This scene is the pivoting point of the entire play. After the scene the entire play changes mood from happiness of love to tragedy. Much of what happens in this scene also seems to foretell what will happen in following scenes.
At the start of this scene, we see Benvolio and Mercutio arguing. Benvolio is trying to draw Mercutio away, for he thinks that if they meet the Capulets, “we shall not scape a brawl.” Mercutio is shown at this point to be in a bad tempered mood. He begins to make things up to annoy Benvolio, for example that “thou hast quarrelled with a man for coughing in the street because he hath wakened thy dog that hath lain in the sun”. This show’ s Mercutio’s bad temper and hints that Mercutio might be to blame for his own death as he seems in a bad mood. This is also hinted at when Benvolio warns that the Capulets are coming. Mercutio fallows this by saying “By my heel I care not.” This shows that he seems to be looking for a fight. But then again, it also could be seen that as he is not of either house, he shouldn’t have anything to fear from the Capulets. But his next line defiantly shows that he is looking for a fight as he issues a challenge to Tybalt with the words:
“And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something make it a word and a blow.”
Tybalt’s arrival in the line before shows that he is trying to be civil. “Gentlemen, good den, a word with one of you” he says, but Mercutio’s reply puts him off guard as he follows this by saying that he would accept his challenge if Mercutio gave him occasion. This would seem to hint that he is not to blame for any of the deaths, but then you find out that he is just trying to find Romeo as he says, “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo.” This shows that he just following up the challenge he issued to Romeo earlier on in the play following Romeo’s appearance at the party. This shows that Tybalt came out looking for a fight with Romeo, so he is just as much to blame as Mercutio. Yet still, after all of this, Mercutio is still taunting Tybalt showing his “foul mood”. Even after Benvolio tries to get them to settle the argument to avoid the prince’s punishments, Mercutio still replies aggressively, saying “I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I.”
It is at this point in the play that Romeo enters, after being married to Juliet. Tybalt chooses to ignore Mercutio’s comments at this point as Romeo enters saying, “Well, peace be with you, sir, here comes my man.” This does show that although Tybalt did come looking for a fight with Romeo, he does not want to start one with Mercutio. Despite Mercutio’s continuing insults, Tybalt walks straight towards Romeo and challenges him saying “thou art a villain”. This challenge shows once again that Tybalt came looking for a fight. This would hint that he is slightly to blame, but Romeo dismisses the challenge, tactfully reasoning with Tybalt, even after Tybalts second challenge following this one, saying that he love’s the name Capulet as dearly as his own. We know that this is because he is now married to Juliet, but Tybalt does not know this. Mercutio’s rage takes the better of him at this point saying “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission”. This in the context of the play is read that Mercutio believes that Romeo is being a coward by backing out and thus challenges Tybalt.
This leads to much bartering and eventually the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt. Mercutio set this challenge though so it he is to blame for this fight, which could probably have been avoided, though Shakespeare does not give a hint to what would have happened if Mercutio hadn’t joined in. That is left to the director to decide. During the fight though, Romeo tries to be a pacifist and comes between them. Tybalt then thrusts Mercutio underneath Romeo’s arm. The script seems to try to show that Tybalt did this purposefully, thus the death of Mercutio following this would be his fault. Mercutio’s death would seem to be the fault of Tybalt (as he actually killed him) and Mercutio for starting the fight. Yet Shakespeare’s plays usually have an added touch of fate or supernatural, and this script is very similar also. It is a big coincidence that Mercutio was caught in a bad mood in exactly the same time as Tybalt was caught looking for a fight with Romeo, at exactly the time following Romeo be married into the Capulets (though they have no idea!). All these issues are built up before this scene all clash together to give the feeling of fortune and fate being the main culprit of the death of Mercutio.
Mercutio subsequently dies from the blow after cursing both the houses screaming “A plague a’both houses” several times. This carries on the element of fortune in the play, as following this point, the play seems to be made up of disasters for both the houses. Romeo following Mercutio’s exit before hearing of his death, begins to get angry at himself, blaming his marriage with Juliet to have made him “effeminate”. Romeo’s anger following the news after this of Mercutio’s death leads him to challenge Tybalt with a fight to the death. He begins insulting Tybalt, asking him to “take the villain back again” and saying that one of the two of them must go with Mercutio to the afterlife. The fight that ensues leads to the death of Tybalt. This could be blamed on Romeo not being able to keep his anger under control, or Tybalt for killing Mercutio, or even back again to Mercutio for starting these fights, but once again I think that Shakespeare was trying to get across the idea of fate. Tybalt appeared on stage at exactly the time when Romeo had heard of Mercutio’s death, so he did not have the time to keep his anger under control. If Tybalt had come a bit later in the scene then Romeo probably would have kept himself under control.
I think the Prince’s judgement of Romeo was not necessarily the fair thing to do but it was what he had to do. While it was unlucky for Romeo to have all the blame put onto him for the other two deaths, even though it wasn’t his fault, it was what the prince would have to do to keep order in the city. If he killed Romeo then the Montagues would get mad at the death of Romeo and start more brawls for revenge, yet if he did nothing the Capulets would get mad because the prince hadn’t killed someone they consider to be a murderer. Also not doing anything would lead the city to believe that the laws are just empty threats. The prince is clever in saying banishment for it keeps Romeo out of the danger of the Capulets, keeps the Montagues happy as Romeo is still alive and also any Capulets who want to try and Kill Romeo will do so out of the city. It was a wise decision, so in that sense it was a just decision, but at the same time Romeo is unlucky to have any punishment as I explained earlier up the page, the deaths of the other two characters was more to do with luck then any particular character.
