What does Romeo mean when he says that he loves Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet?

When Romeo says that he loves Tybalt in act 3, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet, he means that he now cares about Tybalt as one cares for a member of one's own family. Now that Romeo has married Juliet, he and Tybalt are related by marriage, though Tybalt does not know it. This is the reason Romeo refuses to fight him.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 3, scene 1, when Tybalt tries to goad Romeo into a duel, Romeo resists, claiming to hold love for Tybalt himself. (Note, however, that this does not prevent Romeo from later taking up arms, spurred on by vengeance after Tybalt slays Mercutio.)

The meaning behind these sentiments seems to derive from Romeo's secret marriage to Juliet, Tybalt's cousin. Thus, through the institution of marriage, Tybalt and Romeo would be understood as kin, and (when seen in these terms), killing Tybalt would thus mean killing a member of his own family (an element that Romeo seems to recognize, even if no one else in this scene would be aware of these details).

In this sense, this scene has a very interesting subtext and dynamic at play, by which Romeo and Juliet's secret marriage has actually placed both Tybalt and Romeo in a deeply problematic situation, given Tybalt's bloodthirsty hatred against Romeo himself: should the two duel and one kill the other, the winner would then become a killer of family. That only Romeo is aware of this dynamic does not change the fact that it is in force.

Of course, in the end, this does not prevent Romeo from killing Tybalt, an outcome that proves disastrous for his marriage with Juliet. As punishment, Romeo is banished from Verona, and meanwhile, Juliet finds herself under increased pressure to marry Paris, circumstances that will result in the tragic conclusion of the play.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 3, scene 1, Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel. He believes that Romeo has slighted the Capulet family’s honor by sneaking into their party the night before. Tybalt does not know, of course, that he and Romeo are now related by marriage, as Romeo hasmarried Tybalt’s cousin, Juliet. Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, saying that he “never injured” Tybalt and, actually, “love[s] [Tybalt] better than [Tybalt] canst devise” (3.1.70).

In other words, Romeo denies making any slight against the honor of Tybalt or the Capulets and declares that he actually loves Tybalt more than Tybalt can understand. Romeo says this because he now considers Tybalt family and because it behooves Romeo to try to smooth relations with the Capulets. Romeo and Juliet hope that, some day, they will be able to be together in the open, that their relationship might help to end the blood feud between their warring families. Even Friar Lawrence cited this hope as his reason to perform the marriage in secret.

Tybalt, of course, does not understand Romeo’s meaning and remains determined to fight. Even Romeo’s best friend, Mercutio, is confused by Romeo’s claims of love, interpreting Romeo’s refusal to fight Tybalt as cowardice.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Tybalt has been spoiling for a fight with Romeo, especially since seeing him flirting with Juliet, Tybalt's cousin. Tybalt dislikes the Montagues intensely and wants to defend Juliet against a lovelorn specimen like Romeo. Romeo, having already stormed the Capulet citadel, and having, unbeknownst to Tybalt or any other Capulet, married Juliet, very much wants to avoid a quarrel.

Tybalt is now no longer Romeo's enemy, but his cousin. When Romeo says he loves Tybalt, stating "I . . . love thee better than thou canst devise [imagine]," he means he loves Tybalt as a relative because he has married Juliet. Romeo also says he loves Tybalt to try to convince him that he really doesn't want a fight: if you love a person you don't want to try to kill him.

Of course, sidestepping a fight with Tybalt only opens the ground for Mercutio to step into the breach and get killed, leading Romeo to kill Tybalt after all.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 3, scene 1, Tybalt enters the scene looking for Romeo and is met by Mercutio, who attempts to defend Romeo from his presumed enemy. When Tybalt sees Romeo, he refers to him as a villain. Romeo attempts to calm Tybalt by telling him,

Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee Doth much excuse the appertaining rage To such a greeting. Villain am I none. Therefore, farewell. I see thou know’st me not (Shakespeare, 3.1.33-36).

When Tybalt challenges him to a duel, Romeo once again expresses his love for him by telling Tybalt,

I do protest I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise, Till thou shalt know the reason of my love (Shakespeare, 3.1.39-41).

Tybalt, like the other members of the Capulets and Montagues, is not aware that Romeo has married Juliet. The two lovers were forced to marry in secret because of the social pressure and ongoing feud between their families. Romeo tells Tybalt that he loves him because he is now part of Tybalt's family and related to him through marriage. Unfortunately, Romeo does not disclose this important information in time, and Mercutio ends up fighting Tybalt. In an attempt to stop the fight, Romeo obstructs Mercutio's view, allowing Tybalt to stab and kill him. In a fit of rage, Romeo ends up killing Tybalt and is banished from Verona.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial