As a prologue to the play, the Chorus enters. In a fourteen-line sonnet, the Chorus describes two noble households (called "houses") in the city of Verona. The houses hold an "ancient grudge" (Prologue.2) against each other that remains a source of violent and bloody conflict. The Chorus states that from these two houses, two "star-crossed" lovers will appear (Prologue.6). These lovers will mend the quarrel between their families by dying. The story of these two lovers, and of the terrible strife between their families, will be the topic of this play.
Sampson and Gregory, two servants of the house of Capulet, stroll through the streets of Verona. With bawdy banter, Sampson vents his hatred of the house of Montague. The two exchange punning remarks about physically conquering Montague men and sexually conquering Montague women. Gregory sees two Montague servants approaching, and discusses with Sampson the best way to provoke them into a fight without breaking the law.
Sampson bites his thumb at the Montagues--a highly insulting gesture. A verbal confrontation quickly escalates into a fight. Benvolio, a kinsman to Montague, enters and draws his sword in an attempt to stop the confrontation. Tybalt, a kinsman to Capulet, sees Benvolio's drawn sword and draws his own. Benvolio explains that he is merely trying to keep the peace, but Tybalt professes a hatred for peace as strong as his hatred for Montagues, and attacks. The brawl spreads. A group of citizens bearing clubs attempts to restore the peace by beating down the combatants. Montague and Capulet enter, and only their wives prevent them from attacking one another. Prince Escalus arrives and commands the fighting stop on penalty of torture. The Capulets and Montagues throw down their weapons. The Prince declares the violence between the two families has gone on for too long,