David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 3, Scene 1

 — 3.1 —

Mercutio, Benvolio, and some others were in a public square on a very hot and sticky day — a muggy day that made everyone irritable.

Benvolio said, “Mercutio, let’s go home. The day is hot, the Capulets are out and about, and, if we meet, we will fight each other. Today is so hot that everyone is a bad mood and ready to fight.”

Mercutio, always ready to make a joke, decided to treat Benvolio, a peacemaker, as if he were a troublemaker.

Mercutio replied, “You are like one of those fellows who when he enters a tavern puts his sword upon the table and says, ‘I hope to God that I will not need you,’ but after his second drink draws his sword and wants to fight — without provocation — the person who drew his drink.”

Benvolio asked, “Am I like such a fellow?”

“Don’t try to deny it,” Mercutio said. “When you are in the mood to fight, you are as quick to get in a fight as any man in Italy. You are so quick-tempered that when you want to get in a fight, you quickly find something to make your temper rise.”

“Is that so?”

“If there were two such men as you, very quickly there would be but one left, because one man would kill the other,” Mercutio said. “You will start a fight with a man because he has a hair hair more or a hair less in his beard than you do. You will start a fight with a man who is cracking nuts. Why? Because your eyes are the color of hazelnuts. Only your eyes would spy such a quarrel. Your head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of protein, and because of excessive fighting your head is as scrambled as an egg. You fought a man because he coughed in the street and woke up your dog that was lying in the sunshine. You fought a tailor because he wore a new jacket before Easter. You fought a different tailor because he tied his new shoes with old shoelaces. And yet you are acting like a man who wishes to keep me from fighting!”

“If I were as likely as you to quarrel,” Benvolio said, “my future life expectancy would be about 15 minutes.”

“Don’t be silly,” Mercutio said.

“Look,” Benvolio said. “Some Capulets are coming our way.”

“I don’t care,” Mercutio replied.

Tybalt and some other Capulets walked up to Mercutio and Benvolio.

Tybalt said to the other Capulets, “Stay close to me. I will speak to them.”

Tybalt was like a schoolyard bully who wanted protectors close to him.

He said to Mercutio and Benvolio, “Gentlemen, good afternoon. I would like to have a word with you.”

“Just one word?” Mercutio asked, widely parting his legs. “That’s not enough. Make it a word and a blow.”

Tybalt, who thought that Mercutio was speaking about fighting, said, “You shall find me apt enough to do that, sir, if you give me enough reason.”

“Aren’t you capable of finding enough reason without me giving you a reason?”

“Mercutio, you band together with Romeo,” Tybalt said.

“Band together?” Mercutio said. “Do you think that we are musicians? If you think that, you will listen to nothing but noise.”

Mercutio touched his sword and said, “Here is my fiddlestick. It can make you dance. Band! Indeed!”

Benvolio said, “We are out here in public. Either we should go somewhere private and talk together rationally, or we should all leave and go home. Out here in public everyone can witness what we say and do.”

“Men’s eyes were made to look, so let them look,” Mercutio said. “I will not leave this place.”

Romeo entered the public square and walked toward the group of people.

Tybalt said, “Well, peace be with you, sir. Here comes the man I want to see.”

“He is a man, but not your man,” Mercutio said. “But if you want him to be your follower, walk to a dueling ground. He will follow you, and he will fight you.”

Tybalt said, “Romeo, the hatred I have for you makes me call you by no better word than this — you are a villain.”

These were fighting words, and Tybalt — and everyone else present, including Mercutio and Benvolio — expected Romeo to fight Tybalt.

He did not.

Romeo, newly married to Juliet and therefore an in-law to Tybalt, replied in a friendly way, “Tybalt, I have reason to treat you well — indeed, even love you. Because of that reason, which you don’t now know about, I decline to take offence at your insult to me. I am not a villain. Therefore, farewell. You really do not know who I am.”

Romeo turned away from Tybalt, who drew his sword and said, “Boy, your words shall not excuse the insults that you have made to me; therefore, turn and draw your sword.”

Romeo replied, “I say that I have never harmed you, but I do love you better than you can know. Soon you shall know the reason of my love. And so, good Capulet — you bear a name I love as dearly as my own — do not be angry and do not attempt to fight me.”

