Discussion Topic

The characterization and role of Tybalt and Benvolio in illustrating conflict in Romeo and Juliet

Summary:

Tybalt and Benvolio illustrate the conflict in Romeo and Juliet through their contrasting personalities and actions. Tybalt, aggressive and hot-headed, embodies the ongoing feud between the Montagues and Capulets. In contrast, Benvolio, who is peace-loving and rational, often attempts to defuse tensions and prevent violence. Their interactions highlight the destructive nature of the family rivalry and the impact of impulsive behavior.

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How are Tybalt and Benvolio presented in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet?

Tybalt and Benvolio are actually presented as dramatic foils. A dramatic foil is a character whose traits are the exact opposite of another character's, thereby serving to "highlight or emphasize" the opposing character's traits (Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Terms and Definitions: F"). We can especially see how their traits oppose each others' in the opening scene.

In Act 1, Scene 1, Benvolio is portrayed as one of the only rationally-minded characters in the play, as well as a peacekeeper. We especially see this when Bevolio rushes to part the battling servants, saying, "Part, fools! / Put up your swords. You know not what you do" (I.i.59-60). These lines reveal a great deal about his moral stance on fighting and his character. His choice to call the servants "fools" shows us that, with respect to his hesitancy to fight, he considers himself to be intellectually and ethically above the fighting servants. In addition, his line, "You know not what you do," shows us that, due to his character, he has morally judged the servants' desire to fight as both wrong and stupid.

Tybalt stands in great contrast to Benvolio in this scene. He proves to be the exact opposite of Benvolio in terms of both his quickness to fight and his quickness to judge a situation. When Tybalt sees Benvolio with his sword drawn, Tybalt is quick to assume that Benvolio is fighting with the servants rather than to notice that Benvolio is actually trying to stop them and establish peace. As we see in Tybalt's lines, "What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? / Turn thee, Benvolio! look upon thy death," Tybalt has assumed that Benvolio has drawn his sword to fight with the servants (61-62). Not only that, as we can see in his line, "Turn thee, Benvolio! look upon thy death," Tybalt's own motive for joining the fight is the complete opposite of Benvolio's. Rather than wanting to establish peace, Tybalt wants to fight to the death. These lines portray Tybalt as having a fiery temper and rash mind, which is the exact opposite of Benvolio's calm, peace-loving temper, and his rational mind.

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How do Tybalt and Benvolio represent conflict in Romeo and Juliet?

Tybalt was Juliet's older cousin and as such a saw himself as her protector and laid claim to interfering in her personal relationships. He despises Romeo because of the ongoing feud between the houses of Capulet and Montague, but also because he knows Romeo has recently had a Lover (Rosaline) before becoming infatuated with Juliet. Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, but omen refuses because he has secretly married Juliet and is now related to Tybalt. But when Mercutio, Romeo's friend, engages in combat with Tybalt, he is killed, and Romeo flies into a rage and kills Tybalt. This results in Romeo's banishment, although if not for Benvolio's interference, Romeo might have been put to death for this offense.

Tybalt's name is similar to the world "tumult" suggesting he may be a cause of conflict; likewise Benvolio's name means literally "do-gooer" or peacemaker. These two characters represent the continuum of the conflict surrounding this age-old feud. Tybalt is opposed to anyone from the House of Montague simply on principle, and the idea of one of them marrying his cousin is unacceptable and infuriating. Conversely, Benvolio believes people should be judged on their own merits and encourages the enemies to resolve their differences and try to co-exist.

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What is the conflict between Romeo and Tybalt?

The bitter conflict between Romeo and Tybalt is impossible to conceive without their being part of warring families involved in a long-standing, bloody feud. Romeo is a Montague, and Tybalt is a Capulet. Simply by virtue of being on opposite sides of this deadly feud, Romeo and Tybalt are sworn enemies.

Even so, it's Tybalt who's much more committed to the maintenance of the feud. A dangerous young man with a thirst for violence, Tybalt has a vested interest in keeping the feud going, which he intends to do by killing Romeo.

For his part, Romeo is much less concerned with the feud, as can be seen by the fact that he's fallen head-over-heels in love with Juliet, who as well as being a Capulet also happens to be Tybalt's first cousin. But try as he might, Romeo can't avoid being sucked into the bitter quarrel between the two families.

