Why do Tybalt and Benvolio fight?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the opening scene of the play, two of Lord Capulet's servants, Sampson and Gregory, pull out their swords when they see other servants from the house of Montague walking down the street. After Sampson disrespects Abram, one of Lord Montague's servants, the men begin arguing over whose master is better and start to fight. In an attempt to stop the fighting, Benvolio enters the scene and pulls out his sword. Unfortunately, Tybalt happens to walk by as the servants are fighting and notices that Benvolio has his sword drawn. Tybalt, who has a reputation as a hot-tempered, aggressive man, quickly draws his sword at the sight of his enemy, Benvolio. Tybalt misinterprets Benvolio's actions and tells him,

What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee, Benvolio. Look upon thy death (Shakespeare, 1.1.56-57).

Tybalt already has a deep-seated hatred for Benvolio because he is a Montague and immediately begins fighting him because he believes Benvolio attacked his servants. The fighting intensifies as both Lord Capulet and Montague enter the melee along with other citizens of Verona. Fortunately, Prince Escalus enters the scene and puts an end to the brawl by issuing a new edict that prohibits either family from fighting in the streets.

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the first scene of the play, Sampson and Gregory (Capulets) encounter Abram and another servant of the house of Montague, and they begin a fight over whose master is better.  Benvolio enters the scene, sees the fight, and he draws his sword in order to stop it.  He says, "Part, fools! / Put up your swords.  You know not what you do" (1.1.65-66).  As the root of his name (bene) implies, Benvolio is good and peace-loving.  He only draws his weapon in order to restore peace.

However, when Tybalt enters the scene and sees that Benvolio's weapon is out, he tells Benvolio to "Turn [...]; [and] look upon [his] death" (1.1.68).  Benvolio insists that he only wants to "keep the peace" and encourages Tybalt to put away his own weapon or use it to help him to part the fighting men.  Instead, Tybalt says he hates peace, the Montague family in general, and Benvolio specifically.  He shouts, "Have at thee, coward!" and presumably lunges toward Benvolio, and so the two fight until they are broken apart by other club-wielding citizens.  Essentially, then, Benvolio and Tybalt's fight is Tybalt's fault; he wanted to fight, and Benvolio did not.

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