The Dramatic Importance of Act 3 scenes 1 and 5 – Plus an analysis on the how the themes of violence, passion, love and death play a part in these scenes.
Rome and Juliet is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and widely known love stories ever written. But why is the tragedy of “two star-crossed lovers” so famous and memorable when it only covers four days in the lives of these “two households”? In this play Shakespeare uses the audience’s expectations and undercuts them at almost every point. Shakespeare also explores a wide variety of themes in this tragedy. These themes of violence, passion, love and death are easy for anyone of any generation to relate to and that is why over four hundred years later this “tale” of “woe” is still remembered and cherished by millions.
Initially Romeo and Juliet begins as the traditional age-old tale of boy meets girl and young love flourishes. But there is always something ominous lurking in the backround. Their names are constant reminders of an “ancient grudge” and both worry about the future- Romeo worries about the significance of a dream he had in which he predicts that “some consequence” will begin on the night of Capulet’s “old accustomed feast”, the dark imagery used here reminds the audience of the melancholic ending.
However, for a time love manages to prevail and the audience is content to see that with Friar Lawrence’s help, Romeo and Juliet begin to conquer the “ancient grudge” that stands between the two households. But in the first scene of the third act the situation takes a turn for the worse. The murders of Mercutio and Tybalt changes the fate of the lovers and makes their lives much harder. Though the Friar helps and advises the couple even after Romeo’s sentence of banishment is given, Act 3 Scene 5 adds yet another obstacle to their troubled marriage. In this scene Juliet hears how her father has abandoned his original plans with Paris about their arranged marriage and decides that Juliet is to be married in two days rather than the two years they previously agreed on. Once again the Friar hatches a plan to help “Juliet and her Romeo” but a tragic sequence of errors means that the end of the play leaves Paris and the “star-crossed lovers” entombed together. Finally the “two foes” see sense and put an end to the “ancient grudge” and leave behind their legacy of violence and death-but both pay a high cost!
In this great tragedy the audience can see how the seemingly contradicting themes of death, passion, love and violence are in fact extremely similar as is the effect, which they have on human souls. These themes are covered in both scenes. In Act 3, Scene 1 physical violence is very central, however love is also shown. In Act 3, Scene 5 all of the themes are shown, this time in the claustrophobic family situation that the Capulets find themselves in.
Shakespeare’s play is beautifully constructed and it is easy for the audience to realise that these two scenes are the major turning points of the play; love, passion, death and violence fuel the changes these scenes bring. Both are pivotal moments of the great love story and, after these scenes, the sorrowful fate of the lovers becomes clear. The audience understands why the lovers will have a reason to “take their life”.
Act 3, Scene 1 opens with the friendly ‘banter’ between Benvolio and Mercutio. Mercutio is very quick witted and mocks Benvolio for his readiness to quarrel. He compares Benvolio to a man who will “quarrel with a man that hath a hair more or a hair less in his beard” than he. These comic remarks are returned by Benvolio when her says that if he were as “apt to quarrel” as Mercutio “any man should buy the fee-simple” of his life for “an hour and a quarter”. This comment is almost a prophecy of later events when the “saucy” Tybalt kills Mercutio.
Upon the Capulet’s fateful entrance Benvoilo is nervous. However Mercutio seems indifferent towards them. Tybalt tries to be polite asking for “a word” with them, however Mercutio twists his words and undermines his power, Mercutio tries to quarrel but when Romeo enters, Tybalt turns his attention to him. At this point Mercutio’s demeanour changes and he seems protective of Romeo. Romeo doesn’t reciprocate Tybalt’s threats and instead tries to calm the situation.
The passionate and violent Mercutio and Tybalt both despise Romeo’s passivity and curse him for his “vile submission”. Both Mercutio and Tybalt are proud and this leads to violence when they feel insulted or undermined as neither can suppress their anger. As the pair becomes more enraged at Romeo’s appeasement they become more eager to fight and it is clear to the audience that this scene will end in tragedy, as the fiery men are too volatile and violent.