This is because Tybalt, hot-tempered and full of hate as usual, has attacked Romeo's best friend, Mercutio. Romeo tries to stop the violence, but in the ensuing melee, Tybalt fatally stabs Mercutio underneath Romeo's arm. Romeo didn't want this, but now he has no choice; he has to engage Tybalt in a duel. And in that duel, Romeo gains revenge for Mercutio's death by killing Tybalt, thus ensuring his banishment from Verona as a punishment.

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Why do Tybalt and Benvolio fight in Romeo and Juliet?

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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Why do Tybalt and Benvolio fight in Romeo and Juliet?

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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In Act I of Romeo and Juliet, how are Benvolio and Tybalt characterized?

BENVOLIO

A cousin and friend of Romeo's, Benvolio is usually the voice of reason for the more emotional Romeo. In Act I, he judiciously tells the street brawlers, 

Part, fools!
Put up your swords; you know not what you do. (1.1.54-55)

After Lord Montague rushes out to the street, Benvolio offers him a calm, rational, and blameless explanation of the situation, telling him that the Capulet servants were fighting with theirs when the fiery Tybalt Capulet entered and wielded his sword against him. Benvolio adds that they were only exchanging "thrusts and blows...Till the Prince came" and parted them. Then, when Romeo's father asks about his son's whereabouts, Benvolio replies that he has seen Romeo wandering in the Sycamore grove, but does not know the reason he shuns company. After Benvolio promises Lord Montague that he will learn what troubles Romeo, Lord Montague then exits.

When Romeo approaches, Benvolio stops him and with great solicitude he inquires about the cause of Romeo's melancholy. Romeo finally reveals that he is "out" of love as the woman does not love him. In an effort to cheer Romeo, Benvolio makes light of what he has said,

Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,
Sould be so tyrannous and rough in proof! (1.1.159-160)

But, when he realizes that Romeo is truly despondent, Benvolio sympathizes, saying that he "rather weep" at Romeo's "good heart oppression" (173-175). Further, he tries to cheer Romeo by teasing him. For instance, when Romeo tells Benvolio that the woman he loves is beautiful, Benvolio becomes a little bawdy: "A right fair mark, fair coz, is soonest hit" (1.1.198). But, when Romeo remains despondent, Benvolio suggests that he look elsewhere in order to forget about his unrequited love; there is a feast at the Capulet's where "admired beauties of Verona" will be. 

But in that crystal scales let there be weigh'd 
Your lady's love against some other maid
That I will show yon shining at this feast (1.1.98-100)

TYBALT

A volatile cousin of Juliet, Tybalt has an irrational hatred for the Montagues. (In Luhrmann's 1996 film, Tybalt enters dressed in a devil's costume.) His first words display well his choleric temperament as he accosts Benvolio:

What drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee:
Have at thee, coward! (1.1.56-58)

Tybalt does not reappear until Scene 5 when he spots Romeo at the feast. When he does, he immediately calls for his sword as he is incensed that Romeo would dare to come wearing a mask--"an antic face"--and "scorn our solemnity" (1.5.55). Because his character is one of loyalty (recall his impassioned defense of Juliet and the family), Tybalt feels justified in killing Romeo: "To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin" (1.5.61). His anger grows as he informs his uncle that a foe has come to "scorn at our solemnity this night" (1.5.65). Lord Capulet tells him to leave Romeo alone because the time is wrong: "You'll make a mutiny among my guests!" (1.5.79). Tybalt agrees to withdraw, but Romeo's prank will be paid for later.

I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall
Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall. (1.5.90-91)
This reaction of Tybalt certainly foreshadows the violence to come, and it also indicates his single-mindedness. He is constantly in a state of rage whenever he is confronted with a Montague.
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In Act I of Romeo and Juliet, how are Benvolio and Tybalt characterized?

Benvolio, a member of the Montague family, establishes himself as a peacemaker in Act 1.  Primarily, his name suggest that he is a good person, as "ben" is a Latin root meaning "good."  During the brawl with the Capulets, Benvolio attempts to stop the fighting.  When he is provoked by Tybalt, Benvolio says, "I do but keep the peace.  Put up thy sword,/ Or manage it to part these ment with me" (1.1.68-69).  In response, Tybalt scoffs at Benvolio's statement, saying, "What, drawn and talk of peace?  I hate the word/ As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee" (1.1.71-72).  Clearly, these two characters are foils for each other, as their behavior is markedly different.

Romeo's secret behavior stems from his love for Rosaline, a woman who will not return this affection. 

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