This scene takes place immediately after a scene where the audience has watched the innocent and happy marriage of Romeo and Juliet. We are prepared for celebrating events and an atmosphere of joy, when Shakespeare suddenly and tragically introduces this interlude where we witness the death of Mercutio and Tybalt. We see the Prince banish Romeo from Verona as a punishment for killing Tybalt. Now the audience knows that no happy conclusion awaits Romeo and Juliet’s love when Romeo, who killed Tybalt when blind with anger at Mercutio’s death, is banished. Romeo’s banishment means he cannot see Juliet again unless he decides to risk his life.
He hates this decision with a great and sincere passion, proved when he says, ‘Banishment? Be merciful, say death!’ Thus, he conveys to the audience that his love for Juliet is sincere, unlike that of Rosalind, whom he forgot when he first caught sight of Juliet. Banishment is a sentence better than death, as Friar Laurence tells Romeo in Act III Scene III. However, Romeo says that banishment is worse, as he would never again be allowed to see his wife Juliet. He was aware of this fact the moment he killed Tybalt, which is probably why he hesitates to run at once. He seems transfixed, as if the very picture of Tybalt’s death reminds him of the laws he has broken, and he stands there, stunned, most probably thinking of his future with Juliet. He stares wide with horror written clearly in his eyes, at Tybalt dying. However, this effect is only found in the modern film, not in Shakespeare’s original.
Shakespeare has made good use of clever and witty speeches with which he has livened up the scene. This has good effect. The audience still has no idea of the future happenings. All changes, however, with the arrival of Tybalt on the scene. In the beginning, Benvolio warns Mercutio about his temper. He says, “I pray thee, Good Mercutio, let’s retire…for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” However, Mercutio replies to him using humorous language that pokes fun at Benvolio. He argues that Benvolio is more quarrelsome than him. He says to Benvolio, “Nay, an there were two such, …Thou hast quarrelled with a man for coughing in the street, because he hath wakened thy dog that hath lain asleep in the sun…And yet thou wilt tutor me from quarrelling!” This shows us what a witty character Shakespeare has portrayed him to be. It also shows us how clever Shakespeare is at character analysis. For the faults of Benvolio pointed out by Mercutio in fact reflects his own faults. The jolly mood is continued.
Tybalt is a Capulet. This means that inevitably, there will be a fight between the Montagues and him. Nevertheless, the audience understands from Tybalt’s first lines, ‘Gentlemen, good evening. A word with one of you’, that Tybalt does not intend to provoke a fight with anyone, but simply wants to have a chat. However, Mercutio, bent on insulting him, taunts him to which he replies by asking for “occasion”. Then when Mercutio insults him again, Tybalt says, “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo?” He evidently meant it in a rude manner.
Shakespeare has told us in the beginning of the scene that the day is hot, and the slightest thing may provoke a fight. This is exactly what happens. Mercutio appears to be very angry. He strides towards Tybalt, threatening him, “Consort? What? Dost thou make us minstrels…Here’s my fiddlestick…Zounds, consort!” Shakespeare is free to use bawdy language because no women are present. The word fiddlesticks may have two meanings. One could be the sword which Mercutio has pulled out. The other could be a sexual meaning.
The tension is high now that both these young men have entered into a quarrel. The audience holds its’ breath, when all of a sudden Romeo appears. Now the audience is in the dark about what will happen. As we know from the secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo has a foot in either camp. The tension increases.
Tybalt attempts to pacify Mercutio when he sees Romeo. He says, “Well, peace be with you, sir. Here comes my man.” Tybalt then approaches Romeo and then insults him by calling him a villain. Here, normally one would expect Romeo to pull out his sword immediately. However, he tries to make peace with Tybalt. This shows us that Romeo has now become more matured. He is thinking of the future. He has changed for the better.
Tybalt, Mercutio, Benvolio, and all the others present are evidently shocked and amazed at Romeo’s refusal to a battle. This can be expected. We as the audience have already witnessed Romeo’s secret wedding to Juliet.
Mercutio, enraged, comes forward and challenges Tybalt to a battle, which he loses due to Romeo who tried to intervene. Tybalt escapes after slashing Mercutio. Mercutio even on the brink of death makes funny and witty speeches. He compares his wound to the depth of wells and the width of church doors. He compares his state to a “grave” mans’. He says, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door. But ’tis enough…Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man…Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.” Then all of a sudden his funny mood evaporates and he turns on Romeo and blames him for his injury.
After Mercutio dies, Romeo says, ‘This day’s black fate on mo days doth depend; this but begins the woe others must end.’ Here he is trying to imply upon us that he senses tragic happenings. Here Shakespeare again makes use of irony, for when Romeo says this, he unknowingly talks about his own death, that of his wife, and that of Tybalt.
