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-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Romeo and Juliet Navigator:

Detailed Summary of Act 3, Scene 1

Page Index:

Enter Mercutio, Benvolio, Page, and Servants:
The day is hot, and Benvolio and Mercutio are hanging out on the streets of Verona, but Benvolio is a little nervous. He knows that the Capulets are out "And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl; / For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring" (3.1.3-4). Apparently Mercutio doesn't want to believe his buddy is afraid of a fight, so he tries to kid Benvolio into a different frame of mind. He says that Benvolio is like a fellow who goes into a tavern, slaps his sword on the table and says loudly that he hopes he doesn't have to use that sword. This fellow, "by the operation of the second cup draws it on the drawer, when indeed there is no need" (3.1.8-9). The "operation of the second cup" would make this fellow only slightly drunk, but that would be enough to make him draw his sword on the the bartender ("drawer"), who would be the last person in the world to pick a fight.

More amused than convinced, Benvolio asks "Am I like such a fellow?" (3.1.10). Mercutio replies, "Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood as any in Italy, and as soon moved to be moody, and as soon moody to be moved" (3.1.11-13). "Moody" means both "moody" and "angry"; "moved" means "motivated." Mercutio, with a jocular play on these words, means that Benvolio is as much a hot-head as any man in Italy, quick to anger, and always looking for a reason to be angry.

Benvolio is enjoying Mercutio's wit, and leads him on by playing dumb; he asks "And what to?" (3.1.14), as though he doesn't understand that Mercutio means he is quickly moved to be angry. Mercutio, however, wittily takes Benvolio's "to" to mean "two," and declares that if "there were two such [men such as Benvolio] , we should have none shortly, for one would kill the other" (3.1.15-16). Then Mercutio delivers a mocking diatribe on all of the excuses Benvolio has supposedly had for quarreling. Benvolio has quarreled because a man had exactly one hair more or less in in his beard than Benvolio had. Benvolio has quarreled with a man who was cracking nuts, for the reason that Benvolio has hazel eyes (and "hazelnut" is another name for filbert). Benvolio's head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of yoke, even though Benvolio's head "hath been beaten as addle [crazy, rotten] as an egg for quarrelling" (3.1.23-24). Benvolio has quarreled with a man whose coughing woke up Benvolio's dog, with a tailor for wearing a new jacket before Easter, and with a man who used old shoelaces on new shoes. Mercutio's conclusion is that Benvolio has absolutely no right to advise him not to quarrel.

Benvolio is probably laughing, but he knows which one of them is the quarreler. He says, "An I were so apt to quarrel as thou art, any man should buy the fee-simple of my life for an hour and a quarter" (3.1.31-33). "Fee-simple" means "absolute possession by outright purchase"; how you purchase a life for 75 minutes is not clear, but the point of Benvolio's little joke is clear. He means that if he were as much of a quarreler as Mercutio is, his life wouldn't last more that 75 minutes. (Ironically, Benvolio is more than right; Mercutio's life lasts for about another ten minutes.) Mercutio responds by scoffing at the lameness of Benvolio's joke: "The fee-simple! O simple!" (3.1.34) .

Enter Tybalt, Petruchio, and others:
As Mercutio and Benvolio are exchanging witticisms about quarreling, Tybalt appears, looking for a quarrel with Romeo. Benvolio exclaims, "By my head, here come the Capulets" (3.1.35), and Mercutio responds, "By my heel, I care not" (3.1.36). Benvolio is alarmed, but Mercutio is tough; his "by my heel" implies that if it comes to a fight he's the one who's going to put his opponent under his heel.

Approaching Mercutio and Benvolio, Tybalt tells his followers to stay close to him, as though he feels the need for back-up in case there's trouble, but his words are polite: "Gentlemen, good den: a word with one of you" (3.1.38). In no mood for politeness, Mercutio answers, "And but one word with one of us? couple it with something; make it a word and a blow" (3.1.39-40). Tybalt says he'll do that if Mercutio gives him a reason, and Mercutio taunts him by asking if he can't find a reason on his own. Mercutio is trying to pick a fight, but he doesn't quite succeed because Tybalt is intent on catching up with Romeo. Tybalt says, "Mercutio, thou consort'st with Romeo,--" (3.1.45), only to be interrupted by Mercutio's exclamation, "Consort! what, dost thou make us minstrels?" (3.1.46). "Consort'st with" means "associate with," but it could also mean "sing in concert with"; Mercutio deliberately takes it in the second sense and acts highly insulted. Still trying to pick a fight, Mercutio draws his sword and says it's the fiddlestick to whose music Tybalt will dance.

