Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished.
The Friar is included in this “all”; and the Friar, moreover, has preceded the Prince in accepting blame: . . . if aught in this
Miscarried by my fault, let my old life
Be sacrificed some hour before his time
Unto the rigor of severest law.
Like the Prince, the Friar has had from the start a clear perception of the danger latent in the old quarrel, and like the Prince he has taken steps appropriate to his position to mend the differences and restore order. Yet whereas the Prince by nature has moved openly and erred in not moving vigorously enough, Friar Lawrence by nature works in secret and his secrecy does him in. Actually his much-criticized plan for ending the quarrel is sound enough in principle. Any faithful son of the Church, accustomed to cementing alliances with the sacrament of matrimony, would naturally have considered the young people’s sudden affection for each other an opportunity sent by Heaven. Friar Lawrence’s error lies all in the execution of the thing, in letting a Heaven-made marriage remain an affair of secret messages, rope ladders, and unorthodox sleeping potions, a clandestine remedy doomed to miscarriage long before the thwarted message determines the shape of the inevitable catastrophe. What was desperately needed in this case was a combination of virtues, the forthrightness of the Prince and the vigor and ingenuity of the Friar; and these virtues were combined only in Mercutio, who fell victim to the deficiencies of both in that he confronted a needlessly active Tybalt at a disadvantage caused in part by bumbling Romeo’s adherence to the Friar’s secret plot.
Mercutio, who is the third member of this more perceptive group, stands next to Romeo and Juliet in importance in the play. In fact, some critics who consider him more interesting than the two protagonists have suggested that Shakespeare finished him off in Act 3 out of necessity. This is almost as absurd as the view that Shakespeare wrote Falstaff out of Henry V because the fat man had become unmanageable. Others have found Mercutio’s wit embarrassing and tried to relieve Shakespeare of the responsibility for some parts of it, but this is absurd too. An edited Mercutio becomes either sentimental or obscene; he also becomes meaningless, and without him the play as a whole reverts to the condition of melodrama that it had in Shakespeare’s source. Consider for a moment the climax of the play, which is almost solely Shakespeare’s invention. In Brooke the matter is relatively simple: Tybalt provokes Romeo, and Romeo slays him. Shakespeare has it that Tybalt deliberately sought to murder Romeo and Romeo so badly underestimated his challenger that he declined to defend himself; whereupon Mercutio, in defense of both Romeo’s honor and his person, picked up the challenge and would have killed Tybalt but for Romeo’s intervention. Tybalt then killed Mercutio, and Romeo killed Tybalt in revenge. But, one should ask, what if Romeo had not intervened? Tybalt would have been slain, surely, and Mercutio would have survived to receive the Prince’s rebuke; at most, however, he would have been punished only slightly, for Mercutio was of the Prince’s line and not of the feuding families. The feud thus would have died with Tybalt, and in time Capulet and Montague might have been reconciled openly, as Friar Lawrence hoped. In short, Mercutio was on the point of bringing to pass what neither civil authority nor well-intentioned but misplaced ingenuity had been able to accomplish, and Romeo with a single sentimental action (“I thought all for the best,” he says) destroyed his only hope of averting tragedy long enough to achieve the maturity he needed in order to avoid it altogether.
Many critics have commented on the breathless pace of this play, and no wonder. Shakespeare has made it the story of a race against time. What Romeo needs most of all is a teacher, and the only one capable of giving him instruction worth having and giving it quickly is Mercutio. All the rest are unavailable, or ineffectual, like Benvolio, or unapt for dealing practically with human relations. Mercutio, however, for all his superficial show of irresponsibility, is made in the image of his creator; he is a poet, who gives equal value to flesh and spirit, sees them as inseparable aspects of total being, and accepts each as the necessary mode of the other. His first line in the play, discharged at a young fool who is playing the ascetic for love, is revealing: “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance” (1.4.13). And when gentle Romeo persists in day-dreaming, he says, “Be rough with love,” declares that love is a mire and that dreamers are often liars. The long fairy speech which follows dignifies idle dreams by marrying them to earth; its intent is to compel Romeo to acknowledge his senses and to bring him to an honest and healthy confession of what he is really looking for, but Romeo is too wrapped up in self-deception to listen. In Act 2 Mercutio tries harder, speaks more plainly, but prompts from his pupil only the fatuous “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” Later still, in the battle of wits (2.4), Mercutio imagines briefly that he has succeeded: “Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art though sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature” (92-95). There are no wiser words in the whole play, and none more ironic; for Romeo even here has not found his identity and is never really to find it except for those fleeting moments when Juliet is there to lead him by the hand.
