Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Act I, Prologue

Summary

Romeo and Juliet begins with a sonnet spoken by the Chorus, a character adapted from Greek tragedies whose role is to narrate the action and provide a “sneak peek” of the action to come in each act. In the opening Prologue, the Chorus sums up the entire play: the two main characters will fall in love, but fate will prevent them from being together, and they will both die by the play’s end.

Analysis

Why does Romeo and Juliet begin by giving away its own ending? The entire play relies on a literary convention known as dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something the characters don’t – in this case, that Romeo and Juliet’s love is doomed. Shakespeare develops the dramatic irony of the play in countless ways, but the entire structure relies on the audience knowing how the play will end before they see it performed. Without the Chorus’s opening sonnet, this irony would be lost.

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