Romeo and Juliet is the classic love story written by the infamous William Shakespeare, the Elizabethan playwright. It is set in Verona in the early 16th century and tells the story of two households- the Montagues and Capulets, who are equally alike in power, wealth, social status and dignity, as said in the prologue ‘two households, both alike in dignity’. The youngest generation of the two households break into mutiny because of the hatred of the previous generations (‘from ancient grudge break to mutiny’).
These endless feuds cause destruction and death to the streets of Verona (‘civil blood makes civil hands unclean’).
However, two young and naive members of the opposing households; Romeo, son of Lord and Lady Montague, and Juliet, daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet become entwined in a dangerous love rollercoaster, which was to be obstructed by their parents as the cold war of rivalry between the two households continued. This play however does not fit into the genre of romance, but tragedy as although Romeo and Juliet are ‘a pair of star-crossed lovers’, fate had planned events far from the fairy-tale happy ending for the both of them, a fact the audience have known since the prologue of the play- ‘star-crossed lovers take their life.
Not only do the two main protagonists die an untimely death, but there are also many other deaths throughout the play, including that of Tybalt’s and Mercutio’s. Other tragic elements of the play include the fact that the two lovers cannot be united because of the brawls of the two families and that the only way to restore peace to Verona is for Romeo and Juliet to die, ‘who with their death bury their parent’s strife…which but their children’s end nought could remove’.
There are also many other themes that run throughout the play such as; enmity, marriage, death and mainly- love.
Like all pieces of literature, the play has been influenced by the era it was written in. This scene of the play serves as a reminder for us, a reminder that this play, with all its emphasis on love and romance is based in a patriarchal society, a masculine world where honour, pride, and status are prone to erupt in a fury of conflict. Other influences include the age that marriage was considered acceptable as Juliet was only 13 when her marriage proposal arrived and it was also normal for the groom to be considerably older than the bride, as Paris was 18 when he was engaged to Juliet.
Marriage was fixed by the choice of the bride’s father, disobeying her father’s wishes would result in a suitable punishment- nunnery or death, which is what her fate would have probably been if she confessed her love for Romeo. The overall viciousness of the play’s social environment is a main tool that Shakespeare employs to make the pair’s love seem ever more fragile and delicate and their relationship is the only respite of the audience’s from the dangerous and brutal world pressing against their love.
Act 3 Scene 1 is the scene directly after the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, and is seen as the pivotal point of the play as it is the point where the play transforms from a comedy/romance to a tragedy as the violence results in the banishment of Romeo. It is also the point where the audience see Romeo transform before their very eyes; they see him change from a loving, caring, tender-hearted and gentle person to a violent, destructive and reckless character, all because of the death of his best friend Mercutio. The scene takes place in Verona ‘a public place’.
The sort of environment we would be expecting a laugh, maybe a joke and the development of characters in terms of their feelings towards others, but remembering that it is Shakespeare who is the playwright, the audience can expect anything to happen. The characters of Mercutio and Benvolio (who are characters of great friendship) are introduced to us at the beginning of the scene and Shakespeare immediately starts to build tension through his choice of language with the opening line of the scene (spoken by Benvolio) being: ‘the day is hot, the capels abroad, and if we meet we shall not escape a brawl’.
Shakespeare again portrays Benvolio as the peacekeeper, a slightly more worried/concerned character than Mercutio. Here Benvolio is trying to explain to Mercutio that a hot day can get a lot of people bothered and is attempting to explain to Mercutio that it would be wise to leave early before any start of trouble begins, tension builds as we- the audience know that they are in a public place, which is the perfect area for someone to be in if they are looking for trouble.
Benvolio carries on by saying that he can feel tension building in the atmosphere and senses something bad is going to happen ‘For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring’, through this line Benvolio is saying in the heat of this atmosphere it is quite common for young men to lose control, as it can make someone’s blood boil-which hints to the audience that trouble is just around the corner, especially with Mercutio present.
Mercutio replies to Benvolio’s words of wisdom by aptly refusing to leave, his exact words being: “Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any in Italy: and as soon mov’d to be moody and as soon moody to be mov’d. ” Mercutio here is implying that Benvolio is involved with many of the fights between the Montagues and Capulets, trying to make Benvolio retaliate with him. This is an antithesis because Benvolio is always trying to keep the peace as much as possible without being involved, a playful mood and atmosphere is built up with this banter.
