Romeo and Juliet : Police Log

Continuing on the Romeo and Juliet theme, here’s another question.  We all know about the “ancient grudge” between the Montagues and the Capulets.  The play starts out with a fight between them.  One of the great stylized moments of the Luhrman version was the closeup on the guns and how they were all different “brands” of “sword”. But something I’ve always wondered is, just how violent are they toward each other?  We know that they’ve “disturbed the streets” what, three times previously, the Prince tells us?  But are we talking about glorified shouting matches, where neither side is really interested in doing anything more than flaunting their manhood?  At the start, the worst we get is a thumb biting.  And even then, whoever it was (Sampson?) has to ask, “Is the law on my side if I say Aye?”  So we see that while he hates the Capulets, he doesn’t want to get in trouble, either.  Swords come out, Benvolio attempts to beat them down, and then Tybalt joins the fray.  We get the feeling that this has all happened before.  What I’m wondering is, had it not been stopped, would someone have gotten hurt?  Is it really violent, or just walking that edge?
Another thought — Montague’s first words to Benvolio are, “Who set this ancient quarrel new abroach?”  That could be interpreted as meaning that the two families have not been clashing in the streets lately, that things have been settling down.  The Prince doesn’t say that they’ve disturbed the streets three times in the last month, after all.  Later, Capulet mentions to Paris, “Tis not so hard for men as old as we to keep the peace.”  So maybe this ancient grudge is actually nearly forgotten, before suddenly being thrust back into the spotlight.   What I’m wondering is, when Mercutio and Tybalt are killed, what’s the reaction of the crowd?  How would a third party look upon the news story the next morning?  Is violence just a part of daily life, and these were just two more stupid kids who ended up dead?  Or do we have a case where it’s understood that yes, they hate each other, but it’s all talk, nobody gets hurt.  Then, when somebody does finally get hurt, it has that much more impact, like “Holy cow, Romeo, what did you do???”  Did Mercutio enter into the sword fight with Tybalt without ever thinking that he might actually get hurt?  Did they not think that they were playing a life and death game?  This sort of gets back to the idea from an earlier post about maturity levels and how old these kids are.  They can act grown up, they can play with weapons like they were toys, and probably are in the habit of doing exactly that.  But then the violence finally tips over the edge, and that’s when everything comes crashing down. Dare I say it?  Momma always said, it’s all fun and games until Mercutio gets it in Act III. 🙂  

Technorati tags: Shakespeare, romeo, juliet, mercutio

2 thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet : Police Log

  1. The feud is ‘ancient’ as we learn in the Prologue and, although the Prince does not say it has broken out into fresh fighting within the past month it would appear to be recent. Dramatically, it needs to be so because, in the light of my previous comment, violence must be simmering , ready to explode in the fight scene where, after all, two of the major leads are killed off, not at the end of the play, like ‘Macbeth’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ or ‘Hamlet’, but at the beginning of Act III.

    The attitudes of the crowd and the combatants is, I would suggest, ambivalent and, to some degree not dissimilar to our own society’s attitude to war – glorious as it is done in the name of honour, loyalty and defence of one’s own, and, very annoying if it disturbs our sleep or peace of mind (not in our backyard). Are they that immature – are we?

  2. In Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Shakespeare: The Biography’ he says:

    …It has been estimated that there were thirty-five serious disturbances or riots in the city [of London] between 1581 and 1602. There were food riots, riots between apprentices and gentlemen of the Inns of Court, threats of riots against immigrants or ‘aliens’…Of course in a city where male citizens customarily carried daggers or rapiers, apprentices had knives, and females were armed with bodkins or long pins, there was a constant danger of violence…Cases of violent assault…were as common as cases of theft or over-pricing.

    I would suggest that, though R & J may be set in Verona, it is based on the London Shakespeare lived in as described above and that the violence he describes in the play is ready to explode as it has done before (for practical literary reasons, if a really serious fight had actually broken out earlier in the action too many of the main protagonists would be dead too early – especially Romeo!). So, Shakespeare teases us with dangerous violence underneath the surface barely controlled by the Prince’s edicts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *