Shakespeare uses a number of methods to create and build up tension and suspense in this scene. These include the choice of characters, the circumstances, the language used, the pace and dramatic irony. The previous scene was one of romance, hope and optimism. Therefore, from the very first line of this scene there is a stark contrast to the previous scene and tension is mounting. The events that play out in this scene mark a turning point in the play for both families as well as Romeo’s character and will greatly affect his and Juliet’s lives.
The first character to speak in this scene is Benvolio. From previous scenes as well as this one the audience learns that the character of Benvolio is a peaceful character who tries to avoid fights and tries to calm other characters down throughout. “I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire.” At the very beginning of the scene Benvolio is trying to get Mercutio to go inside so as to avoid fighting because he is feeling uneasy about the circumstances. This is a warning to Mercutio and the audience of what is about to happen. “If we meet we shall not ‘scape a brawl, for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” Benvolio makes it clear that there is already a lot of tension in the air, because of previous events that have occurred on the streets of Verona due to the feud as well as it is very hot. The reason the weather increases the tension is because when it is especially hot people become more irritable and easily annoyed. This is particularly clear by Shakespeare’s choice of the words “mad blood stirring”. This gives a sense of people responding to the heat in an unreasonable and maybe physical way. However, Benvolio’s attempts to calm the situation may have inspired more quarrelsomeness in Mercutio.Order now
Mercutio is walking with Benvolio at the beginning of this scene. Shakespeare’s combination of these two characters helps to increase the tension because of the contrast and antagonism between them from the start. Where Benvolio attempts to be calm, cautious and peaceful, Mercutio is hot-headed, reckless and quarrelsome. Mercutio, in jest, attributes some of his own characteristics to Benvolio. “Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat.” Mercutio is accusing Benvolio of being quarrelsome where in fact it is himself who proves to be of a quarrelsome disposition as proved by his quarrelling with Tybalt. Mercutio speaks in prose rather than verse, which makes the scene faster paced. This increases the tension because it is again preparing the audience for the quarrel about to take place and builds up excitement.
When the Capulets approach Benvolio is worried but Mercutio responds with: “By my heel, I care not.” This shows that he is not worried about the feud between the families because he is not involved in it, and also that he is quite reckless especially during this hot weather when people may tend to act irrationally. He is not taking the situation seriously, which increases the tension because the other characters are being serious so Mercutio seems quite dangerous in this volatile situation. Tybalt says to his people “Follow me close, for I will speak to them.” This builds up the tension because it shows that Tybalt is being cautious as he recognises that the situation is hazardous and he is expecting a fight. The combination of Tybalt and Mercutio increases the tension greatly because they are both very aggressive, impulsive characters and antagonise each other.
Tybalt begins politely “Gentlemen, good-e’en. A word with one of you.” To which Mercutio responds immediately with aggression by suggesting “a blow”. This increases the tension because it reminds the audience that Tybalt is looking for Romeo for a duel and it puts the suggestion of violence out in the open straight away. Tybalt replies telling Mercutio he would be able and willing to fight if Mercutio gives him the excuse. This helps build up the tension because it shows that Tybalt is ready to fight as well so it almost seems inevitable already because of Mercutio’s mood and provocative responses.
Tybalt then uses the word “consort” in relation to Romeo and Mercutio. Mercutio takes great offence at this because the word could have homosexual connotations, whether Tybalt meant it to or not, and that may have been the way Mercutio took it. However, from his dialogue it seems he has taken it to mean Tybalt associates him with “minstrels” which are seen to be lower in society than Mercutio. Mercutio plays on words often for example “hear nothing but discords.” He is playing on the fact that minstrels make music and chords being a word used in music. However if Tybalt is meaning to associate him with minstrels he will only hear dis-chords or discords which is conflict. Mercutio also calls his sword his “fiddlestick” which would be the bow of a violin, and although it is a joke; he is quite serious about his offer to fight.
Benvolio again tries to calm down the situation by asking them to go inside and reason sensibly, however Romeo enters the scene at this point. This immediately increases the tension because Tybalt was out looking for a duel with Romeo in the first place, so the audience knows something has to happen. Tybalt says, “Here comes my man.” Again Mercutio takes this as an offence to Romeo, in that he takes it to mean manservant which is someone of a much lower class than himself or Romeo, whether Tybalt meant to be antagonistic or not. Mercutio is very concerned with status in society and honour.
