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Shakespeare was born into a well-to-do family in the market town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. He went on to marry Anne Hathaway at the age of eighteen and had two daughters and a son. Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, written in 1595. It is, perhaps, the most famous of his plays and undoubtedly the most famous love story in Western history. The play is based on Arthur Brooke’s narrative poem The Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet, written in 1562.
As the definition of pivotal explains, Act 3 Scene 1 is of vital or central importance to the play. At the beginning of the scene, marriage has just taken place, off set, between the two families. Friar Lawrence hopes that it will unite the two families, “I’ll thy assistant be:/ For this alliance may so happy prove/ To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.”
From the beginning of the scene, the audience are expecting a fight; as in Act 1 Scene 1, the last time the characters were in a public place.
Tybalt was furious at the Montagues’ intrusion at the Capulet ball, “This, by his voice, should be a Montague/…/What dares the slave/ Come hither, cover’d with an antic face/ To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?/ Now, by the stock and honor of my kin,/ To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.” As Tybalt heard Romeo’s voice, he ordered his servant to “Fetch me my rapier, boy” which showed his tendency towards violence.
He bid his uncle to get rid of Romeo but Capulet did not want to cause trouble after the Prince’s speech in the square and so told Tybalt, “He shall be endured” and put him in his place by calling him “boy.” As Tybalt left the ball, he threatened, “I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall/ Now seeming sweet convert to bitter gall.” This comment is very prophetic as it is with “gall” – poison, that Romeo eventually kills himself. Tybalt later sends a challenge to Romeo, “Tybalt, the kinsmen of old Capulet,/ Hath sent a letter to his father’s house,” but, displaying dramatic irony and creating tension, by the beginning of Act 3 Scene 1, Romeo has not received the letter and so is unaware of the challenge.
Dramatic irony is also displayed in the fact that the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet are married, but neither Tybalt nor Mercutio are aware of this and Romeo cannot tell them because their families hate each other, “But love thee better than thou canst devise,/ Till thou shalt know the reason of my love.” Romeo does not want to fight with his new cousin and he does not want to upset Juliet by fighting with him either and so the audience becomes tense as they know a fight is inevitable.
Act 3 Scene 1 begins with the line, “The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,/ And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl.” This sets the tone of the scene using pathetic fallacy and introduces the inevitability of a fight right at the beginning. Benvolio, the peacemaker, is trying to convince the hot and irritated Mercutio to leave the square and so avoid a fight with the Capulets, but Mercutio jokingly claims that Benvolio is as much of a quarreler as anyone, “Thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any/ in Italy, and as soon moved to be moody, and as soon/ moody to be moved.” Here, Mercutio uses hyperbole, simile and repetition to put his point across. Mercutio then gives a long list of what he thinks makes people fight, which builds tension in the audience. Here he speaks in prose, as he often does throughout the play, as a mark of informality and to show his joking character. He also uses wordplay, for example his claim that Benvolio would quarrel with a man for “cracking nuts” as Benvolio has “hazel eyes”. Benvolio then says, “And I were so apt to quarrel as thou art, any man should/ buy the fee-simple of my life for an hour and a quarter.” Here, Benvolio is saying that if he were as much of a quarreller as Mercutio is, his life wouldn’t last more than an hour and a quarter. Ironically, Benvolio is more than right; Mercutio’s life lasts for about another ten minutes.
Tybalt, Petruchio and others then enter the stage. This creates tension in the audience as they know that Mercutio is agitated and that Tybalt has sent a challenge to Romeo, which he has not received. We know that Tybalt hates the Montagues, as he made clear in Act 1 Scene 1, “What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word, / As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee” He is an excellent swordsman: according to Mercutio, Tybalt is a skilled duellist; he follows all the rules about proper timing and distance until he puts his sword in exactly the right place when he kills, “He fights/ as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and/ proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the/ third in your bosom: the very butcher of a silk button,/ a duellist, a duellist; a gentleman of the very first/ house”
Tybalt is looking for Romeo only and he addresses Mercutio and Benvolio in a polite way, “Gentlemen, good den: a word with one of you”. Mercutio, however, is not in the mood for politeness and responds with, “And but one word with one of us? couple it with/ something; make it a word and a blow” Tybalt says that he will fight if Mercutio gives him a reason to, and Mercutio taunts him by asking if he can’t find a reason on his own. Here, Mercutio is baiting Tybalt and tension arises because the audience knows that both Mercutio and Tybalt are impulsive characters and are likely to start a fight at any time. Mercutio is obviously trying to pick a fight, but he does not succeed as Tybalt is solely intent on finding Romeo. Tybalt says, “Mercutio, thou consort’st with Romeo”, only to be interrupted by Mercutio’s exclamation, “Consort! what, dost thou make us minstrels?”. Mercutio takes this as an offence and acts highly insulted and begins a series of puns about music (“minstrels” and “dance” leading to “fiddlestick”) A consort was also a term for a musical group at the time. Still trying to pick a fight, Mercutio draws his sword and says, “Here’s my fiddlestick, here’s that shall make you dance,”
Benvolio tries to calm things down by telling Mercutio and Tybalt that they shouldn’t fight in public. He asks them to take the quarrel to some private place, or talk it out, or just walk away, “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 gaze on us.” Mercutio, however, has his hackles up and declares, “Men’s eyes were made to look, and let them gaze; / I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I.”
