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Act Three, Scene One is very important in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. This is because in this scene Mercutio is killed. Mercutio’s death comes as a shock and from this point on changes the disposition of the play. Before this scene the aura is light hearted and seems more like a comedy rather than a tragedy. However, the death of Mercutio transforms the ‘comedy’ into a classic tragedy. The brawl between Tybalt and Mercutio proves to be the climax of the Montague-Capulet conflict as Mercutio’s death is followed by Tybalt’s death.
This essay will also compare two film productions of the play by Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli. It will compare how each film handles Act Three, Scene One. Moreover, it will also look at the historical, cultural and social context of the play and will analyse its contemporary relevance.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ fits the pattern of a classic Greek tragedy because it follows all of the hallmarks of a Greek tragedy.
The ending of the play is catastrophic as the two lovers commit suicide. The ending is also inevitable as Romeo and Juliet, who were destined never to be together in life, could only fulfil their destiny in death. The fact that our hero, in this case Romeo, is in deep anguish seems to be unjust and unfair as he and Juliet are not allowed to be together because of a family feud.
Act Three, Scene One is vital as this is where the play begins to turn into a tragedy.
What was friendly banter, between Tybalt and Mercutio, turned into the start of vicious repercussions. Whether Tybalt meant to kill Mercutio or not is a debatable point, but this event was the beginning of the climax of the two families’ feud.
Shakespeare set ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in Renaissance Italy. During the thirteenth century, Italy was divided into city states. City states were organised so that each state had its own set of rules and regulations. Most of the men in the state had to serve an amount of time in the Civic Militia. We still see this today in some countries where conscription is mandatory.
Because of the city states being independent, they were like individual countries. They often ended up fighting with one another for a number of reasons, the principle reason being the huge difference between rich and poor. The rich expected the poor to follow orders. When the poor refused to slave for the rich, fights broke out between the two classes of society. There was also a religious issue as some people believed in the laws and ways of the Pope, however, some followed German leaders. Also, some people believed in the system of taking what you wanted by force and not having any regard for others.
I believe the reason that the Montagues and Capulets fought was because they both felt that they had to be better than each other. I think that they both felt that the only way to get what you want is to take the status by force. This would mean that they both wanted rid of each other so they felt they had to fight to prove who the better family was and drive the others away.
Throughout the fourteenth century, fighting in the city states was getting out of hand. People were growing tired of fights every day and decided to put a stop to it. To do this, power was given to a single person in each city state. The title was usually passed down through one noble family. They were called ‘Signores’. It was their job to keep peace and order in the city state. They had the power of life and death. Fighters caught in the street would have been sentenced by the Signore and their trial would have been a public spectacle. Often the Signore would give harsh punishments to warn off other offenders. Prince Escalus plays the Signore in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and used this tactic when he banished Romeo from Verona.
Many of the roles of the key characters can be seen clearly in Act Three, Scene One. Having warned Mercutio of a possible fight, to no avail, Benvolio then acts as the diplomat “We talk here in the public haunt of men: either withdraw unto some private place, or reason coldly of your grievances, or else depart; here all eyes are on us”. Benvolio is trying to persuade Mercutio and Tybalt to talk through the problem or else move to a private place as they are in full view of the public. Benvolio uses blank verse. This hints that he is a noble. This might explain why he is always trying to sort out the problems. We also find that he uses collective personal pronouns such as “we” and “us”. This shows that Benvolio is a part of the Montagues and cannot be excused from their bad behaviour.
During the fight, Romeo says, “Tybalt, the reason I have to love thee doth much to excuse the appertaining rage to such greeting”. Romeo is telling Tybalt that they are family now. They should not fight over a trivial party. Romeo tries to end this dilemma through talking instead of fighting which makes Tybalt mad. “I do protest I never injur’d thee but love thee better than thoust canst devise”. Romeo uses the word “love” strongly in this quote. He is trying to imply that now he and Tybalt are linked by marriage, their relationship should change from that of enemies to one of love and kinship.
In his dying breath, Mercutio says, “A plague on both your houses”. This shows how in his last moments, Mercutio reveals his inner feelings in that maybe he has died needlessly, being neither a Capulet nor Montague, but that he died on behalf of his friend, Romeo Montague. He feels that their conflict is ridiculous and curses them both. Their petty fight has cost him his life. This quote also shows Mercutio’s strong feelings towards the family feud. Ironically, the feud is a plague that has infected the families for many generations.
Before Act Three, Scene One Tybalt says, “I will withdraw but this intrusion shall now seeming sweet covert to bitterest gall”. This suggests that Tybalt has been humiliated as Lord Capulet has dismissed his appeal to remove Romeo and his friends from the Capulet party. Tybalt is concerned with his reputation.
He feels that Lord Capulet is sympathizing with the Montagues and because of this, he seeks revenge on Romeo in Act Three, Scene One.
At the start of the scene, Benvolio says, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad, and if we meet we shall not ‘scape a brawl”. This gives the impression that Benvolio is acting cautiously. He does not want a fight to break out as Prince Escalus’ new law states that anyone caught brawling would be banished or killed. It also reveals that Benvolio is the sensible one of the family. He knows that it is a hot day and every one will lose their temper much more easily than usual.
When Mercutio is about to die, he says, “Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man”. This shows Mercutio’s joking nature and quick wittedness. He has used a play on the word grave as if tommorow he will be sad and will also be in dead and in a grave. He is always acting comically and this quote shows that he can even joke when he is staring death in the face.
