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How does Shakespeare create dramatic tension in Act Three, Scene One of Romeo & Juliet?

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Introduction

How does Shakespeare create dramatic tension in Act Three, Scene One of Romeo & Juliet? Although the plays of Shakespeare were written for a mixed audience, anyone watching Romeo and Juliet would appreciate the tension and drama in act three, scene one. It is unusual for two major characters to die so early on, but Shakespeare was a master playwright, and this is arguably his dramatic best. The scene opens with light humour from Mercutio and Benvolio, and follows on from the relaxed atmosphere of the previous scene, the wedding. Benvolio, however, is worried, and tries to persuade Mercutio to `retire'. He talks of the days stirring `the mad blood' of the family feud. He knows that if they meet the Capulets, they `will not `scape a brawl'. It is as if he knows that someone will be killed. Mercutio is a lot less wary, and continues to joke about fights and Benvolio, giving examples that may or may not be true. ...read more.

Middle

The words between the two men are quick, and help raise the pace of the scene. When Romeo enters, the tension dips slightly between Mercutio and Tybalt, as Tybalt says `peace be with you, here comes my man'. He is making it clear that he has finished with Mercutio, and will fight it out with Romeo instead. Mercutio is having none of it, but holds back to allow Romeo to handle the situation. The dramatic irony of Romeo's love for Tybalt adds to the audience apprehension of bad things to come, with Tybalt hurling insults, Romeo pleading for peace, and Mercutio's obvious anger at Romeo's `Vile submission'. Romeo's cowardice moves Mercutio to fight; he draws his sword again, and mixes jokes on Tybalt with violent suggestions. Tybalt responds and draws. The relentless hostility of the scene so far comes to a climax at this point, and as Mercutio is wounded from Romeo's intervention, he curses both the families, and describes his downfall with macabre images of death and decay. ...read more.

Conclusion

Benvolio explains what had happened, and Lady Capulet's grief rapidly turns to an urge for revenge. She wants Romeo to die, but the prince has also lost a kinsman, and will not condemn Romeo. He chooses exile. This relieves the audience, but the tension is still there, lessened, but there. Something must end this, they know, but they do not know what. There is a sense of foreboding at many places in this scene. Baz Luhrman captures the moment of Mercutio's death impeccably, as an ill wind whips up, and Romeo exits to pursue revenge, and as Romeo kills Tybalt, an eerie silence begins, disturbed only by the clatter of the gun on the steps. The reactions of the Capulets and Montagues show how little these deaths have affected their hatred of each other. Lady Capulet vows for revenge, and demands it, but the prince is deaf to her pleads. As the scene ends Tension is low, but there is an air of foreboding, and the audience know that the play is far from over. ...read more.

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