Romeo and Juliet

by: William Shakespeare

Violence

1

My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back thee. (1.1.)

The action of Romeo and Juliet opens with Samson boasting that he is a violent man. When some Montague servants appear, he draws his sword and asks his companion Gregory to start a quarrel that might lead to a fight. This opening establishes that Verona is a place where violence can break out over nothing. Samson and Gregory and their Montague opponents are all afraid of breaking the law, which reminds us that the punishment for fighting is every bit as violent as the fighting itself. From the beginning of the play, all the young men involved in the feud are trapped between two threats of violence: the violence of their enemies and the violence of the Prince, who has threatened to execute anyone who continues the feud. This helps create the play’s sense of confinement.

2

He rests his minim rests, one, two and the third in your bosom; the very butcher of a silk button, a duellist, a duellist (2.4)

Mercutio makes fun of Tybalt’s fighting style. At the time Shakespeare was writing, a new style of fencing (swordfighting) had recently been imported from Italy. Tybalt fences in this style, which allows Shakespeare to add a bit of local Italian color to his Verona. At the same time, in these lines of Mercutio’s, Shakespeare pokes fun at the new trend in England. Even though Mercutio is mocking Tybalt, we sense an underlying admiration for Tybalt’s ability as a fighter. It does not come as a surprise when Mercutio is tempted to test his own skill against Tybalt’s, with fatal results.

3

They have made worms’ meat of me. (3.1.)

Mercutio fights Tybalt and receives a fatal wound. As he dies, he continues to talk with his usual cynical wit. He imagines himself after his death in strictly physical and very unromantic terms: as meat for worms. This marks a turning point in play. Up until now, violence has only been threatened, and for the characters and the audience alike it’s been more a source of excitement than grief. Now, one of the play’s most appealing characters is dying. From this point forward, the play’s violence will be brutal and unrelenting. Tybalt will die, then Paris, and finally Romeo and Juliet.