Shakespeare's Language and Imagery Builds Tension Toward Violent Death of Tybalt

Categories: William Shakespeare
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At the start of Act 3 Scene 1, Shakespeare uses imagery when Benvolio warns Mercutio that the Capulets are about ‘For now these hot days, is the mad blood stirring’. This shows that they will not escape a fight if the two houses meet as it suggests that the hot weather makes people brasher so that they will be looking to start a fight especially with Tybalt angry with Romeo now that he has married Juliet, so this creates tension. Whereas Mercutio doesn’t think Benvlio does want to stop the possibility of a fight as he says ‘thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood’ suggesting that he is as much a troublemaker as anyone.

He also lists a number of crazy reasons for Benvolio picking quarrels with people ‘thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat’, Shakespeare does this by using imagery as he uses a simile meaning that Benvolio’s head is full of quarrels it is as full with them as an egg is full of meat.

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As Tybalt enters, he says ‘Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo.’ Mercutio then takes the word in another sense ‘Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels’ he uses a pun to form a different meaning from what Tybalt said; that of a group of musicians and asking if that would make them traveling musicians. Mercutio then uses another pun to create tension as he says ‘Here’s my fiddlestick, here’s that shall make you dance’, actually meaning that his fiddlestick would be his sword and making him dance would be fighting Tybalt.

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The Elizabethan audience would love word play as Mercutio calls Tybalt the ‘King of Cats’ and saying how he will take one of his nine lives; ‘nothing but one of your nine lives’. This is all to create tension as it is a threat towards Tybalt, who responds by putting up his sword. Also Mercutio calls Tybalt a ‘rat-catcher’, referring to Tybalt’s name, which in the story of Reynard the fox was that of the cat (Tibby), to taunt him and to provoke him into a fight – to create tension, the Elizabethan audience of that time would now all the Christian and folk lore stories, so would understand what Mercutio is referring to.

Throughout the scene certain things anger Romeo enough to explode into the fight scene, such as Tybalt calling him ‘Boy’, also Mercutio blames Romeo for his death as he says ‘nor so wide as a church door’ meaning not in the literal sense but basically using a metaphor to say that it is big enough for a coffin to fit through, meaning he thinks he’ll die. Mercutio also uses a pun ‘grave man’ as he means to be both serious and dead and buried in his grave, which further creates conflict in Romeo as it is him that has put Mercutio in the grave. Also Mercutio uses imagery to create more tension ‘they have made worms meat of me’, as this is all he is good for now that he is dying. Mercutio also keeps repeating the phrase ‘a plague on both your houses’ to emphasise that he is blaming Romeo for his death and how he hates Tybalt as that is who stabbed him. All these things create anger within Romeo as he realises Juliet’s love has made him too soft ‘O sweet Juliet, thy beauty hath made me effeminate’ Shakespeare then uses a rhyming couplet to end the part of Mercutio death and to begin the part of Tybalt’s death ‘This day’s black fate on moe days doth depend, This but begins the woe others must end.’

As Tybalt returns he snaps and stops trying to keep the peace, as he realises the truth as it is; Tybalt has killed his best friend and he wants revenge, to kill Tybalt for the death of Mercutio. He uses illiteration to show he is taking revenge now ‘fire-eyed fury be my conduct now.’ As Tybalt taunts him again saying ‘wretched boy’, they fight resulting in Tybalt being killed by Romeo. After Romeo exits and so enters the prince, who asks who has killed Mercutio and Tybalt. Benvolio then makes a speech, where Shakespeare uses blank verse which is ordinary writing, without rhyming, but it still has rhythm because of the use of the iambic pentameter meaning in each line there are five stressed and five unstressed beats, to end up with a ten syllable line. Shakespeare uses this for all important speeches. But so that the actors don’t speak it like an iambic pentameter, Shakespeare uses enjambement where there is no punctuation at the end of lines, which helps lines flow together ‘An envious thrust from Tybalt hit the life Of stout Mercutio, and then Tybalt fled’. As the meaning would not be finished with ‘Tybalt hit the life’ as he has to hit the life of someone, so having no punctuation allows it to flow on to show ‘Tybalt hit the life of stout Mercutio’.

Also in Benvolio speech, Shakespeare uses oxymoron to highlight the clash of opposites between the two houses, as Benvolio says ‘How nice the quarrel was’, which is opposing because quarrels aren’t nice as in this case two people died, so nice is used as an opposite to dreadful.

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Shakespeare's Language and Imagery Builds Tension Toward Violent Death of Tybalt. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Shakespeare's Language and Imagery Builds Tension Toward Violent Death of Tybalt
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