Upon hearing of Tybalt’s death, Lady Capulet speaks to Prince Escalus. “Prince as thou art true, for blood of ours, shed blood of Montague”. This displays Lady Capulet’s anger at Tybalt’s death. She feels that if a Montague kills a Capulet, Romeo killing Tybalt, then a Capulet should have the right to kill a Montague. However, it seems she does not take into account Mercutio’s death which was in fact the reason of Romeo killing Tybalt. She feels that Romeo must die. Lady Capulet’s despair at Tybalt’s death may not only be because she has lost a relative but it also may be because she knows that this is the start of a violent Montague-Capulet feud. This shows Lady Capulet’s weariness.
Once Romeo had killed Tybalt, Prince Escalus says, “Let Romeo hence in haste, else when he is found, that hour is his last”. The Prince is stating that Romeo is banished from Verona. If he is found in Verona then he shall be killed within the hour. The fact that the Prince has banished Romeo and not killed him on the spot shows that Prince Escalus may be sympathizing with Romeo. The Prince was related to Mercutio and this may be the reason he let Romeo off lightly.
The essence of Romeo’s character has changed. In his attempt to avoid brawling he says, “…And so good Capulet which name I tender as dearly as my own, be satisfied”. This is a plea from Romeo to tell Tybalt that they should not fight. In fact Romeo, realising his love for Juliet makes him tackle feuds with his words rather than his sword, says “…O sweet Juliet, Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, And in my temper softened valour’s steel”. He is explaining his unwillingness to fight now that he has loves Juliet.
The two film productions of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, studied in class, offer very different adaptations of Act Three, Scene One. Baz Luhrmann’s film is set in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. This is in contrast to Zeferelli, who has remained faithful to Shakespeare’s setting of Verona. Venice Beach had a Latin American theme to it. You could tell this because of the large godly statue Luhrmann introduced in the middle of the city. This is reminiscent of the ‘Christ the Redeemer’ statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It may resemble God’s ability to see all. If the statue is in the middle of the city then it would be able to look over everywhere. However, Franco Zeferelli didn’t need to use a statue of Christ to represent a Latin/Catholic theme. He simply relied upon the traditional Renaissance Italy. This difference in settings could be a result of Baz Luhrmann’s intention to make his film more attractive to the modern day person.
The settings of the actual fights are also very different in the two films. Zeferelli sets his fight in a square. It has high walls all around. This gives the feeling that once you are in a fight there is nowhere to run. The high walls mean you cannot escape. There are also metal gates covering some of the exits in the square. This probably makes the fighters feel that they are enclosed in a space so no one can come in and break up the brawl. Luhrmann, however, sets the fight on an open beach with miles of sand. This is the opposite setting of Zeferelli as it is a very open space in which you could run away. The place in which Mercutio falls dead is on a stage. This may be to remind the viewers that this play was originally performed on a stage with an audience.
Another difference between the two films is that Baz Luhrmann seems to use rain or water whenever something bad happens. For example, during the fight, between Tybalt and Mercutio, the weather is hot and sunny whilst when Mercutio dies a thunderstorm hits and sudden rain and wind make the event look more tragic.
The fight scene in Zeferelli’s film seems to be more of a joke. Everyone in the scene looks young and childish. The brawl between Tybalt and Mercutio genuinely seems playful and with no intention to kill. In Luhrmann’s version, however, Tybalt looks as if his intentions are clear that he wants to harm Mercutio. Looking at the original play, I think Tybalt did not mean to kill Mercutio.
One similarity between the films is that the families have different appearances to each other. Luhrmann has dressed the Montagues in floral Hawaiian shirts. The Capulets wear leather and lots of silver. There is no doubt that the Capulets look the more intimidating of the two families. This may be because the Capulets always start the fights. In Zeferelli’s production, on the other hand, all of the Montagues wear grey and black. Once again the Capulets look more intimidating in their bright orange costumes.
The soundtrack music is very different in the two films. Luhrmann uses choir singers and string instruments when Mercutio dies. This makes the fight seem more meaningful and the choir gives the scene a solemn edge and makes the viewer sympathize with Romeo and Mercutio. In Zeferelli’s version, however, the music only starts when Mercutio finally dies. This point of realization is emphasized with more solemn music.
Act Three, Scene One is the most important scene in the play. This is because this is the scene in which the play turns into a tragedy. This makes ‘Romeo and Juliet’ a classic piece of literary material. Renaissance Italy was the perfect setting for the play because in this period fights were breaking out regularly throughout Italy.
The language used in this section of the play tells the audience much about the characters and enhances the story. The two films are very different as Luhrmann sets his film in modern times whereas Zeferelli sets his in Renaissance Italy. Luhrmann makes his film relevant to a modern audience by setting the film in Venice Beach, LA, using guns instead of swords and dressing the two families in a current fashionable look.
I have learnt much from Act Three, Scene One. I now realize that the way Shakespeare uses dialogue for each of his characters, allows us not only to understand what they are saying but gives us an insight into their personality and psyche. I think that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a classic piece of writing because of its tragic twists. Much like a story, these twists keep the reader enticed. It is good that the play still forms part of our curriculum, as it gives us an insight into us the type of language people would have used in the Renaissance period, that family loyalty was so important and the Church’s domination on everyday life.
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