This scene sees the deaths of both Mercutio and Tybalt. We can explore the idea of love as cause of conflict – firstly, how Romeo and Juliet’s love may be considered the cause of Mercutio’s death. Secondly how the love between Romeo and Mercutio ultimately causes violence and conflict.
The scene starts with a conversation between Mercutio and Benvolio. The mood and particularly the line “…for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring” hints at what is to come. Although the background of the feud is revealed in the prologue, Shakespeare gives us hope that the union of Romeo and Juliet and their marriage may mend the rift between their families. The audience believes that it is possible that all may be well. However, the fight that occurs in Act 3, Scene 1 could be interpreted as a turning point in the play.
The inclusion of violence in Act 3 Scene 1 is a reminder that although love and beauty are key ideals the play takes part in a masculine world where pride, status and the family name are hugely important. Remember to focus on this to cover AO4 – context.
- Tybalt confronts Romeo but does not get the expected response: “Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee/Doth much excuse the appertaining rage/To such a greeting. Villain am I none./Therefore, farewell. I see thou know’st me not.” Romeo is saying that he has a reason to love Tybalt and therefore he’s going to overlook the insult. The use of “villain” is significant because at this point of the play we see Romeo’s happiness destroyed, ultimately by him, an interpretation that is perhaps not always explored.
- Romeo’s cry, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” refers specifically to his unluckiness in being forced to kill his new wife’s cousin, thereby getting himself banished, ultimately resulting in both his and Juliet’s death. It also links back to the prologue and the sense of fate that hangs over the play. This could link to Keat’s sonnet – Bright Star but also Auden’s Funeral Blues poem.
- Romeo blames fate in contrast Mercutio blames both families – a significant change in the relationship between Romeo and Mercutio. The use of a “a plague on both your houses” suggests connotations of illness (perhaps linking with Sonnet 147 and “Love is as a fever”) but also religion. The Plagues of Egypt were ten calamities that, according to the biblical Book of Exodus, Israel’s God inflicted upon Egypt to persuade Pharaoh to release the ill-treated Israelites from slavery. Why is this significant – could it link to Blake’s The Garden of Love? The Elizabethan era was a significant time in terms of religion with both Catholic Church and the newly created Church of England exiting together- remember to mention this to cover AO4.
- In Act 3, Scene 1, Mercutio shows that while he often chastises people for being aggressive and violent that he himself is disgusted by Romeo’s refusal to fight Tybalt – Mercutio is portrayed by Shakespeare as a character who is bitter, angry and vengeful. This is clear in the line, “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission.” This line shows that audience that Mercutio’s love for Romeo has altered. This could be compared to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 147 whereby the speaker in the sonnet changes from an obsession over his beloved to describing her as “black as hell, as dark as night”.
- Elizabethan society generally believed that a man too much in love lost his manliness. Romeo clearly subscribes to that belief, as can be seen when he states that his love for Juliet had made him “effeminate.” Perhaps one interpretation that his new found feminine qualities is what ‘kills’ the love his has with Mercutio. He places Juliet before Mercutio, albeit without Mercutio’s knowledge.
Use the following to help:
How does Shakespeare present love as a cause of violence in Act 3 Scene 1?
- Point: In Act 3 Scene 1 Mercutio and Romeo’s love for each other ends. And/or explain how Romeo and Juliet’s love causes the death of Mercutio.
- Quote: Use a quote from this scene.
- Explain: Explore how love is a cause of violence. Consider how we feel as a modern audience. Also consider how Shakespeare’s audience may have viewed this. Remember that honour, family name and masculinity were important during the 1600s.
- Language: Zoom in on one or two key words – what are the connotations? Can you make any links to the 1600s? Does Shakespeare use any techniques such as metaphors or pathetic fallacy?
If you feel confident enough to compare this scene to one of the poems we have looked at then offer a linking sentence such as :
- Similarly love is a cause of violence in ….
- In contrast love prevents violence in ….
Then produce a PQE on the poem.
We will work on this in today’s lesson.