Romeo and Juliet
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
ROMEO AND JULIET
Benvolio tries to persuade Mercutio that the two get off the streets. Mercutio’s mention of hazel eyes (III.i.20) alludes to Oxford’s (Ogburn and Ogburn 388). It’s hot and the place is swarming with Capulets. Too late.
The scene is usually taken as the extreme precipitation in the play of the Capulet-Montague feud; whereas Shakespeare goes out of his way to prove that at most the feud is merely the occasion of the quarrel. Its cause he places squarely in the temperament and character of Mercutio, and Mercutio, it is only too easy to forget, is neither a Capulet nor a Montague, but a kinsman of the Prince who rules Verona, and, as such, is under special obligation to preserve a neutral attitude between the two houses. (Goddard, I 125)
Tybalt inquires about Romeo and Mercutio dares Tybalt to start a fight. Romeo himself appears, now married to Tybalt’s cousin and therefore eschewing any fight. Tybalt calls him a “villain” (III.i.61) but Romeo speaks only of love and peace. Mercutio finds Romeo’s submission dishonorable and takes up the fight Tybalt had wanted. When Romeo tries to break it up, Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. Romeo thinks the wound is not bad, to which Mercutio replies, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man” (III.i.96-98). “A plague a’ both your houses!” (III.i.91, 99, 106), Mercutio cries several times before being led off to die. “How ironical of Mercutio to attribute his death to the Capulet-Montague feud, when the Capulet who killed him had plainly been reluctant to fight with him, and the chief Montague present had begged and begged him to desist” (Goddard, I 130). It has often been asserted that “Mercutio, the scene stealer of the play, had to be killed off if it was to remain Juliet’s and Romeo’s play” (Bloom 89; cf. Goddard, I 122).
Mercutio is victimized by what is most central to the play, and yet he dies without knowing what Romeo and Juliet is all about: the tragedy of authentic romantic love. For Mercutio, that is nonsense: love is an open arse and a poperin pear. To die as love’s martyr, as it were, when you do not believe in the religion of love, and do not even know what you are dying for, is a grotesque irony that foreshadows the dreadful ironies that will destroy Juliet and Romeo alike as the play concludes. (Bloom 97)
Romeo laments his “reputation stain’d” (III.i.111) and fights Tybalt in vengeful wrath, killing him. Benvolio reminds Romeo of the Prince’s decree, and Romeo cries, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (III.i.136). The rest of the town gathers and the Prince hears the whole story from Benvolio. Lady Capulet “probably the weakest character in the play, is the first to demand more blood as a solution of the problem” (Goddard, I 134): “For blood of ours, shed blood of Montague” (III.i.149). The Prince declares Romeo banished. “It is still less than twenty-four hours since he met Juliet and already he has not only gained her, but lost her as well” (Asimov 493). “Banishment” resounds in the plays of the early 1580s (Ogburn and Ogburn 327); here the terms occurs 23 times in 140 lines (Ogburn and Ogburn 388). The Prince in this scene indicates that he is related to the Capulets (III.i.188, 190); this indicates also that Elizabeth was related to the Howards, as Oxford makes Rosaline also related to the Capulets (Ogburn and Ogburn 412).
Juliet awaits night and Romeo: “Come, civil night, / Thou sober-suited matron all in black, / And learn me how to lose a winning match, / Play’d for a pair of stainless maidenhoods” (III.ii.10-13). The Nurse brings Juliet the rope ladder and bad news, but she keeps repeating “he’s dead” and talking of blood, so Juliet temporarily must wonder if Romeo has been killed. Naturally Juliet is upset at the banishment. She has the Nurse go to Romeo at the Friar’s cell to bring him a ring and to instruct him to come to her that night “to take his last farewell” (III.ii.143).
Friar Lawrence brings word to Romeo in hiding that the Prince’s judgment is banishment. Romeo takes this as a punishment worse than death, a torture, and goes into a histrionic agony. The Nurse arrives and, hearing that she is also having fits, Romeo grabs for a dagger to kill himself but the Nurse stops him. Friar Lawrence has had enough — “Art thou a man? … / Thy tears are womanish, thy wild acts denote / The unreasonable fury of a beast” (III.iii.109-111); and he counts Romeo’s blessings. He says Romeo should go to Juliet, then get to Mantua in the morning until things blow over in Verona. The Nurse presents Romeo with Juliet’s ring, which comforts him somewhat.
Paris wants to see Juliet and continue his wooing, but the household is grief-stricken by Tybalt’s death, and Juliet’s father puts him off. However, marriage is a good idea. It’s Monday, and Wednesday is too soon, so old Capulet settles on Thursday, certain Juliet is compliant with his wishes in all things. “And it is Burghley and Anne Cecil he visualizes when Capulet affirms” this (Ogburn and Ogburn 410). The way Capulet phrases his instruction to Lady Capulet is interesting: “Prepare her, wife, against the wedding-day” (III.iv.32).
As dawn breaks, Romeo must leave Juliet. This is the last of the “love-duets, one in the evening, one at night, and the last at dawn” (Wells 81). The Nurse warns that Juliet’s mother is coming, so Romeo gets down the ladder. Romeo reassures Juliet that “all these woes shall serve / For sweet discourses in our times to come” (III.v.52-53).
Mom Capulet thinks Juliet is crying over Tybalt’s death while she rants bloodthirstily against Romeo. But she’s got good news to cheer Juliet up: she’ll be marrying Paris in a few days. Juliet refuses to go along with this. Dad becomes outraged at Juliet’s disobedience, cursing the Nurse and threatening to throw a disinherited Juliet out to “die in the streets” (III.v.192). Juliet turns to her mother: “make the bridal bed / In that dim monument where Tybalt lies” (III.v.200-201). But Lady Capulet now won’t speak to her. The Nurse thinks, all things considered, marrying Paris is probably the best way to go. And “In a matter of seconds the child becomes a woman” (Goddard, I 135). Juliet plays along with the Nurse, inwardly horrified, and claims she’ll go to confession for having displeased her father. When the Nurse leaves, a disgusted Juliet calls the Nurse “Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend! / … / Go, counsellor, / Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain” (III.v.235-240). “It is the rejection of the Nurse. But unlike Falstaff, when he is rejected, she carries not one spark of our sympathy or pity with her…. We scorn her as utterly as Juliet does” (Goddard, I 120). Juliet resolves to visit the Friar. If all else fails, she can at least kill herself.