‘Two star-cross’d lovers’, secretly married and so tragically separated in a vile forfeit of their young lives. The ill fated plot of Romeo and Juliet in which act 3 scene 1 plays an essential role in the structure of the play. Shakespeare’s decision to kill off Mercutio, a prominent character, not only gives Romeo the rage to kill Tybalt but also removes Mercutio’s wit and humour, which may have caused a distraction from the affliction of the play.
The scene stimulates the tension seen throughout the play from this point. The scene is full of heat, passion and anger emphasising the turning point of the play. Romeo’s banishment and Tybalt’s death adds more pressure on his secret marriage to Juliet.
The play was written between 1594 and 1596, when theatre and audiences were very different to what they are today. In the 1500’s the theatre was one of the only places to socialize and people often visited the afternoon performances frequently. The audience would be rowdy, often drunk and loud throughout the performances, whereas nowadays, audiences are much more polite and respectful towards the actors and the play. A performance in the 1500’s had to grab the audience’s attention and get its message across; it took a fantastic playwright such as Shakespeare to do this.
Romeo and Juliet begins, ‘Two houses both alike in dignity’, the first words of the play describe the two families, Montague and Capulet. Both families alike in nobility but the ancient grudge between them so strong it takes the death of Romeo, Juliet and their love, before settling the feud is even considered. The reason for the start of the feud is unknown but it affects everyone from the lords to the servants and often leads to public displays of violence.
Today, if the play was performed for a modern audience the feud could be made relevant by making the families different races to introduce a modern issue in the play which would give the audience a better understanding and perhaps something they could relate too.
The differences between the Montagues and Capulets could be shown on stage by the use of Costume. I would dress the Capulets as catholics, all wearing rosaries, for example and the Montagues would wear traditional Hindu costume. In this way, a religious aspect is brought to the play and new tensions between the families are automatically created.
Stage properties are important for defining location and giving the audience visual understanding. During Act 3 scene 1 both Mercutio and Tybalt are killed. In the 1500’s their deaths would have been illustrated by the use of prop swords but today guns would perhaps be a more realistic choice of prop.
Nowadays, we also have the use of new technology to create realistic effects involving lighting and sound. Shakespeare’s audiences would have had to rely on the dramatist’s words to explain time of day, since all performances took place in the early afternoon. The use of lighting would be able to show the time passed between Mercutios’ death and Tybalts. Sound effects would make the scene more realistic and exciting. Actors of the sixteenth century very much relied on the words to convey the idea of time and realism.
The roofed galleries of the globe seated the richest of the 16th century population, the poorer, ‘groundlings’, stood in a yard in which the stage projected into. Two doors at the back of the stage would make the entrances and exits of the scene.
The scene begins, a hot Italian summer afternoon, peace keeping Benvolio recommends leaving to Mercutio; as he knows Capulets are around, ‘And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl’. Mercutio responds with his usual humour and we see the energy of his character when Tybalt arrives in search of Romeo. When Romeo will not fight, Tybalt does not understand and will not be satisfied. Like Mercutio, Tybalt is energetic but a major contrast between them is Tybalt has lacks a sense of fun.
The audience are aware that Romeo is now married to Juliet and Tybalt being her cousin, he is un-willing to fight a member of his new family, but Mercutio is outraged that Romeo takes Tybalts abuse with such mildness and draws his own sword against the Capulet.
Knowing the Prince Escalus’s threats, Romeo tries to stop the fighting,
‘Tybalt, Mercutio, the prince hath forbidden bandying in Verona streets.’
His interference confuses Mercutio and he is fatally wounded. Even as he lies, death almost upon him, Mercutios wit is still present, he comments that if Romeo asks for him tomorrow he shall find him, ‘a grave man’. His character is so vibrant and energetic. The audience are always waiting to see what he will do next, perhaps this is why Shakespeare decided to remove him from this point as there is no relaxing of speed or tension from now on.
Romeo blames himself for Mercutios’ death and filled with, ‘fiery-ey’d fury’, for a moment he forgets his new bride and seeked vengeance for his dead friend. This part of the scene is exciting and anxious, the audience feel for Romeo as they can see the helplessness of his situation. He is nothing more than, ‘Fortune’s fool.’
Loyal Benvolio is eager for Romeo to get away, for if he stays he faces the death penalty for brawling in the streets and killing Tybalt but Romeo knows if he leaves he risks losing his Juliet. Again the audience sympathise with Romeo, as he is a victim of fate.
Lady Capulet remains a hard and vengeful woman in theme with the feud and insists Romeo be put to death as she wails,
‘For blood of ours shed blood of Montague.’
Prince Escalus can do neither more nor less than banish Romeo because he has broken the law and must be duly punished.
The action and apprehension of the scene can be brought to life on stage by the use of set, props, music and costume. The main frame of the scene is the deaths of both Mercutio and Tybalt. When the conflict begins at the opening of the scene, Benvolio states,
‘We talk here in the public haunt of men:
Either withdraw unto some private place,
Or reason coldly of your grievances,
Or else depart. Here all eyes gaze on us.’
This suggests that the scene is set in the eye of the public; so to constitute a relevance to a modern day audience I would set the scene in a pub. I would change the setting of Tybalts death so that I could show a passing of time. After a car chase, I would set Tybalts felony in a small country road because Romeo then has time to leave before the Prince arrives.
The costumes worn during the scene would resemble the type of character being portrayed and help highlight key characteristics. Mercutio, for example, is loud and bubbly therefore his clothes would be vibrant and strong colours. Whereas in contradiction, Tybalt would wear clothes that would make him appear callous and malicious, probably black in colour. Romeo has just returned from his wedding, so he would be wearing smart clothes, most likely a suit.
The use of music throughout the scene is important to add to the anxiety and concern of the audience. After Mercutio’s death, when Romeo is full of fury and the scene is very heated, I would use music that added to the passion and created an extra discomfort.
When Mercutio and Tybalt, first begin to quarrel, Mercutios’ vitality comes across in his teasing manner. He deliberately mistakes Tybalts meanings on numerous occasions. For example, When Romeo arrives, Tybalts attention turns to him and he declares, ‘Here comes my man.’ Mercutio deliberately misunderstands Tybalt and replies,
‘But I’ll be hang’d, sir, if he wear your livery.’
When it is clear that Tybalt meant the man he was looking for and not one of his associates. The difference in tones throughout the scene all clash. Tybalt comes across as fearless and he is desperately trying to provoke a fight in contrast with Romeo, who is trying to prevent any attack and even proclaiming his love for Tybalt,
‘I do protest I never injur’d thee,
But love thee better than thou canst devise,’
Mercutios’ tone would be more lighthearted and teasing.
Events move more quickly from this scene and with Romeo’s banishment still echoing in everyone’s minds, the play moves to Juliet, ignorant of the happenings on Verona streets and longing for her beloved Romeo. The two scenes create a powerful dramatic contrast. The audience are left with a longing to find out what happens next and if Romeo and Juliet will reclaim their love.
By using visual aids. The play can be brought into the present and still keep its tragic plot but have more purpose and realism to a modern audience. By inserting racial and religious tensions into the play, today’s issues are dealt with and the audience can relate to the story. Shakespeare was a fantastic playwright and his work is adaptable to any time period, which is why it is still so popular today.