Romeo and Juliet, Act 3 Scene 1
‘Verona, a public place’ is one of the most important, as well as dramatic scenes in the story of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It leads us into the climax of the story, and brings out various emotions and feelings from the audience. However, the scene would never have been successful in engaging the audience if it were not for the build up of Act 1 and Act 2’s introduction. Therefore, it is necessary to consider to some extent what Shakespeare constructs on stage before Act 3 begins.
Before we enter Act 3, there are a few things we, as an audience, are already acquainted with. We know that Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, is currently furious about Romeo showing up at their party. He is determined to seek revenge, to ‘teach him a lesson’, and he is not the type of man who would back down easily, as he says at the party “I will withdraw, but this intrusion shallNow seeming sweet, convert to bitt’ rest gall. ” Meaning although he agrees not to start a fight at the party, he intends to go after Romeo on another occasion.
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Tybalt’s personality is very mechanical. He seems to be constantly infuriated, and the reaction and outcome we get every time he appears is inevitable; a fight is guaranteed. Mercutio, Romeo’s close friend, has the opposite effect. Like his name, Mercutio is very ‘mercurial’. He is witty and sharp, but he also has a very volatile and unstable personality. One minute he could be laughing and joking, the other, he could be in distress and annoyed. Yet, he is a likeable man, because we enjoy hearing his clever play with words.
We never know what to expect from him when he appears on stage. We know that with Tybalt on Romeo’s back, a conflict is on its way. However, just before the scene, we saw Romeo and Juliet bound themselves in a loving marriage; a marriage yet to be consummated. We also remember the Prince saying that if anymore fighting were to happen between the families, death would be the punishment. In other words, we are aware of the trouble that is brewing, and the problems go beyond one another. We are hoping, expecting and worried of what might happen next.
We arrive to the scene with questions and plot complications in our minds. What will Romeo do if Tybalt really does come challenging him? Will he be able to fight like a man and end up fighting his wife’s cousin, or worse, being executed by the Prince? Or would Juliet have softened him, and he would reject the fight, bringing shame to the family? Our awareness to this information is essential in order for us to have full engagement into ‘Verona, a public place’. When we finally enter Act 3 Scene 1 along with our psychological baggage, a dramatic effect is already present.
The name of the scene, “Verona, a public place” is already reminding us of trouble. We remember the Prince prohibiting anymore fighting between the families. ‘A public place’ was where they should not have been starting trouble again, but ironically, that was where they were. The scene starts with Benvolio and Mercutio, out in the public and exposed to danger and trouble, immediately after the happy, peaceful wedding of Romeo and Juliet. The sudden change of atmosphere gives us a ‘slap in the face’; signifying how love and understanding diminishes all too quickly.
Benvolio tries to talk Mercutio out of hanging around, to ‘retire’, as the “day is hot, the Capels are abroad And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl For now, these hot days is the mad blood stirring. ” Although Benvolio is trying to avert trouble and put Mercutio off from finding some, his choices of words are silly. Mercutio is in an awkward mood, and Benvolio just builds up the tension by using words like ‘hot’, ‘brawl’, ‘mad blood’, and ‘stirring’. He talks about dispute and madness, putting Mercutio into the mood of fighting.
Mercutio ignores Benvolio’s advice, and responds in the way he always does; in a chain of humorous language. He enjoys an audience and the attention he gains from the others on stage. He mocks Benvolio, accusing him of always looking for an argument when in reality; Benvolio is the peaceful one, the one with the common sense, while Mercutio is often the attacking, aggressive one who is always looking for a fight. He is constantly mentioning the word quarrel; “thou art quarrel with a man”, “spy out such a quarrel”, “full of quarrels”, “as addle as an egg for quarrelling”, and so on.
While we are enjoying Mercutio’s amusing word play, we cannot help but to worry for him. The more he speaks, the longer he is exposed to danger. We can tell that Mercutio is in an edgy prickly mood. He is being antagonistic, defending, and the hot, dry weather was not helping. When Tybalt enters the stage, we have a mixture of contradicting feelings. In some ways, we do not want Mercutio to fight and get into trouble. However, at the same time, we want to see some action, to find out if Mercutio is up to it. Meanwhile, we are also aware of the fact that Romeo is not on the stage.
We know that when he arrives, he will be walking into his first challenge immediately after his marriage. We can tell Mercutio is looking for a fight. When Tybalt goes up to confront them, Mercutio responses by saying “make it a word and a blow”. He does not beat about the bush, but gets to the topic straight away. Mercutio continuously taunts Tybalt. When Tybalt says “thou consortest with Romeo”, Mercutio immediately takes advantage of the way ‘consort’ sounds like ‘concert’, and falls into another string of clever language to tease and mock Tybalt.
He tells Tybalt if he were a musician, he would not play anything decent for him. He would play “discords”, and that his ‘fiddlestick’ (meaning his sword) shall ‘make you (Tybalt) dance’. Benvolio, the voice of common sense then speaks again, reminding the people on stage, and the audience, that what they are about to do (start a fight in public) was going to get them into very serious trouble, and that they should “withdraw unto some private place”. However, Benvolio is not strong, and he is ignored.
