Is Tybalt one of the better villains?

I always treated Tybalt as one of Shakespeare’s better villains.  He’s got nothing but hate in him, and he’s not afraid to draw his sword and go one-on-one with any challenger.  Certainly he’s a coward at heart, as they all are – he runs after he kills Mercutio, for instance.

Then again…  On the train lately I’ve been reading the script, because I’m that kind of geek.  And I notice passages like the end of Act I scene i, where Benvolio is explaining what happened to Lord Montague, and I get this:  “The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepared, which, as he breathed defiance to my ears, he swung about his head and cut the winds, who nothing hurt withal hiss’d him in scorn…”  Does that mean that Tybalt stood there slashing at the air with his sword and not hitting anything?

Then later there is the lengthy passage where Mercutio describes Tybalt’s swordsmanship.  Is he being fair, or sarcastic?  Or both?  Is Tybalt a swordsman to be feared, or is he all talk?

9 thoughts on “Is Tybalt one of the better villains?

  1. Tybalt is a braggart in a way, vain certainly, and frustrated at his core. He has learned his swordplay out of books, or else in some elite fencing school – not on the battlefield where Mercutio has been. Hence Mercutio’s scorn. The moves he lists are the passado, the punto reverso – very fancy Italian terms for a low thrusting lunge and an arced jab at the “upper thigh”. The move Benvolio is describing is the mollinello, a fancy flourish of the sword meant to confuse an enemy – unless it’s done to show off.
    But I think the key to Tybalt is actually Capulet’s line – “Am I the master here or you?” He’s got no power, no authority, he’s impotent. He hasn’t been to war, like Mercutio, and while his temper is legendary, he’s also something of a joke. Which leads me to think of him as frustrated.
    I think it’s important to remember that no one has died in this renewed feud. He isn’t deadly, except by accident – Romeo gets in the way, and Mercutio is killed.
    Probably more than you needed.

  2. Actually, David, that was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. So we can definitely say that Tybalt is dangerous, but not because “He’s killed before and he’ll kill again” but because this frustration of his at being all books, no experience will ultimately end up getting him into a situation where somebody’s going to end up dead.

    Thanks for the post! welcome to the blog.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Actually Tybalt is a little more. Shakespeare was using tybalt to comment on a fight master of the times Gerard Thibault. I actually beleive that Tybalt had fought b4 but maybe not to the death. There are a ton of fencing references. “He is the very butcher of a silk button”, “he cuts through the 8’s.” “Gentle of the first school…” Reffering to his hot temper and and his ability to back an opponent into a corner (both figuratively and litteraly) and force him to fight. “Captain of compliments” Basiclly means he has been well trained in the rules of fencing. The Punto Reverso is a deadly blow (generaly to the Reversi Tondo or kidney), so I’m not sure how he could be known for it without having killed someone. Or the “Immortal Passado” (another deadly move) As well does “the Hay!” Fight masters got their reputations from defeating oponents. I’m not sure where in the play it mentions Mercutio being in war. But I don’t think that’s why he dislikes Tybalt. It’s much simpler. He is Romeos best freind, and Tybalt Hates all Montagues. And he runs more because he noticed he has just fouled up by acidently killing the Princes cousin. I do beleive Mercutio is a good swordsman, maybe not as good as tybalt, but accomplished. and I think the fight escalates to deadly. And Tyb is a youngster think of him as a troubled teen that gets sent off to the country to live with his cousins to keep him out of trouble.
    Check out the SAFD websight (Society of Amercan Fight Directors) They have some links to fight terms and you cn find out a little more. Hope tht helped.

  4. Anon. – I’m SAFD trained (BADC and IOSP, as well, in fact), and while the punto can indeed be a killing blow if done properly, more often than not it ends with stabbing someone in the “rear upper thigh.” Also known as the ass.

