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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act III, Scene 1
Mercutio and Benvolio are in the public square of the city. Benvolio suggests that they go home since the Capulets are likely to encounter them. Mercutio is always ready for a fight and accuses Benvolio of being too peace loving.
True to Benvolio’s prediction, Tybalt and his attendants arrive on the scene. Tybalt wants to know Romeo’s whereabouts as he has not replied to his letter of challenge. Mercutio mocks him and draws his sword. Just then, Romeo arrives. Tybalt calls Romeo a villain. Romeo, fresh from his marriage to Juliet, informs him that reasons of love prevent him from fighting, but he denies that he is a villain. Tybalt again invites Romeo to a fight, and Romeo refuses. Because he has married Juliet, he now loves all the Capulets. Mercutio finds Romeo’s submission dishonorable and draws his sword. He dares Tybalt to fight him, and the duel begins. Romeo tries to stop the fight. In the confusion that follows, Tybalt wounds Mercutio. Tybalt and his men flee from the scene , and Mercutio dies.
When Tybalt returns, Romeo discards his softness, calls Tybalt a villain, and challenges him to fight to the death. When they fight, Romeo kills Tybalt. As the citizens attempt to arrest Romeo, Benvolio bids him to flee and he rushes off.
The Prince arrives with his attendants followed by Montagues and Capulets. Benvolio informs him that Tybalt killed Mercutio and, in turn, Romeo has slain the murderer. Lady Capulet breaks out in loud lamentations over the death of her beloved nephew and demands that Romeo be put to death. The Prince, paying no attention to her, asks for details of the affair from Benvolio. Benvolio states that Romeo was unwilling to fight and frames Tybalt as the aggressor. Lady Capulet again demands the death of Romeo. Montague takes Romeo’s side saying that Romeo is justified in avenging the death of Mercutio, his friend. The Prince then announces his decision. Romeo is now an exile from Verona, and each of the families is heavily fined. He also states that if Romeo is found in the city, he will be immediately put to death.
This scene is characterized by rapidity of action and varied moods. It marks the crisis of the play with the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt and the banishment of Romeo. Although Romeo has married Juliet, he is now unable to stay with her in Verona. The fate of the lovers has taken a grievous turn.
Benvolio’s advice to Mercutio that they go home was sound advice since the Capulets are out and about; unfortunately the advice falls on deaf ears. Soon Tybalt arrives on the scene looking for Romeo, and the two hotheaded characters, Mercutio and Tybalt, are eager for a fight. Romeo arrives on the scene, fresh from his marriage to Juliet and aglow with love. Tybalt calls him a villain, but Romeo refuses to fight him. Instead, he tells Tybalt that he loves all Capulets (who are now his relatives by marriage). Mercutio, ashamed of Romeo’s submission, challenges Tybalt to fight with him. The duel begins with Romeo trying to make peace. His pleas are to no avail, and Mercutio is mortally wounded in the fight. Romeo, bound by honor, has no alternative but to avenge his dead friend and fight with Tybalt, even though he knows it will sadden his wife. In the fight that follows, Tybalt is killed at the hands of Romeo. The Prince arrives on the scene and demands explanation about the incidents. He then punishes Romeo by exiling him from Verona and heavily fines both families.
Throughout this scene, the characters, except for the changed Romeo, behave typically. It is Tybalt’s hot temper and aggressiveness that is responsible for precipitating the crisis. He is out in the streets looking for a fight, particularly with Romeo. When Romeo refuses to rise to Tybalt’s challenge, Tybalt eagerly enters the fight with Mercutio. Mercutio is again pictured as being combative and verbal. Just before his death, Mercutio’s sharp and brilliant wit again comes to the forefront; as he dies, he jokes about his wound. His chief regret is that Tybalt, his bitter enemy, has escaped unhurt, and he blames Romeo for interfering. Mercutio dies cursing the two families. “A plague on both your houses!” This curse is quickly to come to pass in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
Lady Capulet also behaves typically. She is all excitement and fury and immediately demands the death of Romeo in revenge for her nephew’s murder; ironically Romeo, unknown to her, is now Lady Capulet’s sonin-law. In contrast to her rashness, the prince’s judgment appears to be sound and free from personal vengeance. He knows that the Capulets are sufficiently punished in the death of their nephew and the Montagues are punished by the loss of Romeo to exile. Paris desperately wants peace in his city; little does he know that it will take the deaths of two more innocents to bring about the peace.
Fate once again places a significant part in this scene. If Mercutio had heeded the advice of his friend and peacemaker Benvolio, the confrontation (and thus the tragedy) could have been avoided. If Romeo and Juliet had immediately announced their marriage, the outcome would also have been different. Perhaps the two families would have immediately ended their feud, as Friar Lawrence had hoped. Certainly, Tybalt would have felt different about Romeo and not been as aggressive towards him.