Shakespeare cleverly enters Romeo into the scene at this point. If Romeo had entered any earlier, there might still have been a chance of calming the situation, but too late; Romeo’s time of entrance is a perfect contribution to the dramatic irony, since Mercutio and Tybalt are already in a heated dispute, there is no escaping the disaster. Tybalt has been offended by Mercutio, and Mercutio is just as upset. He expects no less from Romeo than to fight like a man. He says to Tybalt when he sees Romeo arriving “But I’ll be hanged, sir, if he wear your livery.
Marry go before to field, he’ll be your follower. ” Meaning “I gamble, Romeo will give you a hard time. ” However, Romeo is far from Mercutio’s expectations. Romeo, as well as the audience knows something the rest of the characters on stage do not. He was now in an unconsummated marriage with a Capulet. Although he cannot tell anybody about his marriage, surely, the last thing he should be doing was get into a fight with his wife’s cousin. The first thing Tybalt says to Romeo when he sees him is “thou art a villain. Referring someone as a ‘villain’ was one of the cruellest things you could call somebody during the Elizabethan times. Therefore, Tybalt calling Romeo a ‘villain’ would have a huge impact on the characters on stage as well as the Elizabethan audience. This was a challenge no man could walk out of without putting up a fight. Nevertheless, Romeo surprises everyone, especially Mercutio by responding in an affectionate way. He tells Tybalt that he has to “love thee”, so he is not angry with him, nor does he intend to injure him.
This is very ironic and confusing for us as an audience. To the characters on stage, Romeo seems weak and pathetic, but the audience knows that what he was doing was costing him much more courage than it would have if he were to accept the challenge. Tybalt and Mercutio both do not understand why Romeo is responding in such a way. Tybalt thinks he is only trying to “excuse the injuries”. On the other hand, Mercutio, after all the wager he had put on his friend, is absolutely furious with Romeo’s weakness. He decides to take matters into his own hands and starts a fight with Tybalt.
The atmosphere of the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt is, to a certain extent, somewhat frivolous, like two boys play-fighting. It is slightly different with the “life and death” battle Romeo has with Tybalt later. This fight has the potential of finishing in a way where nobody gets hurt. However, very satirically, Romeo comes in between them. He tries to stop Mercutio, reminding him of what the Prince had said. Mercutio then gets stabbed by Tybalt. The irony is very affective because although Romeo is the one who wants the conflict to end, he fails.
He is the one standing in the middle, and he indirectly caused the death of his friend. Shakespeare then removes Tybalt from stage, letting us concentrate on the death of Mercutio. Shakespeare makes Mercutio’s death very ambiguous. At first, Mercutio is unlike his usual self. The Mercutio who likes using metaphors and had so much to say was suddenly shortening his sentences into “A plague a’both houses! I am sped. ” However, when the rest of the people ask whether he is hurt, he starts joking around again. Therefore, the audience is not certain whether he really is dying or not.
This causes some very different reactions in the audience. Some of them might still be laughing at Mercutio’s witty comments, while some might be feeling uneasy, and some might already be crying, mourning, worrying. Finally, Shakespeare has Mercutio die offstage, leaving Romeo isolated, alone with his thoughts, his imagination and his guilt. He feels partially responsible for his friend’s death. With no one there to comfort or ‘awaken’ him, he is trapped in his own imagination, and he eventually brews up anger. He feels that Juliet has softened him, made him effeminate.
Benvolio returns, informing us that Mercutio is definitely dead. At this moment, Romeo is at his boiling point. To make matters worse, Tybalt returns onto the stage at this time and the two of them start to fight. The audience is agitated. We have never seen Romeo fight before, and we do not know how good he is, how big of a chance he has of winning. This fight, unlike the previous one, is a ‘life and death’ one. Shakespeare does not put into detail the process of the fight, leaving the directors of the play to be able to portray it in a number of potential ways. When Romeo kills Tybalt, he is devastated of what he has done.
Before he runs off, he says “O, I am fortune’s fool. ” This leaves us pitying him, despite of the murder he has just committed. This irony leaves us into thinking: “Why did Romeo have to stop the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio? If he had just left them, Mercutio might not have died, and surely, the deadly battle between Romeo and Tybalt would not have had to occur. If Romeo had not stopped them, then surely, Romeo would not be in the horrible situation he was in now. ” Romeo was the ‘pacifist’, but in the end, he was the one who had caused all the deaths, directly and indirectly.
The tension is yet to rise when the Prince enters. We are worried for Romeo. He has broken a rule, in which the punishment was death. Shakespeare makes us wait for the Prince’s decision, as he slows us down by having the two families argue over who was responsible for the tragedy. Finally, the Prince decides to put Romeo in exile. It is fair to say that Act 3 Scene 1 is the climax of the play. Throughout the scene, we experience numerous emotions. The jump from love and affection of the wedding to the hatred and blood of the two fights leave us in a sense of shock and disappointment.
The irony of the two fights leaves us feeling excited and anxious. The Prince’s decision leaves us feeling worried and in distress. The scene ends there, leaving us full of questions and anxiety. There are now many problems in hand. How will Romeo and Juliet consummate their marriage if Romeo is not allowed to enter the city again? How will Juliet respond to the news that her very own husband had killed her cousin? What will the families do? Shakespeare leaves us at a “cliff-hanger”, winding us up, leaving us wanting more.