These opening verses highlight the contrasting personalities of Mercutio and Benvolio. Benvolio’s name originates from the word ‘benevolent’ which means ‘peaceful’ which is reflected in his personality, whereas Mercutio’s name originates from ‘mercury’ or, ‘mercurial’. Mercury being the chemical used in thermometers. Shakespeare chose this name for Mercutio as it reflects his character- volatile, dangerous, changeable in temperament and reacts quickly to provocation and heat in arguments.
The structure of Mercutio’s dialogue in the opening verses of the scene also reflects his personality as he uses pros and a strong rhythm in his speech, (with Shakespeare using minimal punctuation in the text) emphasising his loss of control and bringing out the anger and recklessness in his personality. The audience are immediately reminded of the warnings of the Friar, of ‘fire’ and ‘powder’ meeting and the explosion and disaster which follow.
Contrasting with the previous scene changing the atmosphere from happy and romantic to tense and dramatic; leaving the audience themselves tense and apprehensive about as to what the rest of the scene will reveal to them- keeping Shakespeare’s audience eager, engaged and very much involved in the plot of the play. Mercutio continues to be fearless and reckless as the scene progresses, seeming unconcerned about confrontation and of the consequences which may follow. Even when Benvolio announces the arrival of the Capulets (‘by my head! Here come the Capulets! ) Mercutio does not seem to care- ‘by my heel…I care not! ’ his comic and fiery character coming across again here with him appearing to look forward to confrontation. When approached by the Capulet’s Mercutio does not hesitate to provoke Tybalt, whose personality is no less volatile than that off Mercutio. It is at this point, under the blazing sun, in a public place, with these two personality’s clashing that the audience know that a fight is unavoidable. Tybalt then insults Mercutio by saying- ‘thou art consortest with Romeo? ’ implying that he is homosexual and referring to his sexuality with Romeo.
Mercutio reacts infuriated and weapons are then drawn and it seems that a fourth public brawl will be inescapable. Benvolio then steps in, urging them to go to ‘some private place’, reminding both parties about the Prince’s warnings in Act 1 Scene 1- ‘If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace’. However, his words of wisdom seemingly fell into deaf ears as Mercutio and Tybalt continued with their contention. Soon after this Romeo arrives at the fray, and is approached by Tybalt, whom he refuses to fight when challenged.
Romeo attempts to explain that he could not fight Tybalt, as he had reasons to love him that greatly outweighed the reasons to hate him- reasons that he could not yet reveal to the play’s other protagonists (‘but love thee better than thou canst devise, till thou shalt know the reason of my love; and so good Capulet…’). Shakespeare creates dramatic irony (the audience having greater knowledge of the events of the play than the characters), with these few lines, as the audience of the play know the reason for Romeo’s love is his marriage to Juliet- Tybalt’s cousin.
Dramatic irony is an effective technique to be used by Shakespeare in this scene as it makes the audience anxious to know if their interpretation of Romeo’s dialogue matches that of the characters on stage. Romeo would be a fool to get into a fight with his cousin-in-law, so backs down, a gesture which is seen as mature and noble by the audience but perceived as cowardly and weak by the characters in the scene- especially Mercutio. All that Mercutio understood from Romeo’s dialogue was that he was lacking confidence, bravery and was too scared to take on someone as fierce as Tybalt.
Mercutio calls Romeo a coward ‘O calm, dishonourable vile submission’, he then tried to coax Tybalt into duelling him in Romeo’s place (‘you rat catcher, will you walk? ’), and he decided. Romeo tries to stop them, he stands in the middle of Mercutio and Tybalt, his attempt to be a saviour however failed and resulted in the death of his best friend- Mercutio was stabbed by Tybalt under Romeo’s arm, mortally wounding him. Mercutio- about to die still cracks jokes ‘Ay a scratch a scratch! however the mood changes completely when it is understood that Mercutio’s wounds were fatal. Before his death Mercutio is seen repeatedly saying the words ‘A plague upon both your houses’, expressing his extreme displeasure with both parties, saying how he views them as the cause of his death. Mercutio is a bystander in the feud and although he is the friend of Romeo he sees both families as being in the wrong and does not intend to take sides. Mercutio’s loyalty to Romeo seems to have gone with this line, which would have heavily impacted the audience.
The conflict between the characters would have further engaged the Elizabethan audience, and ensured that their attention was on the plays plot (as the audience needed scenes such as these to keep their minds focused as in the Elizabethan Era plays were quite lengthy and people had to stand for hours on end, which would be frustrating). These conflicts would also serve as a way of informing the audience that more drama and exhilarating scenes awaited for them. This scene also reminds the audience of just how brutal this family feud actually is- Mercutio, neither Montague or Capulet was slain because of the conflict of the two families.
