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Act Iii, Scene I: The Pivotal Scene In Romeo And Juliet

1416 words - 6 pages

Since life is too complex to be classified into a single category, then why should a play imitating life be confined to a single genre? In the classic tale of two "star cross'd lovers", Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare dabbles with both the comic and tragic genres (Prologue, Line 6). The play starts in the traditional comic form but undergoes a transformation in Act III, Scene I. In this scene, the death of Mercutio, and consequential death of Tybalt, transform the play into a tragedy. With each death comes a change that alters the course of the rest of the play. Mercutio's death results in an inversion of the play's genre. Traditional comic elements are lifted only to be replaced by tragedy. ...view middle of the document...

Considering his relation to the Prince, a figure of authority, Mercutio's death can be regarded as the symbolic death of social order. The failure to uphold order is a failure to uphold comedy since the maintenance of social order is regarded as fundamental in comedy.

Not only is Mercutio's death the symbolic death of social order but also of communication. As previously discussed, Mercutio's comedy thrives on his ability to manipulate speech. His profound mastery of language is what makes Mercutio the distinct character that he is. His death, therefore, is also the symbolic death of language, which is a form of communication. The loss of Mercutio, and consequently communication, is what dooms Romeo and Juliet and denies them a future together. Friar John is detained at a quarantined house so Romeo is not informed of Juliet and Friar Lawrence's plan. This lack of communication leads to Romeo's suicide and ultimately Juliet's. Thus, Mercutio's death marks the end of communication and in the process, seals Romeo and Juliet's fate.

On a broader level and more generally speaking, Mercutio's murder also represents the death of a genre. As the prominent comical figure in the play, Mercutio's death signals the end of the comic genre. In a conventional comedy, Mercutio would not have died because Tybalt would have been stopped by some sort of interference. However, there is no intervention and Tybalt's fury is unleashed upon the ill-fated Mercutio. With comedy gone, tragedy takes over. In the tradition of the revenge tragedy, Romeo takes matters into his own hands, giving no heed to the Prince's earlier warnings. When Tybalt returns to the scene, still fuming, Romeo draws his sword and slays him. This echangement of lives heightens the seriousness of the feud. Up until Tybalt's death, the squabble was nothing more than exchanged words and idle threats. The only person who took it seriously was Tybalt himself. Ironically, the feud escalates to Tybalt's level only when he departs from the play. While he is alive, Tybalt is alienated. Not only is he alienated because of the seriousness he gives the feud but also because he is a tragic figure trapped in a world of comedy. Tybalt is the stereotypical `bad guy' or villain who goes around looking for trouble. He is placed in a world of comedy where there are expectations as to how he should act. By murdering Mercutio, Tybalt breaks free of the comic expectations placed upon him. Tybalt's death is his last defiance of the comic genre. In a comedy nobody dies - not even the villain. He is also tragic in the fact that he speaks only of honour and death. He lives only for the opportunity to destroy the Montagues, so that in doing so, the honour of the Capulet household may be upheld. After Tybalt's death, Romeo assumes Tybalt's tragic quality. He adopts Tybalt's rhetoric of honour and death, as well as, the title of the tragic hero.

The duel between Mercutio and Tybalt instigates tragedy but it is the...

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