Romeo and Juliet, Tragedy


We’re here! It’s THE FIGHT SCENE. Possibly the most exciting – and certainly the most action packed – scene in the whole of Romeo and Juliet. This is where the tragedy begins to spiral out of control; this is where we first lose characters we have come to know so well.

Let’s put this scene in to context. Romeo has just married Juliet; Tybalt is still mad at Romeo for sneaking in to the Capulet party. Mercutio wants to know where on earth Romeo has been; Benvolio is worried things are going to go badly.

Well, you were right Benvolio. The mad blood is indeed stirring.

But because this is a tragedy and therefore doomed fate is inevitable, there’s nothing you can do but watch.

Image result for benvolio zeffirelli
The Montagues and Benvolio, Zeffirelli (1968)

“Pray, good Mercutio, let’s retire.
The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,
And if we meet we shall not ‘scape a brawl.”

This is proper tragic foreshadowing, Mr Shakespeare. Well and truly. You may as well have just shouted ‘they’re all going to die!’ into a megaphone.

But it’s not the action that hurts in a tragedy. It’s knowing the action is still going to happen, regardless of whether it could be stopped. And therefore it is when Mercutio dismisses Benvolio’s warning, and dismisses him again when he notices the Capulets with “By my heel, I care not”, that we, as an audience, are called upon to rue this carelessness in the face of tragedy. One must wonder at Mercutio. (see last week’s post…) as he ignores Benvolio and says “Men’s eyes were made to look, and let them gaze. I will budge for no man’s pleasure, I.” Mercutio’s death, therefore, we can see coming as an inevitable outcome of his words and actions.

Image result for romeo fight zeffirelliAnd then we think Romeo’s entrance forestalls any further conflict – were it not for Romeo’s fatal flaw, for his hamartia. Not love – although that doesn’t serve him particularly well either – but rashness. It is rashness that has him shouting “Away, respective lenity, / And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!”. And it is the aftermath of that rashness that has him cry “O, I am fortune’s fool”.

Because this is a tragedy of fate. The only thing that could have incited his rash actions, in Romeo’s eyes, is fate. To him, he has no hamartia; he is a plaything of the gods.

And the gods have chosen to make his path a tragic one, supporting the argument that “[Shakespeare] always draws his characters in such a way that there is only one line of conduct possible for them in the particular situation in which they find themselves”. Romeo cannot let Mercutio’s death go unchallenged; his path is to banishment, to Mantua, away from Juliet.

This moment is also the only moment that Romeo’s thoughts are not guided wholly and completely by love. For the first time in the whole play, we see him succumb to the feud. And it is hate and fury that leads Romeo slowly and painfully towards his tragic end: “This but begins the woe others must end”.

The fight scene, therefore, is that pivotal moment which Shakespeare depends on in his tragedies: it is upon this the fate of the rest of the play rests. And this is the turning point towards that downward, inevitable spiral, towards our tragic ending.

If only Romeo knew….

*   *   *

What is your favourite part of the fight scene? Let me know with a comment!

Next week we’ll be looking at Juliet’s role in the play – and what it’s like trying to rebel in the 1500s…

Katherine x

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