Act I – Scene.i
This is set in the streets of Verona where two Capulet
servants, Sampson and Gregory engage in rowdy banter concerning the house of Montague.
This involves the beating of Montague men and sexually conquering Montague women. They come across two Montague servants and a brawl soon ensues.
Benvolio, a kinsman to Montague endeavors to stop the confrontation, and
then Tybalt enters the scene, which is a kinsman to Capulet, and seeing Benvolio’s drawn sword, causes the brawl to escalate. Eventually, Prince Escalus enters and is able to restore order.
The protagonists throw down their weapons and the Prince declares that the
feuding must stop on penalty of torture, and he issues a death sentence on anyone who disturbs the peace again.
The brawlers disperse, leaving Benvolio with Montague and Lady
Montague. Lady Montague is concerned about her son, Romeo, who has been seen outside the city in a lovesick state over Rosaline. Benvolio seeks out his cousin and friend, Romeo who is melancholy, as his
love for Rosaline has not been returned. Benvolio advises his friend that he should seek out other beauties.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare provides two
perspectives of life in Verona, one from the servants’ position, and the other from the nobility.
Initially we see the feud between the two houses from the eyes of the
servants of these noble households. The opening scene is full of action devised by Shakespeare to absorb his audience.
The brawl portrays the different layers of Veronese society from those without any power, i.e. the servants, through the nobility, up to the Prince. It is the Prince who is able to calm the situation and end the brawl.
The Prince is at the top of the political and social scale.
We obtain details of some of the main characters. Benvolio is
portrayed as intelligent and respectful of the law, whilst Tybalt is shown to be hotheaded with a short temper. It is clear that there is a deep, long-standing hostility between the two houses.
Romeo is also introduced to the audience as a lovesick youth, consumed with
his unrequited love for Rosaline.
The audience is made aware that this is a very passionate society, where
swords are drawn with little or no provocation and that a man’s honor must be defended at all costs.
The concept of masculine honor is evident throughout all the layers of society, including the servants. The brawl initiated with the servants and spilled over into the nobility.
Shakespeare cleverly uses the servants as a way of commenting on the
behavior of the hierarchy of Veronese society.
The intention is that the audience will conclude that although the two households are dramatically tragic, they are also dull-witted and over-privileged, since only stupid people would bring death upon themselves when there is no clear need for it.
In direct contrast to the masculine honor of the noble households, there is
the passionate love that Romeo has, not for Juliet at this stage of the play, but for Rosaline, who the audience will never see.
Shakespeare is clear to show that although love is extremely passionate, it
is fickle; so fickle in fact that many of Romeo’s friends are unaware that he has fallen in love with Juliet, until almost the end of the play. It is clear that Shakespeare’s intention was to demonstrate that
Romeo has a passionate nature by referring to Rosaline in the first place, although there is an alternative view that Romeo was willing to love anyone who was beautiful and willing to share his feelings.
At the end of the day it is up to the reader to determine exactly what
Rosaline’s role in the play is all about.