The play Romeo and Juliet starts off with a prologue. The prologue tells us the basic outline of events that will happen in the play. It is used to involve the audience instantly. The contemporary audience (Elizabethan) already knew the story, they only went to see how the events happened and played out, which was entertainment to them. The prologue contains no events that don’t actually happen in the play. Each event in the prologue relates to an event in the play. There are a few events in the play that aren’t in the prologue. For example Mercutio’s death (Act3 scene1), which is unexpected. The prologue is 14 lines long, like poems in the Renaissance period. Poetry then was formulaic- it followed rules (conventions). Beginning Romeo and Juliet with a prologue directly echoes the structure of Greek theatre, where the concept of tragedy originates. The play is a tragedy, which also follows conventions. These conventions were set down by the Greek playwright Aristotle. The conventions of a tragedy are that there is a hero with a fatal flaw (Romeo and he loves too much). The tragedy always ends with his death.
The dominant character in the beginning of Act 3 scene 1 is Mercutio. Mercutio starts off as the instigator of the fight, deliberately trying to annoy Tybalt.
“Consort? What dost thou make us minstrels? And thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords. Here’s my fiddlestick, here’s that shall make you dance. ‘Zounds consort!” Act 3 scene 1 lines 40-43.
He was annoying Tybalt by intentionally misunderstanding him and by making him look stupid. Mercutio also will not listen to reason. “By my heel I care not.” Act 3 scene 1 line 31. Benvolio is the voice of reason. He does want any fighting between the two families. “We talk here in the public haunt of men: either withdraw unto some private place, or reason coldly of your grievances.” Act 3 scene 1 lines 44-46. Romeo starts off like Benvolio, as he doesn’t want to fight Tybalt. “Tybalt the reason I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting. Villain I am none: therefore farewell.” Act 3 scene 1 lines 55-58. Romeo then wants to fight and kill Tybalt because he killed Mercutio. The two characters that dominate the dialogue are Mercutio and Tybalt.
The language Shakespeare uses was the vernacular of the time. He uses it to create comic relief, word play – for example “Here’s my fiddlestick,” Act 3 scene 1 lines 41-42, Mercutio says this which could mean sword – and irony – for instance when Romeo says “This but begins the woe others must end.” Act 3 scene 1 line 111, which is ironic because Rome and Juliet end the war between the families by committing suicide. When Mercutio refers to himself as “A grave man,” Act 3 scene 1 line 90, he is using ambiguity, as grave has more than one meaning. The title “A plague o’both your houses” is repeated 3 times by Mercutio after he is injured. The repetition of the quote enhances tension.
The first time he says it, they may think he is only joking, but the third and final time he says it, we know he means it. Irony is used in the scene. Romeo says this because he thought that not fighting would be better than fighting but it only gets Mercutio killed. Romeo also finds out that is happening is already decided. “I am fortunes fool,” Act 3 scene 1 line 127. The short abrupt pieces of dialogue later are a contrast to the long pieces at the beginning of the scene. They enhance the tension and ensure the audiences awareness of the impending climax that is Romeo banishment. The short pieces of dialogue also show a loss of control. At the end of the scene, Prince Escalus speaks in rhyming couplets. “Bear hence this body, and attend our will: mercy but murders, pardoning those who kill.” Act 3 scene 1 lines 187-188. By doing this he put emphasis on how important he is. When he banishes Romeo, he unknowingly begins the chain of events that ends in Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, but he thinks he is saving Romeo, which is ironic.
During Act 3 scene 1 there is a lot of action, as there are fights between Mercutio and Tybalt, and then later between Romeo and Tybalt. First the scene starts off slow, with only Benvolio and Mercutio. The action starts later when Tybalt enters and Mercutio starts to taunt him. When they start to fight, they could circle around each other, like in fencing. That would be a visual spectacle for the audience to see. Mercutio could entertain the audience by falling about every so often, when they wasn’t so much tension, like in modern day pantomime. When Mercutio is injured and staggered off the stage, and then Benvolio returns to tell Romeo that he is dead, the atmosphere changes. There is visually no more comedy.
During the fighting scenes, there is a lot of movement around the stage. The movement alternates between the different combinations of character on centre stage. The tension in the scene is still there, although the audience gets different points of view. This gives the impression that there is no more control, that the events are snowballing out of control. When Romeo refuses to fight, no one other than the audience knows why. “Tybalt the reason I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting. Villain I am none: therefore farewell.” Act 3 scene 1 lines 55-58. Even though his intentions were good, everything still goes wrong. Shakespeare had to get rid of Mercutio the play wouldn’t be a tragedy if Mercutio was still telling jokes after Juliet and Romeo die. With Mercutio gone, the audience could focus on Romeo and Juliet.
Mercutio’s death put the feud into context and shows the full extent of the fighting. Mercutio was neither a Montague nor a Capulet- he was an outsider, which is ironic as he was happy to start it (the fight) as though it was a sport. With his death, the play’s tone changes to be more melancholy. The audience can now concentrate on how Romeo and Juliet’s deaths occur.