Mercutio, shocked by Romeo’s words, shouted, “This is calm, dishonorable, vile submission! A mere threat makes Romeo submit!”

Mercutio said to Tybalt, “Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk from me?”

“What do you want?”

Mercutio drew his sword and said, “Tybalt, you king of cats, I want nothing but one of your nine lives. I will take one, and depending on how you act, I may very well beat the rest of your eight lives out of you. Will you pluck your sword with its hilts, which look like ears, out of your scabbard? Be quick about it, or you will find my sword moving about your ears before you draw your sword!”

“If you want to duel, I am the man for you,” Tybalt replied, drawing his sword.

“Mercutio, please put away your sword,” Benvolio said.

“You may begin your attack,” Mercutio said to Tybalt.

They started to fight.

Romeo put himself between the two duelists and said, “Draw your sword, Benvolio, and beat down their weapons. Gentlemen, stop this outrage! Tybalt, Mercutio, you know that Prince Escalus has forbidden fighting in the streets of Verona! Stop, Tybalt! Stop, Mercutio!”

Tybalt thrust his sword under Romeo’s arm and mortally wounded Mercutio. Seeing Mercutio wounded, Tybalt and the other Capulets ran away.

Most fights among teenagers involve bluster, not blood. Sometimes, a fight goes wrong and someone gets hurt.

Mercutio said, “I am hurt! May a plague curse all the Capulets and all the Montagues! I’ve been wounded! Has Tybalt gone, and suffered nothing? Did no one fight for me?”

Disbelieving, Benvolio said, “What! Have you been wounded?”

“Yes, I have suffered a scratch,” Mercutio said. “It will do. Get me a doctor.”

“Your wound cannot be serious,” Romeo said.

“No, it is not serious. It is not as deep as a well or as wide as a church door, but it will do — it will serve as well as a serious wound.”

Mercutio knew that he was dying, and he knew exactly what to do — make a pun, the best pun of his short life. He told Romeo, “Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a graveman.”

He added, “I have suffered my deathblow. I am done for this world. What is a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat doing scratching a man to death? Tybalt is all of these, as well as a braggart, a rogue, and a villain who fights by a rulebook. He is not a man who should be able to kill me.”

Mercutio said to Romeo, “Why the devil did you come between us? Tybalt thrust his sword under your arm and mortally wounded me.”

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” Romeo said.

Mercutio said, “Help me into some house, Benvolio, or I shall faint. May the plague infect all the Capulets and all the Montagues! The Capulets and the Montagues have made me food for worms! I am done for! A plague! On both families!”

Benvolio carried Mercutio away.

Romeo said to himself, “Mercutio, a gentleman and Prince Escalus’ near relative, my best friend, was mortally wounded fighting for me because Tybalt stained my reputation with his slander — Tybalt, who has been my in-law for an hour! Sweet Juliet, your beauty has made me effeminate and has taken away my bravery, softening the steel that used to be my valor!”

Benvolio returned and said, “Romeo, Mercutio is dead! His gallant soul has climbed past the clouds, scorning too quickly this world he leaves behind.”

“This day’s black fate will not end today,” Romeo said. “Black fate will rule other days. On this day begins great sorrow, and many days will pass before the sorrow ends.”

Benvolio looked up and said, “Tybalt is coming back to the scene of his crime.”

Tybalt and his followers did not know how badly Mercutio was wounded, but they wanted to know. If Mercutio were badly wounded or dead, Tybalt needed to go into hiding until he could flee from Verona and save his life.

“Tybalt is still alive while Mercutio is dead!” Romeo said. “Not for long. Mercy, leave me and return to Heaven — I have no need of you! All I need now is fire-eyed fury!”

Tybalt faced Romeo.

Romeo said, “Now, Tybalt, take back the insult you gave me earlier. I am no villain. The late Mercutio’s soul has not gone far. It is only a little way above our heads, waiting for your soul to join it and keep it company. Either your soul, or my soul, or both, must leave this world and accompany Mercutio’s soul.”

“You were Mercutio’s friend while he was alive,” Tybalt said. “It is fitting that your soul accompany his soul in its journey.”

“Our fight will determine whose soul accompanies his soul.”