Time runs out for both principals in this play, but it is Juliet who makes the race exciting. Her five-day maturation is a miracle which only a Shakespeare could have made credible; yet at the end she is still a fourteen-year-old girl, and she succumbs to an adolescent’s despair. Mercutio might have helped had he been available, but Mercutio is dead. All the others have deserted her–parents, Nurse, the Friar, who takes fright at the crucial moment, and Romeo, who lies dead at her feet. She simply has not lived long enough in her wisdom to stand entirely alone. This is really the source of pathos in Romeo and Juliet. One hears much about the portrayal of young love here, about the immortality of the lovers and the eternality of their love; but such talk runs toward vapid sentimentality and does an injustice to Shakespeare. No one has more poignantly described the beauty of young love than he, and no one has portrayed more honestly than he the destructiveness of any love which ignores the mortality of those who make it. Romeo struggled toward full understanding but fell far short of achievement, leaving a trail of victims behind him. Juliet came much closer than we had any right to expect, but she too failed. Both have a legitimate claim to our respect, she more than he; and the youth of both relieves them of our ultimate censure, which falls not on the stars but on all those whose thoughtlessness denied them the time they so desperately needed.
–J. A. BRYANT, JR. The University of Kentucky
Two housholds both alike in dignitie,
(Infaire Verona where we lay our Scene)
From auncient grudge, breake to new mutinie,
Where ciuill bloud makes ciuill hand uncleane
From forth the fatall loynes of these two soes,
A paire of starre-crost louers, take their life:
Whose misaduentur’d pittious overthrowes,
Doth with their death burie their Parents strife.
The ferafull passage of their death-markt loue,
And the continuance of their Parents rage:
Which but their childrens end nought could remove:
Is now the two houres trafficque of our Stage.
The which if you with patient eares attend,
what heare sall misse, our toyle shall strine to mend.
THE MOST EXcellent and lamentable
Tragedie, of Romeo and Iuliet.
Enter Sampson and Gregorie with Swords and Bucklers, of the boufe of Capulet.
SAmp. Gregorie, on my word weele not carrie Coles.
Greg. No,for then we should be Collyers.
Samp. I meane:,and we be in choller, weele draw.
Greg. I while you hue,draw your necke out of choller.
Samp. I strike quickly being moued.
Greg. But thou art not quickly moued to strike.
Samp. A dog of the house of Mountague moues me.
Grego. To moue is to stirre, and to be valiant, is to stand:
Therefore if thou art moued thou runist away.
Samp. A dog of that house shall moue me to stand
I will take the wall of any man or maide of A founta. gues.
Grego. That shewes thee a weake flaue,for the weakest goes to the wall.
Samp. Tis true, & therfore women being the weaker vessels are euer thrust to the walhthcrfore I wil push Mountagues men from the wall, and thrus his maides to the wall.
Greg. The quarell is betweene our maisters , and vs their men.
Samp. Tis all one,I mill shew my selfe a tyrant,when I haue fought with the men, I will beclull witli the wiides, I will cut off their heads.
A 3 Grego. The
Escalus, Prince of Verona
Paris, a young count, kinsman to the Prince
An old man, of the Capulet family
Romeo, son to Montague
Mercutio, kinsman to the Prince and friend to Romeo
Benvolio, nephew to Montague and friend to Romeo
Tybalt, nephew to Lady Capulet
Balthasar, servant to Romeo
Peter, servant to Juliet’s nurse
Abram, servant to Montague
Lady Montague, wife to Montague
Lady Capulet, wife to Capulet
Juliet, daughter to Capulet
Nurse to Juliet
Citizens of Verona, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen of both
houses, Maskers, Torchbearers, Pages, Guards, Watch-
men, Servants, and Attendants
Scene: Verona; Mantua]
The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Chorus. Two households, both alike in dignity,deg1
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,deg
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crosseddeg lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught could
Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage;deg
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.
Scene 1. Verona. A public place.]
Enter Sampson and Gregory, with swords and bucklers,deg of the house of Capulet.
Sampson. Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals.deg
Gregory. No, for then we should be colliers.deg
Sampson. I mean, anddeg we be in choler, we’ll draw.deg
Gregory. Ay, while you live, draw your neck out of collar.
Sampson. I strike quickly, being moved.
Gregory. But thou art not quickly moved to strike.
Sampson. A dog of the house of Montague moves me.
Gregory. To move is to stir, and to be valiant is to stand. Therefore, if thou art moved, thou run’st away.
Sampson. A dog of that house shall move me to stand. I will take the walldeg of any man or maid of Montague’s.
1.1.s.d. bucklers small shields 1 carry coals endure insults 2 colliers coal venders (this leads to puns on “choler” = anger, and “collar” = hang-man’s noose) 3 and if 3 draw draw swords 13 take the wall take the preferred place on the walk
Gregory. That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall.deg
Sampson. ‘Tis true; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall.deg Therefore I will push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall.
Gregory. The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
Sampson. ‘Tis all one. I will show myself a tyrant. When I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids–I will cut off their heads.
Gregory. The heads of the maids?
Sampson. Ay, the heads of the maids or their maidenheads. Take it in what sense thou wilt.
Gregory. They must take it in sense that feel it.
Sampson. Me they shall feel while I am able to stand; and ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.
Gregory. ‘Tis well thou art not fish; if thou hadst, thou hadst been Poor John.deg Draw thy tool!deg Here comes two of the house of Montagues.
Enter two other Servingmen [Abram and Balthasar].
Sampson. My naked weapon is out. Quarrel! I will back thee.
Gregory. How? Turn thy back and run?
Sampson. Fear me not.
Gregory. No, marry.deg I fear thee!
15-16 weakest goes to the wall i.e., is pushed to the rear 18 thrust to the wall assaulted against the wall 33 Poor John hake salted and dried (poor man’s fare) 33 tool weapon (with bawdy innuendo) 39 marry (an interjection, from “By the Virgin Mary”)
Sampson. Let us take the law of our sides;deg let them begin.
Gregory. I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it as they list.
Sampson. Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumbdeg at them, which is disgrace to them if they bear it.
Abram. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson. I do bite my thumb, sir.
Abram. Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
Sampson. [Aside to Gregory] Is the law of our side if I say ay?
Gregory. [Aside to Sampson] No.
Sampson. No, sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
Gregory. Do you quarrel, sir?
Abram. Quarrel, sir? No, sir.
Sampson. But if you do, sir, I am for you. I serve as good a man as you.
Abram. No better.
Sampson. Well, sir.
Gregory. Say “better.” Here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.
Sampson. Yes, better, sir.
Abram. You lie.
Sampson. Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy swashingdeg blow. They fight.
40 take the law of our sides keep ourselves in the right 44 bite my thumb i.e., make a gesture of contempt 65 swashing slashing
Benvolio. Part, fools! Put up your swords. You know not what you do.
Tybalt. What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds?deg Turn thee, Benvolio; look upon thy death.
Benvolio. I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me.
Tybalt. What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. Have at thee, coward! [They fight.]
Enter [an Officer, and ] three or four Citizens with clubs or partisans.
Officer. Clubs, bills, and partisans!deg Strike! Beat them down! Down with the Capulets! Down with the Montagues!
Enter old Capulet in his gown, and his Wife.
Capulet. What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho!
Lady Capulet. A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?
Capulet. My sword, I say! Old Montague is come And flourishes his blade in spitedeg of me.
Enter old Montague and his Wife.
Montague. Thou villain Capulet!–Hold me not; let me go.
Lady Montague. Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe.
68 heartless hinds cowardly rustics 75 bills, and partisans varieties of halberd, a combination spear and battle-ax 81 spite defiance
Enter Prince Escalus, with his Train.
Prince. Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace,
Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel–
Will they not hear? What, ho! You men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins!
On pain of torture, from those bloody hands
Throw your mistempereddeg weapons to the ground
And hear the sentence of your moved prince.
Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets
And made Verona’s ancient citizens
Cast by their grave beseemingdeg ornaments
To wield old partisans, in hands as old,
Cank’red with peace, to part your cank’reddeg hate.
If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.
For this time all the rest depart away.
You, Capulet, shall go along with me;
And, Montague, come you this afternoon,
To know our farther pleasure in this case,
To old Freetown, our common judgment place.
Once more, on pain of death, all men depart.
Exeunt [all but Montague, his Wife, and Benvolio].
Montague. Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?deg
Speak, nephew, were you by when it began?
Benvolio. Here were the servants of your adversary
And yours, close fighting ere I did approach.
I drew to part them. In the instant came
The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepared;
Which, as he breathed defiance to my ears,
He swung about his head and cut the winds, 90 mistempered (1) ill-made (2) used with ill will 96 grave beseeming dignified and appropriate 98 cank’red . . . cank’red rusted . . . malig-nant 107 new abroach newly open
Who, nothing hurt withal,deg hissed him in scorn.
While we were interchanging thrusts and blows,
Came more and more, and fought on part and
Till the Prince came, who parted either part.
Lady Montague. O, where is Romeo? Saw you him
Right glad I am he was not at this fray.
Benvolio. Madam, an hour before the worshiped sun
Peered forth the golden window of the East,
A troubled mind drave me to walk abroad;