In what situations in Romeo and Juliet does Shakespeare present honour as a constructive or destructive force?     

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rrteacher | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Throughout Romeo and Juliet, honor (and, for that matter, love) is shown to be destructive, or at best, a double-edged sword. The entire play is framed around a feud between the Montague and Capulet families, that is, like most feuds, based on family honor. The destructive nature of honor is perhaps most vividly portrayed in the death of Mercutio, killed by Tybalt. Mercutio hints at the absurdity of fighting and dying for honor in his death speech:

Help me into some house, Benvolio, or I shall faint. A plague o' both your houses!  They have made worm's meat of me: I have it, and soundly too: your houses!

On the other hand, Mercutio also chides Romeo for failing to live up to the obligations of honor in fighting Tybalt, and Romeo fulfills his debt to honor by killing Tybalt. Montague appeals to this concept of masculine honor in his defense of Romeo to the Prince:

Not Romeo, prince, he was Mercutio's friend; his fault concludes what the law should end, the death of Tybalt.

This passage indicates the degree to which honor, justice, and masculinity were entwined in the minds of Shakespeare's characters. Lady Capulet also appeals to this sense of masculine honor and justice when she demands that Romeo be killed, but the Prince opts for banishment instead.


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