Romeo will not be drawn when Tybalt repeatedly threatens him. His love for Juliet controls his aggression and he understands that any action against Tybalt would have awful effects on their relationship. But when Mercutio is “sped” Romeo’s love for him forces him to lose all “respective lenity”. Romeo’s passion makes him irrational and short-tempered and fuels his violent tendencies. In grief for Mercutio, Romeo curses himself acting “effeminate” and leaving his “reputation stained”. Romeo thinks that the only way to resolve the situation is with death of Tybalt and despite Benvolio’s reminders of the Prince’s death sentence for anyone that disturbs the peace, Romeo goes forth to do so.
In this the audience see how Mercutio, Tybalt and Romeo have become tragic victims of their own passion. Mercutio hates submission; his pride, passion and love force him to act violently. Tybalt believes in honour and hates peace because he hates “all Monatgues” as they threaten his family. Tybalt channels this passion through violence, this characteristic makes both his and Mercutio’s tragic demise predictable. Romeo is also a passionate character. So far in the play we have only see how he can love passionately but in Act 3, Scene 1 we can see how death of a loved one can encourage him to hate with a passion. After the death of Mercutio Romeo acts very differently, he is no longer calm and passive and is instead furious and assertive.
Romeo and Juliet is principally a love story and up until this pivotal moment we have only seen Romeo as the caring lover. This scene begins just after Friar Lawrence has married the lovers, when Romeo enters, his head is full of thoughts of love and the “sweet Juliet” but as the scene progresses it becomes harder for Romeo to remain calm. It is clear to the audience that Mercutio and Romeo loved each other dearly and this love forces Romeo to renounce his appeasement and seek revenge. This action is taken because, though Romeo cherishes Juliet and her love, his loyalty to his beloved friend Mercutio drives him to honour his friend’s memory.
At first the theme of death seems obvious as both Mercutio and Tybalt die. However when the scene is analysed it becomes clear that other deaths will arise from what happens in this scene. Romeo’s actions leave him banished; this hinders his marriage and makes the tragic finale likely. Mercutio’s dying words are graphic, he says that the households have “made worms’ meat” of him – this indicates his untimely death and that when he is buried in the ground his body shall become food for the worms in the earth around him.
Mercutio blames Romeo for his “mortal hurt” and dies with the words “A plague on both your houses”. This curse acts as a prediction as we see both the Capulets and Montagues losing their “joys”. During this scene, imagery of death is used very effectively. For example, when Romeo and Tybalt meet again, Romeo says “away to heaven”. This shows that Romeo’s intention is to kill Tybalt. Tybalt answers, saying “that didst consort him here, shalt with him hence”. This proves Tybalt’s confidence, as he seems assured that Romeo will be joining Mercutio. Once Tybalt has been “slain” Benvolio acts quickly; he remembers the Prince’s threat of death to anyone, who disturbs the peace, Benvolio insists that Romeo “be gone”.
This scene sees three men lead to their death by passion. When Mercutio realises the seriousness of his wound he blames Romeo for intervening, Romeo is then consumed by guilt and blames Juliet’s beauty for making him “effeminate”. This type of behaviour is typical of that of men living in a patriarchal society such as Verona at the time the play is set. In this kind of environment men are pressured to be violent and have a passion for what they think of as honour, and hatred, if these ‘qualities’ were not shown they were considered ‘less of a man’.
In Romeo and Juliet it is clear how a patriarchal society moulds its citizens. Tybalt and Mercutio have been raised ready to fight anyone who challenges them and each know nothing else. They mock Benvolio and Romeo for not being as inclined to brawl when in fact the serenity they show could be seen as a virtue. The play is set in the Verona during the 13th century. At this time, men had to be strong, rational, powerful and proud. During this scene Romeo feels ashamed to have let his feelings of love overpower these expectations of basic masculinity. Upon this change of heart Romeo acts more like a “proper man” and kills Tybalt, however this changes his fate and destroys his chance to have a successful marriage with his love Juliet.
In Act 3, Scene 5 again the audience sees the themes of passion, love, violence and death reflected. This scene allows the audience sees how a family already faced with death and violence behave and the tensions that arise from tragedy. This scene brings with it another unwelcome development: this is the news that Juliet is to be married to Paris at St Peter’s church in just two days. This acts as another turning point and is the final obstacle for the troubled lovers and triggers a series of errors that leads to the deaths of Paris, Romeo and of course Juliet. In this scene, Shakespeare makes a political statement about his own Elizabethan culture and how arranged marriages such as this lead to trouble and in extreme cases even death.
The scene opens with the lovers parting after consummating their marriage. The mood is sombre, Romeo must leave for Mantua immediately or stay and be “put to death”. However Juliet is desperate for “her Romeo” to stay and tries to persuade him that it is night and the nightingale is singing rather than the lark and that “the light is not daylight” but “some meteor that the sun exhaled”. Initially Romeo disregards her words but soon she has some impact and he says “let me be put to death, I am content”. This comment seems to scare Juliet and she realises that Romeo must leave, she says that it was the lark that sang “straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps”, this musical imagery is similar to that used by Mercutio in Act3, Scene1. Once again the lovers must part with “sweet sorrow” as in Act 2.
There is no doubt Romeo and Juliet see their short relationship as true love rather than simply a “violent delight” and both hope that their marriage will last. However the audience knows that ironically, while Juliet was consummating her marriage to Romeo, her father was organising her “second match” to Paris. The audience is waiting with baited breath to see the news being broken to Juliet and are nervous of its outcome.
When Lady Capulet enters to see a saddened Juliet she assumes she is mourning Tybalt’s death, who was much loved and appreciated in the Capulet household. But Juliet is crying for her husband Romeo who has just left her. The un-maternal Lady Capulet does not know how to comfort her daughter, so instead she pressures her with threats, saying, “some grief shows much of love, but much of grief shows still some want of wit”. This line shows how little she knows about her daughter Juliet and her love, for Juliet has lost both her cousin and her husband in less than a day and she is not meant to weep!
When Lady Capulet breaks the news of the marriage to Paris, she is shocked to see Juliet being rebellious and assertive and when Capulet enters she does nothing to help or support her daughter. Capulet enters speaking poetically, referring to death as a sunset and mourning as a sea. This reminds the audience of his behaviour in Act 1, when he likens Juliet to a fruit – saying she may be “ripe to be a bride”. However when he hears how Juliet “will none” he becomes angry and describes Juliet as a “curse”. In this scene each Capulet shows no parental love to Juliet, Lady Capulet does nothing to help her daughter and Capulet threatens to denounce Juliet and leave her to “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets”. Neither parent attempts to listen or understand Juliet and only when they exit does Juliet finally get advice and care from her maternal nurse.
Much of the violence in this scene is unspoken, as each character has to deal with inner conflict. The nurse must decide how to help Juliet, Lady Capulet must chose between her husband or daughter and Juliet has to decide whether to re-marry and show honour to her family or remain faithful to Romeo and honour their marriage. Capulet voices his feelings of anger and is violent; he quickly becomes enraged and attacks Juliet with vicious, spiteful words. The audience sees how Capulet is the typical tyrannical patriarch, who is hard to predict as he has erratic mood swings. This scene shows how the fiery, short-tempered Capulet is the ‘ideal man’ in a patriarchal society. Capulet has great power over the women in his life and the characteristics he shows have given him supreme confidence and have probably helped him achieve his high status in Verona’s society.
Capulet is a passionate man; he uses dramatic language to convey his thoughts, such as describing Juliet as ” wretched puling fool”. Capulet speaks of disowning his “joy” so intensely that it is as if he will hate the “hopeful lady” of his “earth” with a passion if she dares to disobey him. This hatred is in complete contrast to the powerful love of Romeo and Juliet. The lovers have been so consumed with romance and passion that they have defied an “ancient grudge” to meet in secret and in this scene their actions of passion are even more ironic as they have just committed one of the most passionate acts – the consummation of their marriage.