Romeo and Tybalt fought with swords, and Romeo killed Tybalt so quickly that Benvolio did not have time to intervene to stop them. As Mercutio had known, Tybalt ably talked the talk but he could not ably walk the walk. Mercutio had died because of Tybalt’s lucky thrust with a sword made while Romeo was trying to part the two fighters.

Benvolio said, “Romeo, run away! I hear people and guards coming! You have killed Tybalt, and Prince Escalus has decreed that anyone who fights in the streets of Verona shall die! If the guards catch you, the Prince will order you to be killed! Run away! Now!”

“Oh, I am fortune’s fool!” Romeo cried. “I am the plaything of fate.”

Benvolio shouted at him, “Why are you still here!”

Romeo ran for his life.

Some guards and citizens arrived and asked Benvolio, “Where is the man who killed Mercutio, Prince Escalus’ relative? Which way did he run? Where is Tybalt, the murderer?”

If Romeo had restrained himself and had not killed Tybalt, Prince Escalus would have had Tybalt arrested and punished — perhaps with death.

Benvolio said, “Tybalt lies here, dead.”

A guard told Benvolio, “You are under arrest, in the name of Prince Escalus. Come with me.”

Prince Escalus arrived, as did Old Montague and Old Capulet, their wives, and other people. Prince Escalus asked, “Where are the vile people who have disturbed the peace of our city?”

“Prince Escalus,” Benvolio said, “I can tell you everything that happened. Here lies the body of Tybalt, who killed Mercutio, your relative. Romeo killed Tybalt.”

Grieving, Mrs. Capulet said, “Tybalt was my nephew! He was my brother’s child! And now he is dead. Prince, I demand justice. Tybalt’s blood has been spilled. For blood of ours, shed the blood of Romeo Montague.”

Prince Escalus wanted justice — his own relative, Mercutio, had been killed — and he wanted peace in his city, but he also wanted to find out exactly what had happened.

He asked, “Benvolio, who began this bloody fight?”

Benvolio replied, “Tybalt lies here dead, slain by Romeo, but Romeo spoke peacefully to Tybalt, asking him to think about how trivial was the cause of Tybalt’s anger at him. He also urged him to remember your order against fighting in the streets. Romeo said all this with gentle breath, calm look, and his knees humbly bowed, but Tybalt was not willing to be peaceful. Tybalt pointed his piercing steel at the breast of Mercutio, who was as angry as Tybalt and whose sword met Tybalt’s sword. Mercutio, scorning Tybalt, beat aside Tybalt’s deadly thrusts with his sword and sent deadly thrusts back at Tybalt, who beat them aside. Romeo cried aloud, ‘Stop, friends! Stop fighting!’ He then used his arm to beat down their swords. Tybalt thrust his sword under Romeo’s arm and mortally wounded Mercutio, and then Tybalt fled. Soon, he came back, and Romeo, angered at the death of Mercutio, sought revenge, and the two fought like lightning, and before I could part them, haughty Tybalt lay dead. Romeo then fled. This is the truth; if it is not, order me to be killed.”

Mrs. Capulet said, “Benvolio is a Montague, and he is lying to protect another Montague. Some twenty Montagues fought in this black strife, and all those twenty could kill only one life: that of Tybalt. I beg for justice, which you, Prince Escalus, must give. Romeo slew Tybalt, and so Romeo must not live.”

Prince Escalus replied, “Romeo slew Tybalt, but Tybalt slew Mercutio. How many more shall die?”

“Not Romeo, Prince Escalus,” Old Montague said. “He was Mercutio’s friend. Romeo’s fighting ended what the law should have ended: the life of Tybalt.”

Prince Escalus made up his mind: “And for that offence immediately we do exile Romeo from Verona. I have been affected by the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets: Mercutio, my kinsman, is dead. I will punish both families with so heavy a fine that you shall all repent the death of Mercutio. I will be deaf to pleading and excuses; neither tears nor prayers shall persuade me to let you off lightly. Don’t even try it. Romeo must leave this city quickly. If he is found here after this day, the hour that he is found will be his last hour alive. Take this corpse away, and obey my orders. Pardoning murderers is not merciful because it leads to more murders.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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