Shakespeare now introduces a very fast scene in sharp contrast to the slow scene of Mercutios’ death. Romeo rushes after Tybalt and there issues a brawl, which ends in Tybalts’ death.
In a modern film version, Baz Luhrmann has cleverly wound the themes of Shakespeare’s intentions into the colourful and modern settings of Verona Beach. Here, however, after his fatal injury from Tybalt’s shroud of glass, Mercutio doesn’t say anything but drops on the spot in agony, and only utters, ‘A plague’ a both your houses’, and dies. Lehrmann has deliberately omitted Mercutios’ actual words because without swords they are not relevant and also the “grave” humour does not fit in with his interpretation.
Tybalt stands and stares, with a mixture of grief and pity in his eyes, as if the murder was committed reluctantly. Little did he know his own death was near as well. Then, at his follower’s calling, he flees in a car. Romeo does not speak, but cries over Mercutio’s dead body, and then, all of a sudden, rushes to his car. This apparently shows that all thoughts of love, respect, and his relationship with Tybalt have been forgotten, with revenge and only revenge dominating his thoughts. Then follows a dramatic chase through the streets of Verona. This chase is ended when there is a head-on collision of Tybalt’s car with Romeo’s. None of the young men is much injured due to the crash, but there is a scuffle for Tybalt’s gun (Romeo doesn’t have one). Romeo finally grasps the gun and shoots Tybalt with five bullets. This is significant, as if it were a sword thrust, one would have been enough.
This is in sharp contrast with the textual version. There is more speech, as the words have to create the desired effect. The words create the picture, as there were no props and lighting in Shakespeare’s days, nor did the stage have a large amount of space.
All the fighting is done with swords. No women appear in Shakespeare’s version, but Baz Luhrmann has introduced some women who were lookers-on when Tybalt kills Mercutio. This is in keeping with the modern times where women take active part in violence. Moreover, in Shakespeare’s day, boys enacted women’s parts. So naturally he would not introduce women for the sake of it.
After Tybalt’s death, Benvolio urges Romeo to escape, but Romeo does so with a clear indication of hesitation, or it could also be grief, fright, and remorse. All of this is reflected in his face in the film version, and it is all due to his marriage with Juliet. Benvolio, who is ignorant of this, is visibly distressed at Romeo’s behaviour. The words which Shakespeare uses to convey these are, “Romeo, be gone…Why dost thou stay?” However, we, as the audience, know why, and so we expect it.
Benvolio, who stays on in the scene, is the witness to all the action. All the events have occurred very fast, so Shakespeare has assigned Benvolio to retell the sequel of events. Benvolio does so, but he misses out the part about Romeo’s hesitation in fleeing. This most probably was so strange to him that he forgot about it.
Lady Capulet, the only woman in this scene, enters after all the action has taken place. She mourns the death of Tybalt, her nephew. She has no son of her own, so Tybalt seemed like one. She weeps over Tybalt’s dead body, and demands vengeance from the Prince. She accuses Benvolio of being biased. This is where Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to the utmost. For Lady Capulet, unknowingly, is talking of vengeance for her own son-in-law.
This scene prepares us for the final tragedy. We see the death of Romeo and Juliet. Though this play is designed to be one about love, it is love, but which is achieved despite a lot of pain. Love is the main theme, but to have that effect, Shakespeare introduced painful tragedies. Four young lives are lost. Now the audience is more than annoyed, it is angry and irritated over what they will now call a futile argument that has no memorable roots. Earlier we might have sided with either the Capulets or the Montagues, but now, as the stage characters realize their folly, so do we. We now realize that Shakespeare has been trying to tell us what hate and bitterness and conflict does. It affects not only us, but everyone around us as well. Our siding with either family was as much a mistake as the characters in the play.
The tragedy is heightened because of the ‘bad timing’. Had Juliet woken up a few moments earlier, had Romeo lamented a while longer, had Friar Lawrence reached in time to expose the truth, we would have witnessed a joyful ending. However, their death leaves an impression on our minds of the price they paid for what their ancestors were responsible for. Shakespeare has achieved a marvellous effect by leaving the audience to lament their death. Romeo and Juliet’s love has thus become a universal theme, but underneath, it conceals an important message: Do not quarrel over ancient grudges.
In conclusion, Shakespeare has tried to show us what hate and conflict of can do. He has carefully tuned it in to the love of two innocent people, who had no part whatsoever in this ancient grudge. He has employed tragedy to teach us an important lesson that is very well be reflected in the Holy Bible: “Love thy neighbour as thou loves thyself”, and in “Love thy enemy as thou loves thyself”.