Why is Tybalt seeking a fight with Romeo in Romeo and Juliet?
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet opens with an image of feuding violence. In the prologue, the Chorus proclaims, “Two households, both alike in dignity / (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” The Chorus introduces the ongoing hostility between the Montagues and Capulets, a rivalry that is “ancient.” Therefore, before the play even begins, the audience is aware of the enmity between the two families, so it is not surprising for Tybalt, a Capulet, to want to fight Romeo, a Montague.
The reasons for the feud between Tybalt and Romeo arrive early in Act 1 Scene 1, where Tybalt enters and refers to the servants of the Montague house as “heartless hinds,” an alliteration that means the servants are worthless. When prompted to put down his sword, Tybalt states, “What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, / As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee” (I. i. 60-61). In a simile that compares his hatred of peace to his hatred of hell, Tybalt reveals the deep-rooted anger he has toward members of the Montague house. Further, his persistence to still fight despite being presented with a peace accord shows that Tybalt blindly follows the traditions of his ancestors, a point that gains more significance at the conclusion of the play when Romeo and Juliet die as a result of their families’ long-standing feud.
Then, in Act 1 Scene 5, Tybalt becomes angered at Romeo’s presence at the Capulet ball. Tybalt delivers the following lines to his uncle:
This, by his voice, should be a Montague.—
(to his PAGE) Fetch me my rapier, boy.—
What, dares the slave
Come hither, covered with an antic face,
To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?
Now, by the stock and honor of my kin,
To strike him dead I hold it not a sin (I. iv. 52-58)
Again indoctrinated with the ancient feud of his ancestors, Tybalt is furious that Romeo has come to the party and he professes that it is not a crime to kill him. Tybalt repeatedly refers to Romeo as a “villain” and boils with anger. However, Capulet, Tybalt’s uncle, orders Tybalt to leave Romeo alone and to not start a fight. Tybalt states, “Patience perforce with willful choler meeting / Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting. / I will withdraw, but his intrusion shall / Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall” (I. iv. 88-91). Tybalt agrees to let Romeo attend the banquet without any conflict, but promises to exact revenge on him at a later time. Thus, he tries to fight Romeo in Act 3, Scene 1, where the pair finally engage in a duel and Tybalt dies.
Tybalt is seeking a fight with Romeo because he is a Montague and came to Juliet’s ball.
As we learned in the prologue, there is a long-running feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Tybalt, who Lord Capulet describes as “saucy,” has a fiery temper. He takes the feud very seriously. He is not willing to forgive Romeo’s appearance at the ball, even though Capulet says that he has a good reputation. He tells Tybalt not to fight Romeo because it will upset the guests.
Tybalt doesn’t fight Romeo at the ball, not wanting to make his uncle angrier at him. However, it is clear that he is not done with Romeo.
Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting
Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting.
I will withdraw: but this intrusion shall
Now seeming sweet convert to bitter gall. (Act 1, Scene 5)
Later, Tybalt finds Romeo in the street. He is with Benvolio and Mercutio. Romeo is in love with Juliet, and secretly married to her. He also just doesn’t like fighting in general. He was sad when he saw the aftermath of the brawl in the marketplace. For these reasons, he is not willing to fight Tybalt.
Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford
No better term than this,--thou art a villain.
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. (Act 3, Scene 1)
Romeo’s reaction to Tybalt’s attack demonstrates that he is not in feud-mindset. Tybalt doesn’t know that he married Juliet. It would probably only make him angrier. Tybalt wants to fight Romeo, but Romeo won’t fight back, so Mercutio intervenes. Mercutio is accidentally killed, and Romeo ends up fighting Tybalt after all. It is his responsibility to avenge his friend’s death. Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished.