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From the very beginning of Act III, scene 1 ,even Benvolio knows that there is conflict in the air. Not only is it a hot day when tempers could be on a short fuse, the Capulets are out and about and conflict could arise.
Not only does Benvolio think a fight is possible, he has NO idea at all, and neither does Mercutio, that Romeo and Juliet have just been married. This causes a completely different conflict altogether--especially when Tybalt wants to fight Romeo. Romeo considers him family, but the others think he's "wimping out."
Then once the fighting begins and Mercutio is slain, even more conflicts arise. Tybalt perhaps didn't mean to kill Mercutio, but the moment it happens, we know that either Romeo or Tybalt will die. Neither will survive such an emotional fight between the two ill-tempered men (boys).
To discuss violence and conflict as "themes," you must move these topic words into thematic statements. To do that, you must question the violence and conflict. There are many types of questions you might ask, but I've provided you with three questioning categories below to consider.
Cause and Effect Questions: What creates conflict? Why do characters choose violence rather than other options? What are the consequences of character choices?
Note how the opening lines from Benvolio point to the potential causes of conflict:
I pray thee, good Mercutio, let's retire.
The day is hot, the Capulets abroad.
And if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl,
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.
Benvolio warns that hot weather and the Capulets roaming the streets might cause a brawl. He also points to the the zeigeist (the spirit of the times), saying that it's a violent time to be living in. He says "the mad blood" is "stirring." Would you agree that these are likely sparks to the conflict?
Some might argue that character is the true powderkeg. When Benvolio warns Mercutio that the Capulets are headed this way, Mercutio says:
By my heel, I care not.
Mercutio is a catalyst for action in the play, and here, he is a spark to conflict. His insouciance, his rebellious attitude, his willingness to be out and about and sass anyone who looks at him all help make for conflict.
Interesting, isn't it, how Benvolio and he are such opposites? Benvolio, ever-cautious, tries to steer Mercutio away. Later Romeo is also a foil, trying to stop the fight that's started. But Mercutio won't have any of it: he must have a fight.
So we have so far these factors that lead to conflict -- setting and character. Within each area you can analyze more for conflict.
Here are some other questions to use as you examine act 3, scene 1:
Dissection Questions: What are the stages of conflict?
If you could graph the energy of the scene the way a cardiogram of a hearbeat might look, where would the energy begin and how would it end?
Preference/Evaluation Questions: Did Mercutio make the right choice regarding Tybalt? Did Romeo do right to come between them?
There are many quotations for you to plumb, but here's an interesting statement from Mercutio as he draws some of his last breaths:
Why the devil came you between
us? I was hurt under your arm.
Is he blaming Romeo's peacemaking action as the reason for his wound, if not his death? If Romeo truly at fault?
And how important is what's happened in the play prior to this moment in causing the conflicts?
This kind of questioning is very important to everyday life. If literature is a mirror we hold up to examine human actions -- why we do what we do and what are the consequences of our actions, we can make better choices ourselves. This is why we challenge the literature -- to make sense of life. So, once you have a body of quotations to examine, you can then ask, "What is Shakespeare showing us about violence and conflict in this scene?"
Write your answer as a full sentence, and there you will have your theme. Then back it up with selected quotations, and you will have your argument.
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