What are the themes in Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1, and why are they important?

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favoritethings's profile pic

favoritethings | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The themes of honor and pride are presented in this scene from both the Capulets and the Montagues.  Tybalt believes that Romeo insulted his family's honor when he went to the Capulets' celebration on the night prior, and so he's seeking Romeo in order to challenge him to a fight.  When Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, his new relative by marriage, Mercutio interprets this as cowardice and a lack of honor on Romeo's part, and he calls it a "dishonorable, vile submission" (3.1.74).  He steps in to fight Tybalt himself, and when Tybalt kills Mercutio, stabbing him under Romeo's arm when Romeo attempts to break up the fight, Romeo feels that he must avenge his friend's defeat and protect his honor by fighting Tybalt.  He resents Tybalt because he is "Alive in triumph, and Mercutio slain!" (3.1.127).  Thus, Tybalt's pride and sense of family honor compels him to fight Romeo; Mercutio's pride compels him to fight in Romeo's stead when he feels that his friend is behaving dishonorably; and Romeo's honor compels him to kill his friend's murderer.

These themes are important, in part, because they are really the foundation of the feud between the two families.  No altercation in the text takes place for any other reason -- neither the Capulets nor Montagues do anything worse than wound the pride or insult the honor of the other family -- and yet, so many people for such a small thing.

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Noelle Matteson | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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This scene shows the heart of the conflict between the Capulets and Montagues as well as the rashness of young men. It also foreshadows the play’s tragic conclusion.

Benvolio predicts a “brawl”: “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.” However, Mercutio seems to be looking for a fight, accusing Benvolio of attacking others over the smallest problems: “thou hast quarrelled with a man for coughing in the street, because he hath wakened thy dog that hath lain asleep in the sun.” This accusation mirrors the entire feud between the Capulets and Montagues. The audience does not even know why the two households clash, and battles break out over the slightest provocations.

Tybalt appears, and he and Mercutio refuse to listen to reason. They scrap until Tybalt slays Mercutio when Romeo attempts to make peace between the two. Mercutio famously declares, “A plague o' both your houses!” Though he started the altercation, he can see that this is a cycle of violence perpetuated by the two families who “have made worms’ meat of” him, just as they make “worms’ meat” of many others throughout the play.

Romeo sets on Tybalt “like lightning,” another example of youthful impetuosity. Romeo had tried to ignore Tybalt’s taunts, telling him, “[I] love thee better than thou canst devise.” Unfortunately, anger overcomes love, demonstrating the power of enmity. Even the peaceful are drawn into the conflict. Romeo condemns Juliet’s beauty for making him “effeminate” and weak in the face of a dispute.

Romeo senses that this is the beginning of the end for him: “This day's black fate on more days doth depend; / This but begins the woe, others must end.” The prince exiles Romeo for killing Tybalt, and Romeo kills Paris and himself after Juliet fakes her death. In turn, Juliet commits suicide. This scene is central to the the play’s themes of fate, tragedy, and violence.

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ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Several themes begin to come together in this scene. When Tybalt challenges and insults Romeo, his new love has causes Romeo to behave differently. He tries to get out of the fight by saying, “I do protest I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise.”Thus, Shakespeare sets the theme of love against the theme of revenge. But when Romeo’s ends up killing Tybalt , it is also turning point of the play. The theme of fate reappears. Because of this act, Romeo will be banished, and there is no chance that he and Juliet will be able to reveal their marriage to their feuding parents. After the murders take place, the circumstances of the lovers is really out of their hands. Fate has carried theme to an untenable situation.

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