Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, written in 1597. The story itself was not anything new or different, but the way Shakespeare wrote it was its gateway to its popularity. The original tale of Romeo and Juliet was composed in the form of a poem aptly named ‘The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’ which I have found was in itself a translation from a French short story by the 16th-century Italian writer Matteo Bandello. The poem which Shakespeare gathered his inspiration from was first published in 1562 and the story set over a period of four months. Shakespeare’s adaptation was placed over four days.
This significantly heightens the tension involved in the play as everything happens so hastily. The story itself is about a young couple who met and fell in love despite belonging to feuding families. With the two lovers at the marrying age of fourteen immersed in violence, hatred and hostility the play captivated the audience at the time including Queen Elizabeth I, the protestant queen. The drama is also engrossed in history, being considerably biased towards protestant followers and showing the Catholics in the play as untrustworthy, A good example being Friar Lawrence, a catholic priest who is portrayed as deceitful and dubious after marrying Romeo and Juliet in secret. This essay will show how Act 3, Scene 1 becomes the pivotal scene in the play whilst being the most dramatic.
Before this scene the audience find out about the rivalry involved between the two families and the meeting of Romeo and Juliet. Overall the tone of the play is a lighter one before act 3, scene 1 (this scene being the crucial element that changes the direction of the play into a tragedy). In Act 2, Scene 6 Romeo and Juliet become married. This evidently should be a joyous occasion, as the audience believe it to be. A sense of foreboding lurks in this scene though when Friar Lawrence exclaims “these violent delights have violent ends” This signifies that although Romeo and Juliet are overjoyed, their relationship is bounded in too much violence and hatred for it to be a prolonged bond and is likely to end in disaster.
The beginning of Act 3, scene 1, shows a group of Montagues in Verona on a disturbingly hot day. Benvolio, acting the rational character, cries “blood stirs on this hot day. He knows people will be easily provoked due to the agitating weather. Mercutio’s character differs to Benvolio though as he is a more aggressive individual contrasting with the other side of his personality, his comical side. He will play a role in the ‘blood stirring’ that Benvolio talks about earlier on in the scene when he provokes Tybalt with such taunts as “here’s my fiddlestick, here’s that shall make you dance”. There is an impression of foreboding of death as well when Mercutio declares “for one would kill the other” which creates tension on Mercutio’s part. Before Tybalt enters the scene there is anticipation in the audience.
When Tybalt enters the scene in act 3 scene 1, his presence brings anger and revenge into the setting. Beforehand the atmosphere is slightly cheerful, but with a sense of foreboding and expectance of a confrontation lingering in the scene. Tybalt Capulet, the cause of the confrontation is obviously a Capulet. He is apparently Juliet’s cousin and kinsman but also the nephew of lady Capulet. His family connections provide him with a lead role in the rivalry between the two families and make him rather patriotic (which could also be interpreted as ignorant). In this scene he is shown as extremely aggressive and antagonistic, clearly looking for revenge on Romeo for appearing at the Capulet’s party uninvited, when he was restrained from brawling with Romeo there and then. He does not yet know of the secret bonding of his cousin and his enemy and approaches the Montagues with dramatic irony plaguing the scene. When he finds Romeo is missing from the group he tries to negotiate with the Montagues. When attempting to do this he is taunted by Mercutio. The audience know both characters are aggressive and have gathered the hint from Benvolio earlier on in the scene that a conflict is inevitable.
Enter a content Romeo. Tybalt, still looking for revenge exclaims “here comes my man” and at that confronts a passive Romeo. Romeo, the new member of the Capulet family obviously does not want a fight so tries his hardest to settle a hostile Tybalt uttering such sentences as “The reason I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting” and “good Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as mine own, be satisfied”. Tybalt does not listen and states that he cannot excuse the injuries “that hast done me”, although he cannot actually explain what these so called injuries are. In this part Mercutio hails Romeo’s peace keeping as a vile “submission” and is eager for a quarrel to begin. The dramatic irony used in this scene increases the amount of tension in the play and supplies the audience with a sense of comprehension.
Mercutio antagonises Tybalt for the last time after Romeo enters with the long insult directed at him “Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives….” After this Tybalt draws his weapon stating “I am for you” at this a fight eventually breaks out between the two. Romeo tries to stop this disastrous event but is unsuccessful, leaving a Dying Mercutio in his arms. Seeing this Benvolio asks “what art thou hurt?”(Showing his responsible nature), Mercutio answers “ay, ay a scratch, a scratch, marry, ’tis enough” which shows his humorous side yet again. Before his death he exclaims “a plague on both houses”-showing his anger at both Romeo and Tybalt. He also uses gross imagery to make Romeo feel guilty for his actions. Romeo, with the loss of his rational thinking through his grief, questions his masculinity and wonders if his love for Juliet has made him weak. The combination of his anger and his questioning makes him thrust himself upon Tybalt, killing him in rage. With one stupid action Romeo risks losing Juliet and faces the revenge of the Capulets. In his last appearance in this scene Benvolio advises Romeo to leave the setting, with Romeo exclaiming before he departs “O, I am fortunes fool”-meaning that the role of fate has destroyed Romeos life.
The end of the scene hugely contrasts with the rest. During the confrontation the writing is fast paced and short sentences are used to make it snappy, compared to the end where the speech is large and the pace is slow. Approaching the end rhyming is also used for effect and to show formality. At one point a very dramatic statement is made by Lady Capulet “O prince! O husband! O, the blood is spilled”-increasing the drama greatly in this setting. In this scene Benvolio has little part in the argument, being responsible enough not to get involved but he has a big function in explaining the occurrences of the fateful incident. When he tells the prince about the event he speaks the truth, for example at one point he says “Romeo that spoke him fair, bid him bethink”, but is later accused of being biased towards Romeo and dismissed as being “a kinsman to the Montague” by Lady Capulet. At the end, due to Benvolio’s efforts, Romeo escapes the death penalty and faces banishment instead, with the warning that if he returns, he will die. By the end of this scene the build up of tension has resulted in the death of both Mercutio and Tybalt, two leading roles in the feuding families. This is the pivotal part of story, as all that follows this scene is tragedy.
In act 3, scene 2 there is a change of setting and atmosphere. The scene is in Juliet’s bedroom where she awaits Romeo is quiet and emotional, hugely contrasting with the previous fight scene. Juliet talks about her love for Romeo to the audience in a monologue, illustrating her happiness and serenity. Of course the audience know of the terrible news that awaits her-another use of dramatic irony.
Overall act 3, scene 1 is the pivot point of the play. Before it, the play was considered a romance which contrasts heavily with the scenes after this act-a tragedy. This scene not only changes the course of action in the play but it marks a disastrous turning point in Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. I believe it also adds to the overall drama in the play. Writing techniques such as imagery and dramatic irony are used to great effect and again increase the play’s emotional quality. In this scene alone the amount tension in the audience is significantly high ending up in the death of two main characters, Mercutio and Tybalt