Prologue (Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay...)

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;
Whole 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.

I have some questions about this prologue.
What does ‘fair’ here mean?
What is ‘ancient grudge break’?
What does ‘civil blood’ or ‘civil hands’ mean?
What’s ‘star-crossed’? What does ‘take their life’ mean?

Thank you.

Oh, Sympathy! Now you’re getting into Shakespeare, and the language is so old that we native speakers in this century don’t understand it without special training. I’ve had only a little bit of Shakespeare, so this is probably a job for Alan.

However, I can tell you this:

“Fair” here means nice, good, beautiful.

“Ancient grudge” means a long, probably bloody enmity between the two families in the story. This grudge has been going on for generations, I think, and the breaking is the rebellion of the younger generation against it.

I think (but am not sure) that “civil” here means “civilian”. So there was a feud between two families who killed each other’s members. It was like a civilian war, like two gangs fighting.

“Star-crossed” refers to astrology. If someone is star-crossed, it means a tragic fate is predetermined for him. His fate is “in the stars”, and he can’t do anything to change it.

“Take their life” means kill themselves.

Hi Sympathy,

I’m sure I don’t need to add any more to what Jamie has already said but just to agree with the definition of ‘civil’ in this context. The two families in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ have a family feud (dispute) that goes back many years and in the Prologue to the play you have quoted ‘civil’ ‘civilian’ suggests that this is a civil dispute and not one that is a military dispute.


Don’t you two think that Shakespeare was playing with two different definitions of the word ‘civil’ here? I mean ‘civil’ in the sense of a war between citizens, and ‘civil’ in the sense that these same warring citizens would normally expect themselves and others to be polite/courteous (i.e. civil)?

Sure. That’s possible.

Thanks Jamie, Alan and Yankee.

This prologue is a complete breakdown of what all happens in the story(obviously). This part, “civil blood makes civil hands unclean”, I believe this might refer directly to Romeo and how he became involved in the family feud. For example, when Mercutio defends romeo and is killed, i would see that as the “civil blood”, Mercutio died and “civil blood” was spilled. After this happened Romeo, the “civil hands”, fought and killed tybalt, Ending with the “civil hands unclean”. That’s what i see when i look at the prologue, tell me what you think.
Thank you

I know this is an old thread, but just in case anyone runs across it now looking for info, I wanted to point out that this is a good observation, but that use of the word civil wasn’t known in England until after Romeo and Juliet was written, albeit it only 15 years after.


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