In Act I, scene 5 of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Tybalt and Lord Capulet have radically different responses to Romeo's presence at the feast. What do their differences suggest about...

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In Act I, scene 5 of his play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare depicts diametrically opposite reactions by Capulet and Tybalt to Romeo’s presence at Capulet’s party. These differing reactions are significant for what they reveal about the importance of the feud to the Capulets and Montagues and about the possible future of that feud.

Significantly, it is Tybalt who first discovers Romeo’s presence. He immediately asks for his sword. He also immediately assumes that Romeo’s presence at the party indicates a desire to mock the affair. Tybalt instantly wants to kill Romeo. Ironically, his strongly passionate reaction to Romeo’s presence makes Romeo seem all the more “virtuous and well-govern’d” (as Capulet later describes him) by contrast. The facts that Romeo attends the party, and that Capulet is willing to let him do so, may suggest that there is hope for a peaceful outcome to the feud. Tybalt, however, personifies the kind of irrational fury that may give the feud longer life. Tybalt expresses his desire to kill Romeo in language that would have struck many Elizabethans as highly ironic:

TYBALT. Now, by the stock and honor of my kin,

To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.

Murdering Romeo, however, would definitely have struck many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries as sinful.  Moreover, Tybalt’s concern with the “honor” of his “kin” seems exaggerated, since his uncle is soon so willing to tolerate Romeo’s presence. Tybalt is the kind of hot-head whose presence in the play almost guarantees that the feud will continue, at least for a time.

Capulet twice commends the apparently good manners of Romeo – a fact implying that he is able to see the good even in his traditional enemies. His patience in the face of Romeo’s presence, as well as the fact that he counsels (and then commands) patience to Tybalt, both suggest his potential to be a peace-maker in the feud. Paradoxically, he quickly becomes highly agitated and angry as he commends patience and condemns anger. In a further irony, his anger here toward   Tybalt foreshadows his later anger toward Juliet when she refuses to consider the man he has chosen for her.

Part of Capulet’s anger toward Tybalt derives from the fact that Capulet considers Tybalt disrespectful toward Capulet himself. Capulet’s strong sense that he deserves respect, as well as his ability to become quite furious if he does not receive it, both suggest that he is still capable of the kind of bitter passion that has fueled the feud so far.  Thus the implications of this episode for the future of the feud seem ambiguous. On the one hand, Capulet is capable of displaying and counseling patience; on the other hand, he is also capable of displaying highly bitter anger.



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