How is honor shown in Romeo and Juliet?

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In Romeo and Juliet, honor plays a large part in killing off most of the characters. While the origins of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets is never revealed, it can be assumed that honor codes are what keeps it going. For most of the characters, honor means an eye for an eye, or sometimes even an eye for a mere insult, as when the Montague servants react with violence when the Capulet servants throw an obscene gesture their way. The young men of the Montague and Capulet families often come to blows, feeling they will lose their masculine pride should they turn the other cheek. Even the adults in these households cry for vengeance rather than reconciliation: famously, Lady Capulet wants to have Romeo killed for Tybalt's death, willing to do it on the sly when the Prince merely banishes Romeo rather than have him executed by the state.

On the other hand, honor is also shown as a potentially good and ennobling force. Juliet's sense of honor is what keeps her from marrying Paris and betraying her marriage to Romeo, even though it would be more socially convenient to do so. The Montagues and Capulets are wise enough to realize how their hatred has killed Romeo and Juliet at the end, and their sense of honor ultimately does lead to the end of the feud.

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On the surface, "honor" is what keeps the Capulets and the Montagues fighting in a bitter, deadly feud. Nobody seems to know what they are quarreling about anymore, but neither family will sacrifice its "honor" by walking away from the quarrel or attempting to make peace. This attitude is most clearly on display when Romeo tries to exercise restraint with Tybalt and avoid a sword fight. Mercutio intervenes hotly and cries out with emotion to his friend:

O calm, dishonorable, vile submission!

To Mercutio, not fighting is seen as dishonorable, a loss of status. Mercutio won't have it and battles Tybalt, losing his life for his honor.

This leads to Shakespeare's real point about honor: that honor comes through reconciliation and compassion, when the two families are finally sobered enough by the deaths of Romeo and Juliet to realize that have to end the senseless, bloody feud.

Shakespeare is ironic in his opening line when he refers to the feuding families as

Two households, both alike in dignity . . .

It is the false "dignity" of warfare, of the grown man Lord Capulet running out in a ridiculous way with his robes flying to join in a street brawl. This kind of honor, Shakespeare shows, leads to the waste of young lives full of hope and possibility. The families regain their true dignity and honor when they reconcile at the end with generosity of spirit.

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Honor is portrayed by the attitudes and actions of the Capulets and Montagues as they continue to feud and attempt to defend their family pride in front of their enemies. Shakespeare illustrates the disastrous effects of defending one's honor,...

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which can ruin lives and traumatize families. Tybalt depicts his honor and family pride by attempting to fight Romeo after the latter attends Lord Capulet's ball. When Tybalt challenges Romeo, Mercutio displays his honor by defending his friend and fighting Tybalt. Romeo also displays his honor after Tybalt kills Mercutio in act three, scene one by saying,

"Now, Tybalt, take the “villain” back againThat late thou gavest me, for Mercutio’s soul Is but a little way above our heads, Staying for thine to keep him company. Either thou or I, or both, must go with him" (Shakespeare, 3.1.87–91).

Romeo's fateful decision to avenge Mercutio's death illustrates his honor and pride and results in his exile.

Juliet's parents also display their honor by chastising their daughter for not agreeing to marry Paris. This motivates Juliet to visit Friar Lawrence, who gives her a sleeping potion that mimics the effects of death.

Paris also displays his honor by fighting Romeo at Juliet's tomb, which results in his unfortunate death.

Overall, Shakespeare illustrates how honor and pride have disastrous effects that lead to the demise of several members of the Capulet and Montague families.

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In this play, honor mostly boils down to family pride.  We never learn exactly why the Montagues and Capulets are feuding, and we only see them fight now over family honor or pride.  The first fight, in Act 1, scene 1, occurs because one man says that his master is better than the other's.  Tybalt gets incredibly angry when Romeo shows up, uninvited, to the Capulets' big party because he feels that the presence of a Montague dishonors his family.  He says to Lord Capulet, "Why, uncle, 'tis a shame" (1.5.92).  His pride is wounded by Romeo's audacity. 

Then, when Tybalt challenges Romeo the next day and Romeo refuses to fight, Mercutio gets involved because he sees Romeo's behavior as a "dishonorable, vile submission" (3.1.74).  Mercutio gets himself killed because he doesn't want Romeo to dishonor the Capulets with his unwillingness to fight, unwillingness that must look like cowardice to Mercutio.

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How does Shakespeare present honor in Romeo and Juliet?

In The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the theme of honor can be discussed from several different angles. First of all, honor exists amongst the members of both houses, and the individuals loyal to the Capulets and the Montagues uphold their honor to the families. As well, the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet, honor each other with their commitment, taking their promises to each other to an extreme. Finally, after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, both families honor their lost children by promising to honor each other as a way to mark and remember the untimely deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

The honor amongst the Capulets and the Montagues is observable even in the interactions between minor characters that represent each house, like the Capulet servants Gregory and Sampson, for example. Though their one-upmanship in the opening scene of the play is unhelpful in terms of maintaining peaceful relationships with the Montagues, it is very useful when analyzed as proof of the honor they feel as members of the Capulet household. Balthasar and Abram, who represent the Montagues, are similarly loyal to their household, and they engage in the brawl with the Capulet servants as a way to show honor to their house.

Romeo and Juliet, as the romantic leads of the title of the play, honor each other with their promises to be true to each other, even if being true means an early death. Romeo, though his dreamy personality and his past infatuations suggest an unreliability in his character, honors his word to Juliet, and this commitment to his pledge and to Juliet elevates their youthful love affair the the level of something sacred and profound.

Finally, the Capulets and the Montagues resolve their age-old conflict when they set aside their differences in order to come together to mourn the loss of their beloved youngsters. Had the conflict between the two houses not been so severe, Romeo and Juliet may met and fallen in love in an open and natural way, thus avoiding the tragedy of their deaths. By acknowledging that the rivalry between the two houses has caused the tragedy and by promising to resolve it for good, the Capulets and the Montagues honor the two young people who died for love.

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