It makes the audience fully understand how truly violent this feud is and makes them think about all the innocents who have been severely injured or even lost their lives at the hands of these two foes. It makes us understand how brutal the family’s hatred for each other is. The play pivots on the line ‘O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio is dead! ’, it is at this very line where the play turns from comedy/romance to tragedy. Mercutio’s exit from the play was an extremely significant one, as he was the jester, the character who has overshadowed Romeo with his bawdy humour.
It seemed that when Mercutio died all the humour of the play died with it. Characters began to change from this point onwards; the most significant change seen was that of Romeo who changed from Romeo the romantic… to Romeo the violent. Up to this point in this play Romeo had been portrayed as a depressing, dull and negative character, and he had been seen as this since the beginning of the play where we first encountered him as a heartbroken young man. The audience had no reason to be particularly drawn to this rather boring character, and almost instantly fell in love with Mercutio- with his vibrant, interesting and fiery personality.
It seemed that only in Mercutio’s death could the spotlight truly be focused on Romeo, and shows us that Romeo was not as dull as we first perceived him to be, he actually has a unique personality with it changing from happy calm and collected to merciless, ruthless and angry almost instantaneously. The spotlight finally arrived to Romeo at this point in the play…in time for a dramatic climax, which no doubt captivated the audience. Romeo, in a quick rage decided that either he or Tybalt must die and barely hesitated to challenge him to a duel. Romeo killed Tybalt him in his stride.
He became so blind with fury he murdered his cousin-in-law without a second thought, not taking any of the consequences into account. It is this point in the play where the audience begins to wonder about Romeo’s personality, had he really changed, just like that? Or had this been a part of Romeo’s personality that Shakespeare had been hiding for us, waiting to bring out at the right moment to ensure that all members of his audience were shocked, intrigued and eager to see how the plot unfolded? Another clever technique used by Shakespeare is used here.
The scene ends with Romeo fleeing the scene (as advised by Benvolio), and with the arrival of the prince and Lady Capulet. The Prince turns to Benvolio and asks for his account of the events, seeing as he is a peaceful, noble and a trusted source who would give an unbiased recount- which he did. Benvolio throughout the play has cleverly been used by Shakespeare as a narrator, as he provides information for the person who he is directly speaking to on stage (in this case, the Prince) and the audience, ensuring that the events are kept fresh in their mind and are not forgotten.
After hearing what had happen Lady Capulet was out for revenge, and was desperate to have Romeo killed. The Prince told Lady Capulet that it was fair that Romeo killed Tybalt, as he had slain Mercutio. But, still views Romeo as a villain and exiles him from Verona and states that if he returns he shall be killed, and no excuses or prayers would influence this decision- ‘I will be deaf to pleading and excuses…’ This captivates the audiences interest as they already know that Romeo and Juliet are now man and wife, and his actions have now cause him to be exiled from Verona- from Juliet.
Seeming to have ruined all possible chances of them being together, and poses numerous questions in the minds of the audience, the most common and obvious probably being- ‘How on earth will they get back together? ’ They will also be extremely curious as to how the plot would unfold, would this twist cause their love to end? Dramatic irony again is used by Shakespeare here, a clever dramatic device that he has used multiple times in this scene and has proved extremely successful and effective.
I think that this scene is very important in the context of Romeo and Juliet as it is the pivotal point in the play. It helps the audience to understand how important Mercutio was to Romeo, if it wasn’t for their friendship being as strong as it proved to be then Romeo would not have acted in the way he did and slain Tybalt. It also shows us a completely new side to Romeo, a character whom prior to this scene had been perceived as a plain and dull character, but now he seems like an emotionally complex character that is governed by his feelings and is prone to acting impulsively.
Which explains why he killed Tybalt, his newly bonded in law, Romeo was blinded by the fury and murdered him in revenge for his best friend, without even considering the impact it would have on his relationship with his newly wed Juliet. Two main protagonists are killed off by Shakespeare in this scene; and it seems that these characters were destined to die for the plot to unravel. Shakespeare contrasts this scene to the mood of the previous scene (Act 2 Scene 6), which had a romantic, relaxed and generally atmosphere.
Act 3 Scene 1 was written by Shakespeare and put directly in front of this scene in order to shock the audience and have their attention for the remainder of the play. Shakespeare successfully used a range of dramatic techniques in this scene and had the audience in his grasp throughout the entire scene. In my opinion I think that Act 3 Scene 1 is by far the best scene in Romeo and Juliet because it was unexpected and managed to shock the audience, it leaves everyone asking the same question- what does all this mean for Romeo and Juliet?