The Chorus gives a narrative view of the story in the prologue of Romeo and Juliet. In Greek Theatre the chorus was an ensemble who kept the narration of the story going, with three actors playing the characters in the story.
In Baz Lurhmann’s 1996 film, Romeo + Juliet, the chorus was presented by a television news reporter. The way the opening Chorus and the prologue are presented establishes the concept and tone for the production. Interestingly, the chorus in reciting the prologue, gives away the ending of the story.
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;
Whose 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.
Read the opening prologue as delivered by the Chorus, then answer the following questions:
- Make a list of all the facts about the play that we learn from the above prologue.
- Imagine you are directing your own production of Romeo and Juliet. What is your overarching directorial concept for the play? Where and in what time is your story set? How might you present the prologue in a way that fits with your directorial concept?
- By stating the play’s tragic conclusion at the beginning of the play, how does Shakespeare add to the drama rather than reduce it?
- Some directors choose to have the prologue delivered by a single character from the play. If you were a director, what character would you give the prologue to? Why did you choose to have that character speak the prologue?
Extension task -
As a class try presenting the opening Chorus as an ensemble and then with individual students each taking a line. Experiment with the tone of speech e.g. excited, anxious, fearful, concerned, sad.