Mercutio is then immediately dismissed by Tybalt when Romeo enters. We know that Tybalt is looking for Romeo in particular and not just any Montague when Romeo enters the stage and Tybalt says, “Here comes my man.” This is a derogatory term as it is as though Tybalt is speaking to a servant, and not a man of Romeo’s station. Mercutio is furious that Tybalt has dismissed him and that he referred to Romeo, his best friend, as a servant, “But I’ll be hang’d, sir, if he wear your livery.” and makes it clear that Romeo would never follow Tybalt as his servant, the only way he would follow him is onto the battlefield, “Marry, Go before to field, he’ll be your follower;”
Tybalt then goes further and says, “thou art a villain,” to Romeo, a serious insult in Elizabethan society, calling for immediate retaliation, as Romeo is a socially important person in the Montague household and a villain was another term for a peasant. The audience here becomes worried and tense as such a serious insult is more than likely to result in a reaction from Romeo. However, Romeo reacts in the opposite way to this offensive comment that Tybalt intended him to, “Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee/ Doth much excuse the appertaining rage/ To such a greeting: villain am I none;/ Therefore farewell; I see thou know’st me not.” Which enrages Tybalt even further, “Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries/ That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.”
An elaborate pattern of wordplay is found in Tybalt’s challenges and Romeo’s replies. When Tybalt sarcastically says “the love I bear thee” (no love at all) Romeo responds with “the reason that I have to love thee”, while “Thou art a villain” becomes “villain I am none”. “Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries…” is met with “I do protest I never injur’d thee.” The general contrast of love and hate in the play is explicit in this scene. The contrast between Romeo’s loving words and Tybalt’s hate-filled ones creates tension and highlights the difference between the two men’s worlds – Romeo’s revolves around Juliet and his love for her, and Tybalt’s revolves around the Montagues and his hate for them.
Mercutio does not understand why Romeo is reacting in such a strange way to Tybalt’s insults and wonders whether he is too scared to fight Tybalt, so he tries to defend Romeo’s honour himself by challenging Tybalt to a fight, “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!/ Alla stoccata carries it away./ Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?” Romeo tries to stop Mercutio and begs him to put his sword away, “Gentle Mercutio, put thy rapier up.” He does not listen and so Romeo tries to remind both men of the Prince’s speech earlier in the play, “Tybalt, Mercutio, the Prince expressly hath/ Forbid this bandying in Verona streets.”
The fighting is fast paced and exciting and the audience is moved very quickly from talking to fighting and back again. We then see from the stage directions that Tybalt wounds Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. After having stabbed Mercutio in this manner, Tybalt panics and runs. With such a serious wound, Mercutio will soon be dead, and he begins to realise this almost at once. He says, “I am hurt. / A plague a’ both houses! I am sped. / Is he gone and hath nothing?” Here, Mercutio is saying that he feels cheated, that neither houses are worth dying for, and Tybalt has escaped without a scratch. Benvolio has not realised what has happened and asks, “What, art thou hurt?” Mercutio replies “Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, ’tis enough” – it looks like Mercutio is only scratched, but it is enough to kill him. Romeo tries to reassure his friend by saying, “Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much” Amazingly, Mercutio is still able to joke and he puns, “Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man”. He asks Benvolio to help him into a house before he collapses, and as Benvolio does so, Mercutio curses “Your houses!”
Romeo feels ashamed of himself, “his mortal hurt / In my behalf; my reputation stain’d / With Tybalt’s slander”. He is ashamed that he let Tybalt slander him by calling him “villain,” but more ashamed that Mercutio is dying because he fought Romeo’s fight for him. Romeo says, “O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper soften’d valour’s steel!” – Romeo is ashamed that love has softened his valour.
Benvolio then brings the news that Mercutio is dead, and Romeo says, “This day’s black fate on more days doth depend; / This but begins the woe, others must end” Romeo knows he has reached a point of no return; he will fight Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death, but he knows that that won’t be the end of it all.
