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Types of Diction in Act 3, Scene 1 of "Romeo and Juliet"


"Romeo and Juliet," a play by William Shakespeare, features a great deal of action and emotion in the first scene of its third act. Romeo, newly married to Juliet, alongside friends Mercutio and Benvolio, encounter a livid Tybalt. Fighting ensues against Romeo's wishes. Both Tybalt and Mercutio are killed, and Romeo is banished. Readers who study the scene can find a variety of diction, including witty language and highly emotional speech.

Diction of Violence

Words that convey an urge to fight appear frequently in this scene. Benvolio opens the dramatic action by declaring the day to be "hot." He is referring to the high temperature of Verona, but readers can also detect Shakespeare's foreshadowing of the intensity and passion to come. One of Mercutio's speeches contains seven references to "quarrels" and "quarreling." He also calls for Tybalt to match his "words" with "a blow," or fighting behavior with swords.

Wit

Shakespeare reserves the bulk of this scene's witty diction, or humorous keenness of perception, for Mercutio. He matches Benvolio's "By my head, here come the Capulets" with "By my heel, I care not." "Heel" implies that any adversary will find themselves under his foot should a fight take place. Even in his demise, Mercutio exhibits catchy intelligence. "Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man," he says while dying. Using "grave" connotes both his eminent death and his gloomy mood of the moment.

The Macabre

With a number of characters meeting their end, Act 3, Scene 1 displays several instances of macabre, or grim, word choice. At the top of the scene, Benvolio prefaces the upcoming deathly proceedings with a statement of "mad blood stirring." The words "blood," "bleeding," "kill" and "death" appear 15 times throughout the scene. Before the prince arrives, a "First Citizen" calls for Tybalt to rise "up, sir, go with me," ordering him to do so "in the prince's name." This moment gives chills considering Tybalt was killed just moments before this command.

Melodrama

Shakespeare peppers this scene with instances of melodramatic diction, or language choices that exaggerate the sensation of emotion. Lady Capulet's understanding of Tybalt's demise exemplifies this. Six of her histrionic phrases begin with "O," suggesting a heightened emotional state. The royal intensifies her grief by using decidedly redundant descriptions: "My cousin" is followed by "my brother's child" and an additional three uses of "cousin." Romeo's only reference to Juliet is gilded by words such as "sweet," "beauty," "effeminate" and "soften'd."

About the Author

Jeffrey Norman has been writing professionally since 2005. His work has been published in such journals as the "Leland Quarterly" and on the blog, An Apple A Day. Norman earned a Bachelor of Arts in literature and creative writing from Stanford University.

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