Shakespeare opens his story by boldly announcing the climax of its plot. How can he get away with this? Because the better the storyteller, the stronger their understanding that a story is a journey. That a well-told story makes every step of that journey engaging and dramatic, more than the sum of its parts. Shakespeare can do what most inexperienced writers would be loathe to do — give away his ending — because what makes his story satisfying is a separate issue from the mechanical working out of its plot.
Further, by telling the audience the story’s outcome, Shakespeare gives the story a poignancy it would lack otherwise. This speaks to that issue of drama being not only the anticipation of action, but the feelings and thoughts that anticipation arouses.
Act one opens with some of the men of Capulet clan meeting on the street men of the Montague clan. A brawl erupts, citizens join in, and the heads of the houses of Capulet and Montague come upon the scene. The Prince of the City arrives. His judgment, if there is more fighting, those guilty face death.
The dramatic purpose of this scene is to introduce that the families are bound together by an ancient blood feud that has grown to a lethal hatred. The scene does this through a measured introduction of characters that always gives the audience time to assimilate who a particular character is, their personality, and their relationships to other characters.
On a story level, because this story is about a conflict between love and hate, introducing the hate that fuels the story’s action also sets the story into motion.
In the aftermath of the brawl, a question arises to the whereabouts of Romeo, a young Montague. It comes out that Romeo has been shedding tears and avoiding his kinsmen, but why is unclear. It is left to Benvolio to discover the cause of Romeo’s distress.
Story note , the play opens with some hotly contested action that sets up the retribution further conflict will bring. There’s clearly something at stake if anyone from either household engages in more brawling. Second, Romeo is mentioned in a way that it’s made clear before his arrival he has issues he’s dealing with. Because it’s made clear he has an issue to resolve, he is a character who is “ripe” even before he appears. The story’s audience anticipates some outcome to Romeo’s issues.
It comes out quite quickly that Romeo is lovesick
The Senior Capulet enters, mentioning the ban on any further fighting and that it should be easy to uphold. Note how Capulet’s words will come back to haunt him. During this scene, Count Paris reminds Capulet of his desire to wed Juliet, not quite fourteen. Capulet wishes that Juliet be older before she weds, but Paris presses his suit. Capulet invites him to a party that night, and they exit.
Romeo and Juliet opens with a prologue announcing the story’s star-crossed young lovers will die and their deaths reconcile their warring clans
Story note, our introduction to Juliet offers a sense of who she is. Further, that Juliet’s life is at a moment of potential transition, i.e., she’s a “ripe” character.
Enter Benvolio and Romeo, still caught up in his love sickness. They immediately come upon a servingman sent out by Capulet to announce the party to those on a list he cannot read. He asks Romeo to read the list. It comes out that Rosaline, for whom Romeo pines, has been invited to this party. The servingman, grateful to Romeo for reading the list, invites him to the party as long as he’s not a Montague.