of the most unusual things about the Prologue is its structure; the fact that it is written in the sonnet form is very significant. The sonnet form of poetry is perhaps the most demanding and challenging poetic form that exists. For hundreds of years the sonnet (of which Shakespeare wrote 154) has been recognised as a structure that is only attempted by the greatest of poets such as Shakespeare or Wordsworth.  It is often associated with love poetry and the fact that Shakespeare chooses the sonnet format to open Romeo and Juliet suggests his motive to prepare the audience with the love story to come. The sonnet is made up from 3 quatrains each consisting of 4 lines, with the rhyme scheme a,b,a,b, each quatrain telling us something different about the forthcoming play. The sonnet is finished by a rhyming couplet- a pair of lines that have the rhyming scheme c,c. Some might question why Shakespeare chose such a difficult poetic structure to open the play however it is clear to me that he chose the sonnet to grab the audience’s attention but also to demonstrate his showcase of literary talent. The sonnet reveals to the audience the degree of Shakespeare’s poetic genius to create a language – which in all its diversity can capture the most beautiful love story of all time.

        The first quatrain explains the background and setting to the play, explaining that the play is set in Verona, Italy. Shakespeare chose Italy as the setting for a number of his plays; although it is thought that he never actually travelled to the country, it was regarded in Elizabethan times to be a country of wealth and romance. It is entirely fitting that an immortal tragedy should take as its backdrop ‘fair Verona’ (line 2 Prologue) in one of the homes of classical civilisation. In Elizabethan times Italy was thought of as a country full of sexual and social intrigue; where often men fell in love with wealthy heiresses. The Nurse’s observation to Romeo, ‘he that can lay hold of here / Shall have the chinks’ (Act1 Scene 2 lines 116-117) suggests a common motive for love at that time.

Join now!

In the first line of the prologue, we are told that the house of Montague and Capulet are ‘both alike in dignity’, meaning that they both have equal yet important stature within Verona. It is significant that Shakespeare chose to base the plot of the play around two affluent families, proving that the greatest of tragedies can still occur within aristocratic families with the greatest wealth. We are not only told that there is nothing to choose between the families but also that there is only one heir of each household, creating a balance within the play but also an ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


This is a very good essay which supplies an analytical and detailed close reading of the prologue, while at the same time making effective textual links with the rest of the play. It offers a focused and well-structured answer to the question posed by the title.