Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 1
Indeed, as soon as Mercutio confronts Tybalt on Romeo's behalf, Romeo's fall from his pinnacle of bliss seems destined. The hope that sprung from Romeo's marriage to Juliet is dashed in a few moments of swordplay. In a moment of profound irony, Romeo's attempt to stand between two combatants — his act of benevolent intervention — facilitates Tybalt's fatal thrust that kills Mercutio. Thus, Romeo's gesture of peace results in Mercutio's death and Romeo's becoming ensnared in the family conflict after all.
Mercutio's final speeches reflect a mixture of anger and disbelief that he has been fatally injured as a result of the "ancient grudge" between the Montagues and the Capulets; he repeatedly curses, "A plague o' both your houses." Even his characteristic wit turns bitter as Mercutio treats the subject of his own death with humorous wordplay: "Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man." In the final irony of this scene, Mercutio never learns for what cause he was wounded. He believes he is wounded for a fight, not for a love. In shocked disbelief, he asks Romeo "Why the devil / came you between us? I was hurt under your arm."
Romeo blames himself for Mercutio's death because he placed his love for Juliet before consideration of his friend. Romeo thus attacks Tybalt to assuage his guilt. However, by doing so, he disregards any effect that his choice may have on Juliet. His action is impulsive and reckless. Romeo's rage overpowers his sensibility, and his fortunes are sealed. By attacking Tybalt in a blind fury, he has become one with fiery Tybalt; one with quick-tempered Mercutio, and one with the embittered patriarchs who originated the feud.
Tybalt's death brings Romeo a moment of clarity as he realizes that he is the helpless victim of fate: "O, I am fortune's fool!" he cries, struck deeply by a sense of anger, injustice, and futility. The speed with which Mercutio and Tybalt's deaths occur, together with Romeo's marriage and subsequent banishment, all contribute to a sense of inevitability — that a chain of events has been set in motion over which the protagonists have no control. Mercutio's dying curse upon the houses resonates as the voice of fate itself.
abroad out and about.
by the operation of the second cup by the time the second cup of liquor has taken effect upon him.
addle muddled and, perhaps, rotten.
doublet a man's close-fitting jacket with or without sleeves, worn chiefly from the 14th to the 16th centuries.
tutor me from quarrelling teach me how to avoid getting into a quarrel.
simple feeble or foolish.
fiddlestick the bow for a fiddle. Mercutio puns on the word as he draws his rapier.
zounds an oath. The abbreviated form of the oath "By God's wounds."
bandying to give and take; to exchange (words) in an angry or argumentative manner.
sped done for.
ally relative, kinsman.
cousin loosely, any relative by blood or marriage.
aspir'd to rise high; to tower.
amerce to punish by imposing a fine.