Shakespeare creates a dramatic atmosphere in Act III scene I through several different aspects of the play. Not only in this scene; but also by using the previous acts to build up the tension. Shakespeare achieves this with the themes of love, hate and conflict within the play.
Conflict is used for suspense regularly. It is used at the very beginning of the play to show tension between the two families. This gets the audience interested and keen to see what happens. Shakespearean humour is used at the beginning of this fight. A play on words that would have been considered funny at the time:
SAMPSON: Gregory, o’ my word, we’ll not carry coals.
GREGORY: No, for then we should be colliers.
This is not only ‘comical’ but it builds up the tension of the fight to come. Also, the contrast of Benvolio and Tybalt’s attitudes is used effectively here. Benvolio keeps a mature, sensible frame of mind, thinking only of keeping the peace. Whereas Tybalt’s mind is immature, thinking only of violence and provoking the Montagues. This introduces us to those characters and increases tension even more.
Another example of conflict is the impending danger of Tybalt. He is a threat to Romeo’s life and sends a challenge to him. This is ominous because we know Tybalt is a good swordsman and that Romeo is going to die at some point in the play. Tybalt challenges Romeo because he gatecrashed the Capulet’s party. However, Capulet forbade Tybalt to engage Romeo in a fight at the party.
This is dramatic irony because we (the audience) know something the characters don’t. In this case, we know that Romeo and Juliet want to get married. This would mean that Romeo would be related to Tybalt and reluctant to fight him.
Another way used to create suspense is the theme of marriage. Due to the prologue, we know that Romeo and Juliet are going to fall in love. Therefore, the idea of Paris possibly marrying Juliet increases suspense
The prospect of fate is also used to increase suspense. It is used from the very beginning of the play. In the prologue, it tells us that:
“a pair of star cross’d lovers take their life”.
Romeo’s dream also adds to this idea of fate. He dreams that if he goes to Capulets’ party, a series of events will ensue; eventually leading to his death. Unsurprisingly, Mercutio persuades Romeo to go to the party where he meets Juliet, the cause of his death. This brings a sense of fate being inescapable, which, in turn brings more suspense.
We are put in further suspense because we want to find out how Romeo and Juliet die. The prologue explains that their death is responsible for ending their families’ strife.
We also know that Romeo and Juliet are going to die because of their love for each other. This increases the tension because we await their deaths.
Finally, Shakespeare uses speed of events, particularly in Romeo and Juliet’s relationship to add to the prospect of fate.
All of these aspects build up the tension to prepare us for what follows in act III, scene I.
Act III scene I starts with Benvolio warning Mercutio that a fight might begin. This tells us that a fight is inevitable. Especially when Mercutio starts antagonising Benvolio. Mercutio is looking for a fight. Being the annoying tease that he is, he tries to aggravate Benvolio. However, he gets no response, as Benvolio is a peacekeeper.
When Tybalt arrives for his duel with Romeo, Mercutio targets Tybalt and engages him in conversation knowing he is easier to provoke than Benvolio.
Throughout this conversation, the tension increases until Romeo enters and delays the fighting.
After Mercutio’s behaviour and duel-meaning quips, Tybalt is on the edge. Because of this, Tybalt isn’t in the mood to listen to any excuses that Romeo may have.
ROMEO Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee
Doth much excuse the appertaining rage
TYBALT Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries
that thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
Romeo doesn’t want to fight Tybalt because he had recently married Juliet and was now related to him. Once Romeo walks away from Tybalt’s challenge, Mercutio interprets that action as cowardice and takes on Tybalt instead of Romeo.
MERCUTIO O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!…
…Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?
Romeo attempts to stop the duel, but, as he does this, Tybalt kills Mercutio.
MERCUTIO Why the devil came you between us? I
was hurt under your arm.
As Mercutio dies, he repeats “A plague O’ both your houses!” for Romeo’s interference and Tybalt’s slaying. This is effective because both house’s, Capulet and Montague, will both lose members of their family. (Romeo and Juliet). This also adds a sense of the inevitable fate of death that will fall upon the pair.
When Mercutio dies, Romeo blames the tragedy on Juliet:
ROMEO O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate
And in my temper soften’d valour’s steel!
After Romeo is informed of Mercutio’s death, he is full of anger and vows to avenge his death.
ROMEO Fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!
He finds Tybalt and delivers his acceptance of a duel. No matter what reason Romeo has to love Tybalt, he clears his mind and sets his thoughts on killing Tybalt. He does this because he was partially responsible for Mercutio’s death and one way to rid his conscience of guilt would be to avenge it and kill Tybalt.
ROMEO Mercutio’s soul
Is but a little way above our heads…
…Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him.
They duel and Tybalt falls. Romeo is reminded by Benvolio of the punishment of death and flees from the scene.
This scene is dramatic mainly because of the tension building up to it, but the events surrounding the deaths play their own parts also. We are prepared for the deaths but not of those particular characters which adds an element of surprise. Especially because Tybalt is described as a good sword fighter early in the play.
Shakespeare has used a mixture of preparation, suprises, suspense and tension to make act III scene I as dramatic as possible. The amount of tension ebbs and flows to keep the audience interested in the play and somewhat shocked when the deaths occur.