Tybalt’s first line to Romeo is quite sarcastic and ironic: “The love I bear thee can afford no better term than this: thou art a villain.” He begins with the word “love” which is an affectionate term, however he ends with “villain” which dramatically increases the tension because it is such a strong insult that one is honour-bound to duel having been called a “villain”. However Romeo has to respond with “love”. This is an example of dramatic irony, which Shakespeare uses throughout the scene because the audience knows that Romeo is married to Juliet and has to respect her cousin, however the other characters in the scene do not know this so cannot understand Romeo’s response. Tybalt is enraged by this and calls Romeo “boy” which is a contemptuous word and increases the tension because the audience expects a response from Romeo. However, in contrast, Romeo politely calls Tybalt “good Capulet,” and once again responds with “love” and alludes to the fact that he and Juliet, Tybalt’s cousin, are married. “Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as mine own.”
Tybalt does not respond to this for it is Mercutio who talks next. Mercutio is still looking for a duel and he believes his friend is backing down from a duel, which would be very cowardly and not looked well upon. Mercutio uses the phrase “Alla stoccata” which is a sword fighting term, implying that Tyblat only fights ‘by the book’. Mercutio talks in short sentences, increasing the pace and the tension and Tyblat replies curtly as well. Romeo then tries to stop the fight, and he too talks in short sentences with exclamations showing his desperation and panic and increasing the pace and excitement of the scene. He then reminds the audience that the Prince has forbidden fighting in the streets. This increases the tension because the audience knows that if they are caught they will be sentenced to death.
Mercutio is injured in the fight and Tybalt leaves. For a moment the tension is slackened because the audience is not sure how badly Mercutio is hurt because none of the other characters are taking him seriously as he does not take most things seriously. When Romeo says that Mercutio can’t be hurt too badly, “Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much.” Mercutio responds with sarcasm, “No, ’tis not as deep as a well.” He is still talking jokingly and playing on words “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.” Which serves to intensify the tragedy of his death by contrasting it with the humour. Mercutio blames his hurt on both houses and curses them three times “A plague a’both your houses.” This is a serious thing to people living at this time because they put a lot of merit in superstitions and curses, especially from a dying man would be seen to be very serious. This intensifies the tension and suspense because it is a warning of what is to come and the audience knows something terrible is sure to happen. The audience feels that Romeo is bound to avenge Mercutio’s death so another duel is going to happen.
After Mercutio’s death Romeo’s character changes. Before he was very impulsive and childish, falling in love at the drop of a hat. He was quite a gentle character, spending most of his time writing poetry and mooning over girls. However afterwards he recognises that Juliet’s beauty and his love for her have trapped him and have stopped him doing what he was honour-bound to do. “Thy beauty hath made me effeminate.” He becomes aggressive and Shakespeare’s use of alliteration “fire-eyed fury” illustrates the destructive change in Romeo. He is now ready to fight for his honour at being called “villain” as well as to avenge Mercutio’s death and is ready to die trying. Tybalt repeats his insults of “boy” and “consort” which had angered Mercutio previously and fights with Romeo.
They fight and Romeo manages to kill Tybalt. Benvolio tells him to leave because he knows the Prince will sentence him to death if he is caught. Romeo leaves after a moment’s hesitation and Benvolio is brought before the Prince. Benvolio falters the Prince and Mercutio with words such as “noble” and “brave”. He recounts the story of events, leaving out the fact that Mercutio was the one who started the whole fight between himself and Tyblat. The tension is mounting here because the audience knows that Romeo is guilty of killing Tybalt and they know that the Prince has said that whoever is caught fighting will be killed. The tension is heightened by Lady Capulets plea for Romeo’s death. “Romeo slew Tybalt. Romeo must not live.” This is especially dramatic because it shows that the feud runs so deep that even the women are ruthless and vicious because of it.
The tension is relieved slightly when the Prince and Lord Montague reasons that Romeo killed Tybalt who would have been killed anyway by the law. The audience is given a slight moment where they can think that maybe nothing bad will happen, however the Prince then exiles Romeo on pain of death if he is caught in Verona again. This is important because he and Juliet have not yet consecrated their marriage and may not be able to now if he has to flee, and they are not able to be together.
Although the tension is less at the end of the scene, Shakespeare has maintained and built it up throughout this scene because it is the pivotal in the play. Before this scene everything seemed to be going fine, Romeo and Juliet were very much in love and had just been married. Now at the conclusion of this scene they are to be split apart and Mercutio has cursed both families. I think that the most tension was created by the use of dramatic irony, because the audience knew the reason Romeo did not want to fight but Tybalt and Mercutio did not and Romeo did not tell them. This means that the audience feels very tense and may feel like they want to tell Tybalt and Mercutio the reason for Romeo’s submission but cannot.