Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Benvolio and Mercutio enter, debating which of them is more hot tempered, and Tybalt and some other Capulets arrive, expecting a confrontation. Tybalt and Mercutio taunt and insult one another to the brink of a fight. When Romeo comes upon them, he does his best to stop the men's threats and to deflect Tybalt's challenge, but neither Mercutio nor Tybalt can be subdued. They fight. Romeo draws his sword to try to intervene, but he accidentally creates a clear path for Tybalt's sword to reach Mercutio's body. Tybalt and the other Capulet men leave, and Mercutio lies dying. "A plague o' both your houses!" he cries.

Benvolio carries Mercutio away. Left alone briefly, Romeo is horrified by what has happened and his role in it. Benvolio returns to tell Romeo that Mercutio is dead, and when Tybalt returns Romeo flies at him, driven by fury, and kills him.

Romeo runs as the citizens spill into the street. The prince, Lord Montague, Lord Capulet, their wives, and others of their households arrive to hear Benvolio's account of what happened, which Lady Capulet insists cannot be true. She demands justice in the form of Romeo's death. Lord Montague, however, argues that Romeo fought to avenge his friend (and the prince's kinsman) and so should not pay with his life. The prince concurs but exiles Romeo from Verona with a threat of certain death if he is found.

Analysis

Throughout this scene Shakespeare comments on the nature of violence and rage. In his opinion violence is a problem that the characters support and give life to. Why would Benvolio and Mercutio be having such an intense argument on such a topic otherwise? In every other scene before Act 3 opens, the two friends get along nicely, and typically they take each other's side to tease Romeo. Benvolio has, so far, proven to be more sensitive than Mercutio, yet suddenly Mercutio is describing Benvolio as "as hot a jack as any in Italy" (angry guy) who will fight just because he's had a few drinks or because he doesn't like someone's shoelaces. In Act 1, Scene 1, Benvolio calls the quarreling servants "fools" and tells them to put away their weapons. "You know not what you do," he says to them. This new background information on Benvolio, assuming Mercutio is speaking of actual past situations, comes as a shock, resetting the tone and clueing in the audience to the very real dangers of young men armed with swords and daggers who do not possess self-control.

Romeo's love for Juliet is returned by hate, not only by Tybalt, his Capulet enemy, but also by his dear friend, Mercutio, who is disgusted by Romeo's kindness. Romeo is the hero and the lover, so it feels right that he should bring peace to the warring families. But peace is not possible; instead his friend Mercutio dies, echoing Tybalt's words in Act 1, Scene 1, about hating peace as he hates "hell." This scene is the natural course and outcome of emotions and thoughts so violent that they could compare peace to hell.

The hyperbole, or obvious exaggeration, in the scene adds to the growing theme of violence in the play. Mercutio calls Tybalt "king of cats" and then says he wants to take "one of your [Tybalt's] nine lives" and beat the other eight lives to a pulp. The power of rage and violence is shown by its effect on almost every character in the scene, excluding Benvolio. Mercutio and Tybalt are killed because of it. Romeo turns against Juliet momentarily because of it, and he becomes a murderer by the end of the scene. Even Lady Capulet cries out, "Shed blood of Montague."

The prince comes in at the end to serve justice, leaving behind the scene's final idea: showing mercy to "those that kill" is just as bad as murdering them because it allows them to remain evil.

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