Though this scene opens with the idea of love, dark imagery and talk of death is seen throughout it. The first mention of death is Romeo saying “Let me be tane, let me be put to death”, this line reminds the lovers of their situation and seems to worry Juliet. When Romeo “goeth down” the ladder Juliet says “then window, let light in, and life out.” This could refer to her love for Romeo as she sees him as her whole life, or it could show how death will come after this day. Juliet wonders whether they will meet again and has a premonition that she can see Romeo “As one dead in the bottom of a tomb”. Romeo tries to comfort his wife, saying that she has nothing to worry about as their paleness is simply because “dry sorrow drinks” their “blood”. To the “pair of star-crossed lovers” this is just a vague vision but to the audience it is an accurate prophecy of the tragic outcome of the love story.
When Lady Capulet enters, the dark imagery of death continues as she talks of Tybalt’s death and the revenge she plans for Romeo, the murderer. Lady Capulet says “wilt thou wash him from his grave” when she sees Juliet weeping and later “I would the fool married to her grave”, because Juliet doesn’t want to marry Paris. This language is both dark and ironic as Juliet is in effect married to her grave, as her marriage with Romeo leads her to her untimely death. When Lady Capulet explains her revenge for Tybalt’s murder she says ” shall give him such an unaccustomed dram that he shall soon keep Tybalt company” this is very ironic as later in the play Romeo kills himself with a dram of poison.
Capulet doesn’t use dark imagery, nor does he make predictions. He does however show indifference towards Juliet telling her that she could “die in the streets” he would never acknowledge her or even care. However, in Act 4, Scene 5, when Juliet will not wake, Capulet “wails” and feels tongue-tied. This is an example not only of how much he really loves his daughter but also his temperamental personality. This also shows how he uses his power over Juliet to scare her into remaining obedient.
This pivotal scene ends with Juliet feeling disheartened and anxious. She seeks advice from her nurse who tells her to marry Paris and be “happy in this second match”, upon hearing this, Juliet is further saddened and decides to see the Friar “to know his remedy”, if this fails she will “have power to die”. This is a very dark image to leave the audience with and suddenly it is clear how near to death the lovers are. If Romeo is seen in Verona he will be “put to death” and in Mantua he is a risk of being poisoned by the vengeful Capulets. Juliet is determined not to follow her nurse’s advice to “at Saint Peter’s Church” “happily make” “a joyful bride” to Paris and is resigned to killing herself if no resolution can be found. At this point in the play becomes obvious that the prologue was correct and the lovers will “take their life” and the audience is left to await to impending death.
Act 3, is the most important act of this fantastic tragedy. It is literally, the central scene and sees the love story change dramatically. The actions of Act 3, Scene 1 are the first turning point of the play. From here on violence, passion and love push the lovers to their premature and devastating death and here is where we see those themes grow in importance. Scene 1 makes Romeo’s death likely as the group of competitive, hot headed men proved a fatal combination. All were trying to show power and masculinity in this scene and all key characters become “worms’ meat” by the end. In Scene 5 Juliet’s promise to die rather than marry the “lovely” Paris made her fate inescapable.
In this masterpiece, Shakespeare makes several social observations. He shows how arranged marriages that were common in Elizabethan England are dangerous and often disastrous. Although Shakespeare opted for a more romantic, Italian setting, it is clear that he made little effort to recreate the Italian customs of the thirteenth century. For example the prologue refers to “star-crossed lovers” – this means that their horoscopes do not match up. This comment is typical of the superstitions of Elizabethan times with its values of spirituality, life and love. Within the play, some comments mock Italian customs, for example in Act 2, Scene 4 Mercutio mocks Tybalt’s “passado” and “punto reverso”- these are traditional Italian fencing moves that were respected rather than mocked by Italians of the time. I think that the idea of a distant country being much more exotic and romantic than England would appeal to Shakespeare’s audience who were unable to travel and went to the theatre to see life from other perspectives as well as be entertained.
There is no doubt in my mind that Romeo and Juliet is a powerful and beautiful piece of literature. It is about love but also the complexities of life and shows how anyone, not matter how ‘wholesome’ they seem can be flawed by emotion, especially that of violence, passion, love and death. This tragedy is truly timeless and will hold a place in millions of people’s souls, not because it is a romantic, sweet story of love but because it is a realistic depiction of life and human nature.