What do swords represent in Romeo and Juliet?

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the very beginning of the play swords take on a sexual connotation. In Act I, Scene 1 the Capulet men, Gregory and Sampson, make a crude joke about raping the Montague women and use references to the male genitals. Sampson says,

Me they shall feel while I am able to stand,
and ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.
On the heels of this conversation the Montague men approach and the two Capulets refer to their swords as "tools" and Sampson says,
My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back
thee.
For Gregory and Sampson, then, swords are very much an extension of their manhood and they use them to intimidate their opponents. It's also interesting that when Lord Capulet goes for his sword, he calls it a "long sword", in contrast to the simple "swords" of his servants, suggesting that class distinction is an important element in the play.
 
In Act III, Scene 1 Mercutio refers to swords playfully. When he is joking about how Benvolio is a fighter (Shakespeare being ironic, since Mercutio is really the hothead) he says that Benvolio is likely to put his sword on the bar of a tavern and, after having a drink, use it on the bartender:
Thou art like one of these 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.
A little later in the scene, while he is punning on the word "consort" (a group of people who associate with each other or a group of musicians) Mercutio grabs his sword and calls it his "fiddlestick", telling Tybalt,
Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels?
An thou make minstrels of us, look to hear
nothing but discords. Here’s my fiddlestick; here’s
that shall make you dance. Zounds, consort!
Like everything else in the play swords become another vehicle for Shakespeare to display his keen ability to use figurative language.