Benvolio tries to calm things down by telling Mercutio and Tybalt that they shouldn't fight in public. He asks them to take the quarrel to some private place, or talk it out, or just walk away. Mercutio, however, has his hackles up and declares, "Men's eyes were made to look, and let them gaze; / I will not budge for no man's pleasure, I." (3.1.54-55).

Enter Romeo:
Given what we know of Tybalt, it seems a little odd that Mercutio isn't able to provoke him to a fight, but the reason becomes clear when Romeo shows up. Tybalt is totally focused on Romeo; as soon as he sees Romeo, Tybalt blows off Mercutio, saying, "Well, peace be with you, sir: here comes my man" (3.1.56). Now Mercutio is insulted on behalf of Romeo. He says, "But I'll be hanged, sir, if he wear your livery: / Marry, go before to field, he'll be your follower; / Your worship in that sense may call him 'man'" (3.1.57-59). A gentleman would refer to his servant as "my man," and a gentleman's servants, who wore his "livery" (a kind of uniform), were referred to as his "followers"; Mercutio is saying that Romeo is no servant to Tybalt, and that the only way Romeo will be a "follower" of Tybalt is if he follows him to the field of battle for a duel.

Tybalt ignores Mercutio to confront Romeo with the ultimate in sarcastic disrespect: "Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford / No better term than this: thou art a villain" (3.1.60-61). However, Romeo doesn't react at all as expected. He answers, "Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee / Doth much excuse the appertaining rage / To such a greeting" (3.1.62-64). "The appertaining rage" is the anger anyone would be expected to feel at being insulted. Romeo is saying that he has a reason to love Tybalt and therefore he's going to overlook the insult. He then says he's not a villain, and starts to leave. Nothing could exasperate Tybalt more. He didn't come looking for words of love; he came for a fight. He tries again: "Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries / That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw" (3.1.66-67). Romeo does turn, but he does not draw. Instead he gives Tybalt more loving words: "I do protest [swear] I never injured thee, / But love thee better than thou canst devise [understand], / Till thou shalt know the reason of my love" (3.1.68-70). Romeo adds that he loves the name "Capulet" as dearly as his own, and asks Tybalt to be satisfied with that.

Of course we know that Romeo loves the name "Capulet" because he's just married one, but to the other young men it looks like Romeo has just turned into a wuss. Mercutio is outraged and exclaims, "O calm, dishonourable, vile submission! / Alla stoccata carries it away" (3.1.73-74). "Alla stoccata" is a fencing term meaning "at the thrust"; Mercutio thinks that Tybalt's tough-guy act has cowed Romeo.

Mercutio wanted to fight Tybalt before Romeo showed up, and now he wants to fight him even more. Mercutio says, "Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?" (3.1.75). "Rat-catcher" is a sneer at Tybalt's name, because it the same as the name of the King of Cats in the beast fable of Reynard the Fox. "Will you walk?" is a conventional phrase meaning "Let's go someplace where we can settle this," although Mercutio doesn't want to "walk" anyplace -- he wants to fight Tybalt right there in the street. Tybalt asks, "What wouldst thou have with me?" (3.1.76), but Mercutio's intention is clear, so Tybalt is probably asking if Mercutio is serious about fighting him. At any rate, Tybalt's question provides Mercutio with an opportunity to deliver another witty insult: "Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives; that I mean to make bold withal, and as you shall use me hereafter, drybeat the rest of the eight" (3.1.77-80). This statement is a bit obscure. "Make bold withal" means "use as it pleases me"; "as you shall use me hereafter" means "according to how you treat me afterwards"; to "dry-beat" someone is to use the flat of a sword on that person, more to humiliate than to hurt. Put all this together, and it seems to mean something like this: "What I will have of you, Pussy, is one of your nine lives, and if taking that life away from you doesn't make you treat me right, then I'll just have to dry-beat your other eight lives." This would make more sense if Tybalt really did have nine lives, but it's clear that Mercutio is telling Tybalt that he will kick his butt. Mercutio follows this up with an insulting pun on the word "ears": "Will you pluck your sword out of his pilcher [scabbard] by the ears? make haste, lest mine be about your ears ere it be out" (3.1.80-82). If something has to be pulled by its ears to make it come, it really doesn't want to come, and if Tybalt's sword doesn't want to come out of the scabbard, that's because Tybalt doesn't really want to fight.