The Zeffirelli version of the film is set in the time period it was written in, in the place it was written to be in. It is an accurate version of the film which means that the costume and locations are used to help add to the period. It sticks very closely to the script missing a few parts which he feels are not needed, for example a large chunk of Mercutio’s speech about the things Benvolio has done to prove that he is a quarrelsome person. He misses a section of this because it shortens the film and doesn’t lose the point of the scene. This version tries to make out that Mercutio is the characters, which causes the deaths. The actor makes him seem like a difficult sort of person, interrupting Benvolio at the beginning of the scene saying “Blah, Blah, Blah” to show that he is not interested in What Benvolio is showing, and to show his foul mood.
He makes Tybalt seem polite as after Romeo’s second refusal of a challenge he seems ready to leave after making a joke at the Montagues first. The first fight is made to look jokey, making the two fighters seem to be showing off as if they were play fighting. Any tension at any point during the fight is broken by a joke being made by one the two (for example Tybalt cutting off some of Mercutio’s hair etc). Throughout the fight though Romeo seems to be trying to break it up. This seems to make it to be more his fault as he can’t seem to see the jokey side of the fight. When Romeo comes between the two of them and Mercutio is stabbed, Zeffirelli makes Tybalt seem as if he didn’t mean to do it. In the same way though, you could interpret that Zeffirelli was trying to get across Romeo’s role as a pacifist, so the death of Mercutio wouldn’t be his fault.
Zeffirelli also shows this by Tybalt not coming back, but in Romeo’s anger, Romeo chasing after Tybalt after line 115. The fight that follows between Tybalt and Romeo couldn’t have been made more different. Zeffirelli makes this seem more like a desperate fight to the death. Instead of classy swordplay the fight gets vicious and ends up with the two of them rolling around in the dust hitting each other. The death of Tybalt is made to look like an accident as Romeo is lying on the floor at the time scrabbling for a sword and as Tybalt rushes towards him to deliver the final blow, Romeo grabs the sword and thrust upwards in self-defence. This seems to take the blame of the fight more away from Romeo. The way that Zeffirelli plays this seems to take away the idea of fate and fortune in the play and seems to head more towards passing the blame between the three characters.
After the exit of Romeo in the script Zeffirelli inserts act 3 scene 2 lines 1-8 which involves Juliet finding out that Romeo has killed Tybalt. This is to show the consequences of what has happened and how it affects Juliet before the Price’s judgement comes to banish. This helps keep the order of her feelings so that the viewer does not get confused as quickly. Her feelings would change at anger at Romeo for killing her cousin to hurt that Romeo was banished. The officer is omitted from the scene because Zeffirelli feels that he is not needed to get the points across. The same reason is given for why some of Benvolio and the Prince’s speech is also omitted.
The Baz Luhrmann version is a much more modern version of the play on the other hand. It chops the script about much more to get the feel and issues forward that the director wanted. A lot more of the lines are cut to shorten this part and the modern setting means that the fighting is more with guns then with swords. The Capulets in this version are brought forwards as the more evil gang, with Baz Luhrmann dressing them all in black and having them scaring away children in this scene when they arrive. Though Mercutio does have a jokey attitude at the start, when Tybalt says “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo” Baz Luhrmann makes the tension rise much quicker. He does not keep the jokey attitude. Music is brought in to add to this tension and the two of them square up to fight each other even before Romeo arrives.
At Romeo’s arrival, Tybalt’s challenge causes Mercutio and Petruchio to prepare the other two’s guns for a duel. After Romeo’s second refusal of the challenge, Baz Luhrmann has Tybalt attack Romeo, using repetition of many of the lines to add to the tension. To also add to this tension, Baz Luhrmann has the weather reflecting what is happening in the film with a storm sweeping in to darken the skies a bit. Baz Luhrmann makes it look like Mercutio just joins the fight to protect Romeo, referring the line “O clam, dishonourable, vile submission!” to Tybalt rather then Romeo. Romeo eventually stops Mercutio trying to stop him by holding him back. Tybalt then tries to kill Romeo with a shard of glass from the fight and as Mercutio pushes Romeo out of the way, Mercutio gets stabbed. Tybalt is made to look as if he didn’t mean to kill Mercutio as he is dragged off by the other Capulets. The Continuing storm is still adding tension in the background at this point. This storm and the silence around Mercutio’s lines of “A Plague a’both your houses” seems to hint that Baz Luhrmann is trying to get across the supernatural and fate aspect of the play.
When Mercutio dies Act 3, scene 2 lines 20-30 is inserted, the lines where Juliet is waiting for Romeo to come for her. The serenity of this scene is used as a reminder of Juliet’s involvement in all this and as a total contrast of the next part which uses a high-speed car crash to start off the fight between Romeo and Tybalt. The continuing storm still adds tension and just as Tybalt is killed (via gun shots from Romeo) a flash of Juliet’s face appears on screen. The final thunderclap sounds and Romeo drops his gun to show that Romeo has understood what he has just done.
Shakespeare originally wrote this scene many years ago skilfully writing it to keep the way it could be played open. I think he was trying to focus on fate as the culprit for the death of Tybalt and Mercutio, as he does often in a lot of his plays although this scene could be read differently. This is shown in the many different versions of the text which have been performed, whether film or theatre, as they try to help the audience focus on their ideas about the different themes of the text.