What is Benvolio’s role in Act 3, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As in Act I, Benvolio acts as the voice of reason.

  • While they are in Verona's square, he urges Mercutio to retire with him, for the day is very hot and the Capulets are nearby. He fears that if they encounter the Capulets, they "shall not scape a brawl." His forewarning of trouble since there is increased tension between the families goes unheeded by Mercutio, however. Instead, Mercutio, who is in a playful mood, teases Benvolio:

Thou art like one of those fellows that when he enters the confines of a tavern claps me his sword upon the table and says "God send me no need of thee!" and by the operation of the second cup draws him on the drawer, when indeed there is no need. (3.1.5-9)

  • Ironically, Benvolio replies to Mercutio's teasing by contending that if he were as quarrelsome as Mercutio, his life would not be worth much. Indeed, Benvolio's words portend the exact result of the day: Tybalt comes along and Mercutio taunts Tybalt with words:

And but one word with one of us? couple it with
something: make it a word and a blow. (3.1.16-17)

  • Mercutio's temper flares; Benvolio again is reasonable, suggesting that they retire to "some private place" for their quarrel because they are being watched. Unfortunately, Mercutio and Tybalt do not listen. Instead, they continue quarreling until Romeo arrives and seeks to diffuse the situation. But, when Romeo tells Tybalt that he loves him, Tybalt is enraged and fights him; however, Romeo slays Tybalt.
  • After this, the rational Benvolio urges Romeo to flee.

Romeo, away, be gone! 
The citizens are up, and Tybalt slain.
Stand not amazed: the Prince will doom thee death,
If thou art taken: hence, be gone, away! (3.1.94-97)

  • When the Prince arrives, Benvolio again argues reasonably and tries to defuse the situation. He explains that it was Tybalt who started the fight, and Romeo calmly tried to make a truce with him, but Tybalt stabbed Mercutio instead. When Romeo saw that his dear friend Mercutio was killed, he then sought revenge and killed Tybalt; afterwards, he fled.

Sadly, Benvolio cannot help anyone and Romeo must stay out of Verona.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Benvolio’s role in Act 3, Scene 1 is to be the voice of reason. 

He tries to convince the others to leave the marketplace.  He wants to avoid a fight, when Romeo and Mercutio are only making matters worse.  Romeo tries to talk to Tybalt, and Mercutio fights him.  The result is that Mercutio ends up dead.  They should have listened to Benvolio.  He wanted to leave.

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. (Act 3, Scene 1)

Benvolio was aware that Tybalt, or at least some of the Capulets, might cause trouble.  He did not want to stay there in the marketplace where the trouble might find them.  Unfortunately, trouble did find them and quickly.  Mercutio teases him, and Tybalt shows up.  Benvolio knows that Mercutio will not back down from a fight.  He continues to try to get both Tybalt and Mercutio to calm down (“reason coldly of your grievances”) or at least get out of the market where everyone can see them.  He is well aware that the prince has banned dueling.  If they are caught fighting they will be in big trouble.  They were told, “If ever you disturb our streets again,/Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” (Act 1, Scene 1).  In other words, if you are caught fighting, you get the death penalty.

That won’t mean anything to Mercutio.  Tybalt kills him because when Tybalt tries to start a duel with Romeo, Mercutio comes to his aid and Romeo tries to intervene.  Mercutio is killed in the fray, and Romeo flees.  Technically, he should get the full punishment for that.  However, he is young and has a good reputation, and so he is only banished.  Unfortunately, he has just married Juliet and to him that is a fate worse than death.  They should have listened to Benvolio and left.