Mercutio's volley of insults, just as he intended, starts a fight. As soon as it starts, Romeo tries to stop it. He asks Mercutio to put up his sword, and he asks Benvolio to draw his sword in order to beat down the swords of Mercutio and Tybalt. He tells both combatants that they're doing a shameful thing and reminds them that this is the very thing the Prince has forbidden. None of this does any good. What happens next is often staged like this: After several exchanges of thrusts and parries, both Mercutio and Tybalt are in the en garde position, sizing each other up. At this moment Romeo rushes forward from Mercutio's right, putting his left hand on Mercutio's right hand, which holds his sword, and his right hand on Mercutio's shoulder. As Romeo tries to push Mercutio away from the action, Tybalt thrusts under Romeo's right arm into the unprotected left of Mercutio's chest, straight into the heart. Then, having stabbed Mercutio in this cowardly manner, Tybalt panics and runs.

With that hole in his heart, Mercutio will be dead in less than three minutes, and he begins to suspect the truth almost at once. He says, "I am hurt. / A plague o' both your houses! I am sped. / Is he gone, and hath nothing? (3.1.90-92). "Sped" means "done for," and the dying Mercutio feels cheated. Neither the house of Capulet nor the house of Montague is worth dying for, and Tybalt has gotten away without a scratch.

Mercutio's puncture wound is fatal, but most of bleeding is probably internal, and everything has happened so quickly that Benvolio hasn't caught on. He asks, "What, art thou hurt? (3.1.92). Mercutio replies with bitter irony, "Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch; marry, 'tis enough" (3.1.93). Tybalt, the man with a cat's name, has only scratched him -- or at least that's what it looks like -- but the scratch is enough to kill him. Mercutio sends his page for a doctor, and Romeo tries to reassure his friend by saying, "Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much" (3.1.95). To this, Mercutio answers with more irony; his wound isn't as deep as a well or as wide as a church door, but it will do. Feeling his life slip away, Mercutio can still pun about himself and his fate. He says, "Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man" (3.1.97-98). Mercutio, who is always joking and never grave, will be grave tomorrow. Then the senselessness of it all comes rushing into upon him. He curses the houses of Capulet and Montague; he curses Tybalt, and asks Romeo, "Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm" (3.1.102-103). Romeo answers that he was only trying to do what he thought best, but Mercutio isn't listening. He asks Benvolio to help him into a house before he collapses, and as Benvolio does so, Mercutio continues to curse "Your houses!" (3.1.108).

Now Romeo is alone for a moment. (The opening stage direction of the scene says that Mercutio and Benvolio are accompanied by servants, who might still be there, but Romeo is speaking to no one but himself.) Romeo feels ashamed of himself, because his friend has gotten "his mortal hurt / In my behalf; my reputation stain'd / With Tybalt's slander" (3.1.110-112). He is ashamed that he let Tybalt slander him by calling him "villain," but more ashamed that Mercutio is dying because he fought Romeo's fight. Romeo says, "O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper soften'd valour's steel!" (3.1.113-115). Your "temper" is your natural disposition, the combination of all of your qualities; one of these qualities for a man is a valor, which should be as hard as steel. Romeo is ashamed that love has softened his valor.

In a moment Benvolio brings the news that Mercutio is dead, and Romeo says, "This day's black fate on more days doth depend; / This but begins the woe, others must end" (3.1.119-120). "On . . . depend" means "hang or hover over"; it's as if Romeo is envisioning the death of Mercutio as a dark thunderhead, racing across the sky above him and into the unknown future. Romeo knows he has reached a point of no return; he will fight Tybalt to avenge Mercutio, but he knows that that won't be the end of anything.

