Enter old CAPULET in his gown, and his wife [LADY CAPULET].
CAPULET What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!
LADY CAPULET A crutch, a crutch! why call you for a sword?
CAPULET My sword, I say! Old Montague is come,
And flourishes his blade in spite of me.
Enter old MONTAGUE and his wife [LADY MONTAGUE].
MONTAGUE Thou villain Capulet! – Hold me not, let me go.
LADY MONTAGUE Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe. (1.1.66-71)
With the entry of old Capulet and old Montague (and their wives), the play’s conflicts acquire an intergenerational dimension. The old men want to join in, but Capulet calling for his long sword – a weapon even more archaic than the swords and bucklers which began the scene – underlines his age, even before his wife mocks his apparent infirmity. There is, once more, comedy here: two old men, probably both in the gowns associated with age and respectability on the early modern stage, wanting to scrap (and posture, if Montague is indeed flourishing his blade) with the younger men, and being restrained by their wives (scolding wives being another comic staple; here, the wives may well be younger, and are often played much younger). (The rhyming couplet shared by the Montagues could be seen as nicely archaic, although there are lots of rhyming couplets in the play.) The two fathers are self-deluding and ridiculous, but they’re also out of place and out of touch. Generational conflict is a staple of comedy – young people defying their parents by falling in love with the wrong people – and, like so many other moments in this opening scene, this is comic; an audience would be forgiven for thinking that these characters will remain safely ridiculous, fundamentally benign, essentially powerless. But it’s not just that everyone in Verona is affected by the feud between the families: part of what’s going on here is that the older men can’t even participate in the war that they have started. They don’t have the right weapons or the right words, never mind the strength or the ability – and the conflict is now completely out of their control.