    The quotes you pull are indeed fencing quotes, but you mistake the tone of Mercutio’s dialogue. He’s mocking Tybalt for these things. By saying that Tybalt is a man “of the first and second cause” he’s insulting him. There were seven causes (at least) in the escalation of insults to a fight. By saying that Tybalt engages in only the first two he’s implying one of two things: 1)Tybalt is a peacock coward; 2)Tybalt is such a hothead that he can’t even wait to fight. By “butcher of a silk button” he’s saying that Tybalt is either so skilled that he can slice a button off a man’s shirt, or he is used to skewering dummies. But how can you hear the line “He fights as you sing prick-song” and not think it’s an insult? Or “The pox on such an antic, lisping, affecting fantasticos, these new tuners of accent.” Mercutio then slips into mocking people putting on airs – clearly meaning Tybalt.

    Is Tybalt dangerous? Probably. Is he a fit figure for ridicule? Absolutely. Again, nobody takes Tybalt seriously, which only fuels his rage.

    And please note – the moment that someone dies in the show, the Prince starts banishing people, or else dooming the exiled man to death if he doesn’t split. So I cannot believe that anyone had died before this point. Three civil brawls – no hint of a death. So again, I don’t think of Tybalt as deadly. Trained, yes – and well trained. But more braggart than bold.

    As for Mercutio’s military background, it’s pure supposition on my part, but a close reading of Queen Mab shows a particular empathy with the soldier. He spends the longest time talking about soldiering. It’s the drums that actually cause the speech to change from light-hearted to despairing. Even the language changes from something that trips off the tongue to dark sibilant sounds that are hard to say. And since it’s the drums in a soldier’s ears that causes the change, it seems that Mercutio has had experience with that kind of life – not uncommon, either in the 14th century or in Shakespeare’s time.

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  6. I looked over everyone's posts because I'm playing Tybalt in a production in Miami. I'd like to input the thoughts I have on the character. I feel that Tybalt has been often portrayed as one dimensional, as noted in all of your blogs as a hate filled monster.

    However in my view Tybalt is madly in love with his cousin Juliet and has no way of expressing it. To me he is a tragic figure in this story because in some ways he loves Juliet more than Romeo does and has for years. I don't think he meant to kill Mercutio. The Mon/Cap fued may not have a reason but none the less these are all men that have been together and served together in a military capacity.

    No actor believes his character is a villain but you try to make your monster human. Tybalt especially because althought we don't see his reasons in the text we have to find those reasons. Otherwise you are left with a flat character filled with hate.

    I'd love to hear all of your thoughts.

  7. I wouldn't say I've always branded him a hate-filled monster, Mario. Check out "Empathy for Tybalt", for example, where I wonder whether the death of Mercutio was really just an accident:

    The Juliet twist is interesting – does he even have any stage time with Juliet where he can express what you're suggesting? Do you have any evidence in the text you can work from? Come to think of it, does Tybalt ever even mention Juliet?

  8. No Tybalt does not at all mention Juliet or share scenes with her directly but I came to that theory mainly from conversations between Juliet and her Nurse. They speak of Tybalt well and lovingly. I also came up with the idea that Tybalt seeks to fight Romeo because he saw him and Juliet dancing at the party and is jealous. There are a few moments in our production when Tybalt and Juliet have moments together that I am choosing to create this layer of unrequited love. Mainly in the party scene they share a brief but awkward dance that ends in Juliet turning to dance with Romeo, thus the jealousy. And no not everyone thinks Tybalt is a monster but I was concerned as an actor to give dimension to a character who isn't given too much in the text.

    Also I've added a few clips and videos of our company on this page if anyone is interested;

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is all the kind of stuff I was trawling for for hours with nothing coming back – so many thanks you people. I was wondering what was really going on with Tybalt and his anger and started to think that he was all bluster. I feel this more now, having read this blog.
    What I would like to know though is this. If Tybalt is Lady Capulet's nephew, how does that make him the heir to the Capulet dynasty? I really want to know this! Mainly because I feel, at this stage, that Tybalt's anger is all about not being taken seriously, being highly trained but not tried in the real world, as well as wanting to impress but never quite managing it…which is why he was so upset with his uncle at the feast.

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