Tybalt returns, and Romeo gives himself over to his anger, saying to himself, "Away to heaven, respective lenity, / And fire-eyed fury be my conduct [guide] now!" (3.1.123-124). The "respect" in "respective" means what it does in the phrase "in that respect"; the meaning of "respective" is closer to "thoughtful" than to "respectful." Thus "Respective lenity" is the leniency with which Romeo treated Tybalt before, because Romeo was newly married to a Capulet. Now Romeo is sending all of that "respective" stuff to heaven (we'd send it to hell) and promising to be guided only by his fury. He challenges Tybalt, telling him that Mercutio's soul is only a little way above their heads, waiting for Tybalt's soul to join it. He says, "Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him" (3.1.129). Romeo is determined to fight to the death.

Sometimes in performance this sword fight is a long drawn-out affair, but if the fight goes on for a long time, the mood of the scene will be broken. Events have been rushing in upon Romeo and the scene should probably show that Romeo's passion quickly overcomes Tybalt's technique. As soon as this happens and Tybalt falls, Romeo stands in a daze. Benvolio tries to snap him out of it, saying "Stand not amazed: the prince will doom thee death, / If thou art taken: hence, be gone, away!" (3.1.134-35) . "Hence," "be gone," and "away" all mean the same thing; in modern parlance, Benvolio is saying "come on,"COME ON," "COME ON!" But Romeo cries out "O, I am fortune's fool!" (3.1.136) before Benvolio gets him to leave.

Benvolio stays behind as Romeo runs away and citizens begin to appear, looking for the murderer of Mercutio. There's a moment of macabre humor as one citizen orders the dead Tybalt -- in the Prince's name -- to stand up and go with him. Then the Prince himself appears.

Enter Prince, attended; Montague, Capulet, their Wives, and others:
Prince Escalus once again has to deal with the Capulets and Montagues, and he gets right to the point: "Where are the vile beginners of this fray?" (3.1.141). Benvolio declares that he can explain it all and, pointing to dead Tybalt, says that he killed Mercutio and was killed by Romeo. Seeing the body of her nephew, Lady Capulet flies into a paroxysm of grief and rage, crying out, "Tybalt, my cousin! O my brother's child!" (3.1.146), and demanding revenge: "Prince, as thou art true, / For blood of ours, shed blood of Montague" (3.1.148-149).

Ignoring Lady Capulet, the Prince repeats his first question: "Benvolio, who began this bloody fray?" (3.1.151). Benvolio tells the whole story, from the moment of Tybalt's challenge to Romeo, and lays the blame on Tybalt. Benvolio doesn't mention Mercutio's barrage of insults against Tybalt, but on the whole his account is truthful. Lady Capulet, however, is sure that Benvolio is lying for his side. She can't even believe that Tybalt could have been killed in a fair fight, so she cries out, "Some twenty of them fought in this black strife, / And all those twenty could but kill one life. / I beg for justice, which thou, prince, must give; / Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live" (3.1.178-181).

The Prince, not impressed with the argument, asks a rhetorical question: "Romeo slew him, he slew Mercutio; / Who now the price of his dear blood doth owe?" 3.1.182-183). Lady Capulet is demanding that Romeo's life pay for Tybalt's, but in the Prince's view Tybalt's death has already been paid for with Mercutio's. The Prince is not inclined to execute Romeo, but Romeo's father goes even further, saying "Not Romeo, prince, he was Mercutio's friend; / His fault concludes but what the law should end, / The life of Tybalt" (3.1.184-186). Montague believes that Romeo was actually justified because he only did what the law should have done -- make Tybalt pay his life for Mercutio's.

The Prince is not impressed with this argument, either, and replies, "And for that offence / Immediately we do exile him [Romeo] hence" (3.1.186-187). The Prince goes on to point out that he himself has as much reason to demand revenge as the Capulets or Montagues. Mercutio was his kinsman, so, he says, "I have an interest in your hate's proceeding, / My blood for your rude brawls doth lie a-bleeding" (3.1.188-189). He, however, has the responsibility of keeping the peace, so he promises both sides that he will levy such heavy fines that they will be very sorry that Mercutio and Tybalt died. And he's not going to listen to any pleading or pay any attention to tears, so he doesn't want to hear another word. He then orders Tybalt's body to be carried away and announces that Romeo must leave immediately, on pain of his life. Finally, he delivers a bit of princely wisdom: "Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill" (3.1.197). In other words, if those who kill are given mercy, that's as much as giving permission for murder. So he punishes, not for revenge, but to keep the peace.

With these words, the scene ends.