What are some examples of figurative language in act III, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet?

In act III scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet, there are numerous examples of figurative language, such as metaphors, similes, and rhetorical questions.

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Mercutio, who has a way with words as much as Romeo does, uses hyperbole or exaggeration when he tells Benvolio:

Thou, why, thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair more or a hair less in his beard than thou hast.

He is saying that Benvolio will pick a fight for the most minor of reasons. He is also using ironic, tongue-in-cheek humor, as the even-keeled, peace loving Benvolio is the last person to pick a fight for no reason.

Mercutio uses a metaphor when he compares his sword to a "fiddlestick," and he extends the metaphor when he compares sword fighting to dancing:

Here’s that shall make you dance.

Benvolio uses antithesis when he contrasts Tybalt and Mercutio's quarreling on the streets, "the public haunt," to the "private place" where he wishes they would fight. He also uses synecdoche, in which the part stands for the whole, when he says "all eyes" are on them to stand for the people watching them. This entire speech alludes to Prince Escalus having said yesterday that the death penalty will come to those who street brawl.

Tybalt is being ironic, or saying the opposite of what he means, when speaks to Romeo of "the love I bear for thee."

After Mercutio is mortally wounded and Benvolio asks if he is hurt, Mercutio uses understatement when he says "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch." This also is part of an extended metaphor in which Mercutio earlier compared Tybalt to the "King of Cats," referred to their sword fighting as scratching or cat fighting, and used a cliche in which he alluded to each of them having the "nine lives" of cats.

Shakespeare underscores the gravity of the situation after Mercutio's death when he has Romeo speak in rhyming couplets and use alliteration in the following:

This day’s black fate on more days doth depend.
This but begins the woe others must end.
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When Mercutio discovers that he has been wounded by Tybalt, he cries, "A plague o' both your houses!" He is referring here to the two families, the Capulets and the Montagues. Mercutio does not literally mean that he wishes both families to suffer with the plague, but the plague is meant as a general metaphor representing misfortune and distress. Mercutio wants both families to suffer because he thinks that his wound, and consequently his inevitable death, has been caused by the fighting between the two families.


When Romeo enquires about Mercutio's wound, Mercutio replies by comparing his wound to a well and a church door. He says that his wound is "not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church door." The fact that Mercutio uses extreme examples of depth and width to describe his own knife wound indicates that the wound is serious. A wound in human flesh comparable to the depth of a well or the width of a church door is, of course, not an insignificant wound.

Rhetorical Question.

When the Prince arrives on the scene, and after Benvolio has explained what has just happened, the Prince asks, "Who now the price of his dear blood doth owe?" The Prince here is referring to the seemingly endless, retaliatory spilling of blood. The feud between the two families has led to Mercutio's death, and Mercutio's death has led to Tybalt's death, and now the Prince asks who will die next. He poses the question as a rhetorical question, meaning that he doesn't want or expect an answer, but is asking just to make the point that the endless cycle of violence has become self-perpetuating and has gone too far.

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As the climactic scene of the play, Scene 1 of Act III opens with literary techniques:

The first public place was the site of much acrimony; this location on a day that is hot portends danger as words such as "hot," "brawl," and "mad blood" are used.

  • Simile and Chiasmus

Mercutio compares Benvolio to a sman ready to fight by the second drink using a simile:  

Thou artlikeone of those fellows that when he enters the confines of a tavern claps me his sword upon the table and ...by the operation of the second cup draws him on the drawer, when indeed there is no need.

Mercutio counters with a simile himself (first bold phrase) as well as using alliteration with the /m/. And, the phrase in which "as soon moved to be moody" is balanced against the following phrase that is inversed, "as soon moody to be moved," is a rhetorical device called chiasmus.

Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any in Italy, and as soon moved to be moody, and as soon moody to be moved.

This device is also used in Mercutio's longer speech beginning with "Nay...." 
Then, there is another simile:  "Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat"

It is ironic that Mercutio scolds Benvolio for his anger when he will soon explode into invective against Tybalt.

  • Wordplay

Of course, Mercutio banters words with Tybalt excercising wordplay, taunting him with seemingly playful remarks:

TYBALT:  You shall find me apt enough to that, sir, an you will give me occasion.
MERCUTIO: Could you not take some occasion without giving?

  • Puns

Mercutio plays on the double-meaning of "consort" in his retort to Tybalt

TYBALT: Mercutio, thou consor'st with Romeo,--
MERCUTIO: Consort! what, doest thou make us minstrels? an
thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but 
but discords: here's that shall make you dance. 'Zounds, consort!

Another pun that Mercutio uses is on the word "grave." When he tells Romeo :ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man," he means both no longer joking, but "serious" and also "dead."

Mercutio affords submitting to Tybalt's insults the qualities attributed to people: "O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!"

Mercutio makes reference to "King of Cats," a sobrique that he has given Tybalt. when he calls Tybalt a "rat catcher."

  • Metaphor

After the enraged Romeo kills Tybalt, he calls himself "fortune's fool," a metaphor (comparison in which one thing/person is equated for another quality, person, thing) for his being a victim of fate.

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