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A major theme in the play Romeo and Juliet is the contrast between the two worlds: real and unreal. In order for true love between the star-crossed lovers to survive, it must exist in both. Romeo lives in the unreal world for the majority of the story, while Juliet alternates between the two. When they are together, Romeo and Juliet live in a harmonious but unreal world. Their love is never allowed to exist in the real world, where their feuding families exist, and so it is doomed from the start. This paper examines three characters – Mercutio, Tybalt, and Lord Capulet – whose solidly real-world behavior and decisions contrast starkly with Romeo and Juliet’s and eventually contribute to that couple’s demise.
The eventual tragedy of Romeo and Juliet begins at their first meeting at the masquerade ball. The meeting is magical and inexplicably powerful, but mostly very unrealistic. The love is represented by a sudden magical spell, Cupid’s arrow simultaneously striking both of them. The initial love is based entirely on physical attraction and quite possibly fueled by its forbidden nature. The relationship is never allowed to exist in public, nor can it grow, and so it never goes beyond physical attraction. Had Romeo and Juliet paid attention to the real world influences around them, they might have improved the chances that their relationship would last.
The first real-world character to examine is Mercutio. His love and best intentions for Romeo are first demonstrated in Act I, scene 4 when he encourages Romeo and suggests that with Cupid’s aid, Romeo should be able to rise above any fears and inhibitions. Later, after learning of Romeo’s dream, he tries to lighten Romeo’s mood by delivering a pragmatic soliloquy about the false hope of dreams. Also, Mercutio is often quite humorous. When Benvolio mentions the possibly threatening letter from Tybalt to Romeo, for example, Mercutio claims that Romeo has already been slain, “stubbed with a white wench’s black eye” (2.4.14). Later, Mercutio observes that witty banter with Romeo is much more pleasant than lovesick groaning. He suggests that Romeo could be more sociable:
“Why, is this not better now than groaning for love? Now art thou
Sociable, now art though Romeo; now art though what though art,
By art as well as by nature. For this driveling love is like a great
Natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.”
Mercutio demonstrates his other equally powerful and real-world quality, arrogance, when Tybalt seeks revenge on Romeo for crashing the Capulet masquerade ball. When Romeo is seeking a peaceful result, Mercutio shouts, “Oh calm, dishonorable, vile submission! Alla staccato carries it away. Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?” (3.1.72). He refuses to be intimidated, to a fault. Eventually his arrogance will fail him, and in his defense for Romeo he will suffer a fatal stab. Never losing his wit, when asked of his injury he claims, “’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man” (3.1.95). In sum, Mercutio’s humor, arrogance, and devotion are qualities that make him a character very much in the real world.
Tybalt is equally devoted, arrogant, and unwilling to be intimidated, but his violent nature is very different from Mercutio’s lighthearted one. Tybalt is quick to fight, defensive of the Capulet home to a fault. This is best demonstrated in Act I, scene 1, when he comes upon Benvolio trying to bring peace to a confrontation. Tybalt is quick to point out the conflicting message – “What, drawn and talk of peace?” (1.1.70) – and then challenges him.
Later in Act I, scene 5, upon hearing Romeo speak, Tybalt claims, “This, by his voice, should be a Montague,” (1.5.55) and by his violent instinct follows, “Fetch me my rapier, boy” (1.5.56). He is determined to sort things out immediately, by violence if necessary, despite his uncle’s request for peace. Lord Capulet is adamant about the need for peace, and Tybalt is equally convinced that violence is necessary. Tybalt is so angered that he insists that he cannot tolerate this and must leave “It fits when such a villain is a guest. I’ll not endure him” (1.5.76) but speaks of revenge, “I will withdraw. But this intrusion shall, now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall” (1.5.92). Eventually in Act III, scene 1, this showdown occurs, resulting in the death of Mercutio and the eventual death of Tybalt at the hands of Romeo.
Lord Capulet has all the qualities of a loving father and patriarch of a noble family, but has a bad side that makes him an ambivalent character. He demonstrates a proud yet ugly side early in Act I, scene 1; upon encountering the Montagues he requests his weapon, while Lady Capulet suggests that he would do better with a crutch than a sword. Given the choice of fight versus flight, he immediately chooses the former – despite his status as a lord, who might be expected to take the high road. He acts differently in Act I, scene 2, when meeting with Paris he makes a dignified admission that he and Lord Montague are bound by their long-lived quarrel. He demonstrates dignity again at the masquerade ball. Upon realizing that Romeo is present, Tybalt is determined to cause a scene and evict the Montague. Lord Capulet chooses to ignore Romeo’s presence and convinces Tybalt to do the same: “Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone. A bears him like a portly gentleman. And, to say truth, Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well governed youth” (1.5.66).
As a good father in Act I, scene 2, while meeting with Paris he suggests that they should wait for Juliet to mature, “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. Let two more summers wither in their pride Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” (1.2.9). At Paris’ insistence that there are younger brides than her, Lord Capulet again is quick to point out that is not best, “And too soon marred are those so early made” (1.2.13). Lord Capulet is convinced that Paris is a perfect son-in-law but wishes to respect Juliet’s youth. Eventually, however, he has a change of heart. He assures Paris that he will be able to sway Juliet’s decision and they set a wedding date. When Juliet protests, Lord Capulet no longer acts the adoring father; in anger, he calls Juliet a “disobedient wretch” (3.5.160) and claims that she is ungrateful to reject “a gentleman of noble parentage” (3.5.181). The once loving father fights the temptation to strike her and insists that she will be at the church.
Mercutio, Tybalt and Lord Capulet each has a very strong personality; they share many characteristics – humor, arrogance, devotion, violence, anger – that are deeply rooted in the real world. Through their words and actions they remain realistic. Mercutio feels that it is better to experience life and not to dream; Tybalt refuses to be insulted or mocked; Lord Capulet sees the importance of arranging Juliet’s marriage to a wealthy man. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand, display an unbelievable fervor for each other and disregard for the more real people around them. Had they taken cues from their family members, they may have bridged the gap between real and unreal worlds and thereby avoided tragedy.
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