Tybalt returns, and Romeo gives himself completely to anger, saying to himself, “Away to heaven, respective lenity, / And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!” “Respective lenity” is the leniency with which Romeo treated Tybalt before. Romeo now says he is sending his respective leniency to heaven and promising to be guided only by his fury. He challenges Tybalt, telling him that Mercutio’s soul is only a little way above their heads, waiting for Tybalt’s soul to join it. He says, “Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him” – Romeo is determined to fight to the death. Romeo’s passion quickly overcomes Tybalt’s technique and Tybalt is killed. Romeo stands in a daze while Benvolio tries to snap him out of it, saying “Stand not amazed: the prince will doom thee death, / If thou art taken: hence, be gone, away!” Romeo cries out “O, I am fortune’s fool!” before Benvolio gets him to leave.
Citizens of Verona begin to appear on stage, adding tension in the audience as an officer says, “Which way ran he that kill’d Mercutio?/ Tybalt, that murderer, which way ran he?” and the audience realises that the consequences of this fight will be coming soon and they will be disastrous.
Prince Escalus quickly gets to the point, “Where are the vile beginners of this fray?” Benvolio declares that he can explain it all and, pointing to the dead Tybalt, says that he killed Mercutio and was killed by Romeo. He speaks in rhyming couplets to stress the importance of his speech, “Oh noble prince, I can discover all/ The unlucky manage of this fatal brawl”. Seeing the body of her nephew Lady Capulet becomes hysterical, “Tybalt, my cousin! O my brother’s child!/ O Prince! O Husband! O, the blood is spill’d/ Of my dear kinsmen.” This builds tension and makes the audience worry that Lady Capulet’s hysterics will convince the Prince to favour Tybalt and not Romeo.
The Prince does not seem to be moved by Lady Capulet’s dramatics and asks the much calmer Benvolio to explain what happened as he has picked himself out as a spokesman. Benvolio tells the whole story, from the moment of Tybalt’s challenge to Romeo, and lays the blame on Tybalt. Here, Benvolio speaks in blank verse which shows his serious mood until the end of the speech when he uses rhyming couplets which stress its importance, “And as he fell, did Romeo turn and fly./ This is the truth, or let Benvolio die.” This increases tension in the audience as they are forced to go over the horrible turn of events again. As the audience hear the story again they become worried as to what the Prince will say. On the whole, Benvolio’s account is truthful. Lady Capulet, however, is sure that Benvolio is lying. She cannot believe that Tybalt could have been killed in a fair fight, so she cries out, “Some twenty of them fought in this black strife, / And all those twenty could but kill one life. / I beg for justice, which thou, prince, must give; / Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live”
The Prince, not impressed with this argument, asks a rhetorical question, “Romeo slew him, he slew Mercutio; / Who now the price of his dear blood doth owe?” Lady Capulet is demanding that Romeo’s life pay for Tybalt’s, but in the Prince’s view Tybalt’s death has already been avenged with Mercutio’s. Montague goes even further, saying “Not Romeo, prince, he was Mercutio’s friend; / His fault concludes but what the law should end, / The life of Tybalt” Montague believes that Romeo was justified in killing Tybalt because he only did what the law would have done – make Tybalt pay his life for Mercutio’s. However, the Prince is not impressed with this argument either, and replies, “And for that offence / Immediately we do exile him hence” His whole speech is in rhyming couplets which stress the finality of his decision. At the end of the speech the word “kill” proves how strongly the Prince feels about violence.
A strong theme in this scene is the idea that we are not in control of our lives. When Romeo has killed Tybalt he cries out, “I am fortune’s fool” The Friar will later say to Juliet, “A greater power than we can contradict/ Hath thwarted our intents” Another strong theme that appears is that of the feud between the two families and how innocent lives are harmed by it. Mercutio curses the feuding families, “A plague on both your houses” This would have been especially effective to the audience at the time the play was written as the Great Plague of 1665 was rife throughout Europe.
It may be argued that Romeo and Juliet’s downfall does not result from their personal flaws of character, but from the actions of others, from mistiming, from accidents, or from incidents of ill fate. However, it may be that recklessness and youth’s immaturity are the tragic flaws of Romeo and Juliet’s characters. This scene certainly favours the former view as the strongest theme in the scene is the intervention of fate. Once again Prince Escales has tried to enforce peace. The first time we saw this, in Act 1 Scene 1, the intervention came before any real harm was done. This time it is too late. The Prince promises justice to the feuding familes and exiles Romeo. This is one of the worst outcomes possible as Romeo has just been married to Juliet. Exile would mean that he would never see Juliet again. The question remains, is this the end of the feud between the two families, or will fate once again ensure that events spiral disastrously out of control?
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