Romeo and Juliet Act III, Scenes 1–2: Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act III, Scenes 1–2: Summary and Analysis

Act III, Scene 1

Act III opens on a sweltering day on the streets of Verona. As he walks with Mercutio, Benvolio suggests that they go inside to avoid both the heat and the Capulets that are wandering the streets looking for a fight. Mercutio replies that Benvolio himself is quick to fight and should not pretend otherwise by preaching restraint. Suddenly, Tybalt appears, accompanied by several of his men. Tybalt approaches Mercutio and Benvolio, saying he needs to talk to them. Mercutio taunts Tybalt, but before their fight can escalate further, Romeo appears. Tybalt, who has been looking for Romeo, calls him a “villain”—remember that Tybalt has challenged Romeo to a duel for his trespass at the Capulet party. Romeo (who is now married to Juliet, Tybalt’s cousin) cryptically tells Tybalt that he will excuse these insults because he now has a reason to love Tybalt. Refusing to be denied, Tybalt orders Romeo to draw his sword and duel. Romeo insists that he has no quarrel with Tybalt, whose Capulet name is now as dear as his own. Calling Romeo’s submission dishonorable, Mercutio intervenes and challenges Tybalt to a fight himself. They begin duelling even as Romeo begs them to stop, reminding them that the Prince has forbidden fighting in the streets. Increasingly desperate, Romeo throws himself between the two men to act as a human barrier. Tybalt uses this distraction to his advantage, stabbing Mercutio under Romeo’s arm before fleeing with his men. Romeo laments this unfortunate turn of events and decides that his love for Juliet has made him unacceptably effeminate. Mercutio’s wound proves fatal, and he dies cursing the Capulets and the Montagues. Unexpectedly, Tybalt reappears, and Romeo, enraged by the sight of his friend’s murderer, engages Tybalt and kills him. As people begin to pour out onto the streets, Benvolio tells Romeo to run, reminding him that the Prince will have him executed for breaking the peace. Romeo flees the scene after declaring that he is “fortune’s fool.”

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The Prince appears along with Lord Capulet, Lord Montague, their wives, and their men. Enraged by the bloody scene before him, the Prince demands to know who started the fight. Benvolio truthfully relates what happened, explaining that Romeo refused to fight Tybalt until Tybalt killed Mercutio. Distraught over her nephew’s death, Lady Capulet demands that Romeo be killed for his crime. Lord Montague points out that as Tybalt had broken the Prince’s law first, Romeo only killed someone who would have been executed anyways. The Prince takes the context of Tybalt’s death into account and decrees that Romeo’s punishment will be banishment, not death. The Prince goes on to say that he too is now personally involved in the feud as Mercutio, his relative, lies dead because of it. He vows to punish the families for this crime and warns the Montagues that Romeo must leave the city immediately or be killed.

Act III, Scene 2

Unaware of the bloody scene that has just taken place, Juliet sits in her room and impatiently waits for nightfall so that she and Romeo may consummate their marriage. Suddenly, the Nurse bursts in, distraught over Tybalt’s death. In her agitated state, the Nurse poorly explains what has transpired, leading Juliet to believe for a moment that both Romeo and Tybalt are dead. When Juliet finally learns what really happened, she bemoans this cruel twist of fate, declaring the Romeo’s actions were in total opposition to the person she thought he was. The Nurse agrees, saying, “Shame come to Romeo!” Hearing this, Juliet changes her mind and defends Romeo to the Nurse, admitting that she already regrets criticizing him herself. Turning to the subject of Romeo’s banishment, Juliet complains that this news is far worse than the news of Tybalt’s death. Juliet resigns herself to the idea that she will die a virgin, but the Nurse reveals that Romeo is hiding at Friar Laurence ’s cell and promises to go fetch him so that the...

(The entire section is 1,833 words.)