Benvolio, ever the peacekeeper, must explain why the Prince’s own cousin, Mercutio and Tybalt both lie dead in the streets of Verona.
Prince Escalus has forbidden fighting in Verona between the Capulets and Montagues, threatening those who disobey him with death. Despite this, a quarrel breaks out between the Prince’s cousin Mercutio and Tybalt of house Capulet when Romeo, a Montague, refuses to fight Tybalt.
After a scuffle between the pair, Tybalt kills Mercutio by a blow that strikes Mercutio, hitting him under Romeo’s arm as Romeo tries to hold Mercutio back from fighting. Romeo, utterly incensed by the murder of his best friend, kills Tybalt before fleeing.
The Prince and both families rush to the streets to hear what all the commotion was about before discovering that Tybalt has been killed and Romeo has escaped. It is left up to Benvolio to explain to the Prince what has occurred in the streets.
If we break down the text into thought and beat changes, we can sometimes gain insight into what choices to make. Let’s look at what some of the potential clues in the text might be telling us.
This monologue calls for pace and dexterity. The clues are in the language. Internal thought changes, marked down with (/) indicate where Benvolio is changing thought mid line or mid sentence. He is speaking of a sword fight and so you can really get a sense of the jagged nature of thoughts and nimbleness of the language.
You’ll also notice that some of the lines don’t have a thought change at the ends of the line where you might find thought changes more commonly in other Shakespeare monologues. This way of running through the verse says to me that Benvolio is working at pace to tell the story to the Prince. There is an energy and urgency to the news he is delivering which I think is consistent with the stakes of the scene.
Let’s take a look at the monologue broken down and discover any other clues that can help influence our performance.
Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine ending: (F)
Tybalt, here slain, whom Romeo’s hand did slay. /
Romeo that spoke him fair, bade him bethink
How nice the quarrel was, / and urged withal
Your high displeasure: / all this uttered
With gentle breath, calm look, knees humbly bow’d, /
Could not take truce with the unruly spleen
Of Tybalt, deaf to peace, / but that he tilts
With piercing steel at bold Mercutio’s breast, /
Who, all as hot, turns deadly point to point, /
And, with a martial scorn, / with one hand beats
Cold death aside, / and with the other sends
It back to Tybalt, / whose dexterity,
Retorts it: /
Romeo he cries aloud, /
‘Hold, friends! friends, part!’ / and, swifter than his tongue, /
His agile arm beats down their fatal points, /
And ‘twixt them rushes; /underneath whose arm
An envious thrust from Tybalt hit the life
Of stout Mercutio, / and then Tybalt fled; /
But by and by comes back to Romeo, /
Who had but newly entertain’d revenge, /
And to ‘t they go like lightning, / for, ere I
Could draw to part them, / was stout Tybalt slain. /
And, as he fell, did Romeo turn and fly. /
This is the truth, or let Benvolio die. /
Tybalt, lying here dead, killed by Romeo,
Romeo spoke kindly to him, begged him to think,
How stupid the fight was, and urged moreover
How enraged you would be: He said all this
Behaving very calmly, in submission,
But he could not make peace with with hot-tempered
Tybalt, who wouldn’t hear of peace, who instead thrust
With his sharp sword at brave Mercutio’s chest,
Who, equally enraged, turns deadly and fights back,
And with disregard for any fighting technique, with one hand parries
Tybalt’s cold steel sword away and with the other hand sends,
His dagger back to Tybalt, who nimbly,
Romeo cried aloud,
‘Stop, friends! Friends part’! And faster than his tongue,
His quick arm knocks own their deadly swords,
And between them rushes, and underneath his arm,
A malicious thrust from Tybalt hit the heart
Of brave Mercutio, and then Tybalt ran,
But immediately returns to Romeo,
Who now wanted revenge,
And they started fighting like lightning, because before I
Could draw my sword to separate them was brave Tybalt slain.
And as he died, Romeo ran away.
This is the truth, or put me to death.
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Spoke him fair: In other words, ‘spoke kindly to (or with) him’.
Bade: Bid. In other words, ‘asked’ or ‘begged’.
Bethink: To think.
Nice: In this context – trivial or stupid.
Take Truce: Make peace.
Unruly Spleen: Fiery, hot tempered.
Martial Scorn: ‘Martial’ refers to the art of fighting. Mercutio makes fun of Tybalt’s style of fighting: ‘[Tybalt] fights by the book of arithmetic’. In other words; like a mathematician.
Beats cold death aside: In other words, Mercutio parries the cold steel of Tybalt’s sword.
Sends it back to Tybalt: In a sword and dagger fight, you can parry with one weapon in one hand, and attack with the other weapon simultaneously.
By and by: immediately.
Hit the life: Refers to any area that was a single point to kill Mercutio.
Fatal points: The deadly tips of the swords.
‘Twixt: From the word ‘betwixt’ meaning ‘between’.
Stout: Brave, strong.
When one thinks of Romeo and Juliet, this may not be the monologue that springs to mind. Despite this, I think Benvolio’s under performed monologue is highly underrated, as is the character himself.
Benvolio shares in some critical moments of Romeo and Juliet. As the peacekeeper between the families, he’s rather a contradiction. He doesn’t wish to stir the pot of the feud between the families any more than it has, and yet he does so by encouraging Romeo to go along with Mercutio to the Capulet party. This event sets in motion the beginning of the end for Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt and Mercutio. In many ways, he’s just another kid – like Romeo and Juliet. A young man who wants to enjoy himself as a young person should. However, he happens to be caught in the middle of a deadly feud and little does he know that by the end of it, he will be one of the few young survivors.
In the monologue, you’ll notice that Benvolio is honest. I think it’s important to note the fair account Benvolio gives of events. When bias and exaggeration follow from both of the warring families, Benvolio, one of the children of the story, remains fair and even. An example of this is his use of the word ‘stout’, meaning ‘brave’, to describe both Mercutio and Tybalt. This is an interesting clue into the mind of Benvolio. Certainly he must detest Tybalt- the person who has killed his dear friend Mercutio? However in his account he describes both characters with the word brave. Do you think this is purely to appear honest and just? Or does Benvolio truly admire both Mercutio and Tybalt equally?
Either way, I think this character has a lot to offer at this moment of the play which is of the highest stakes. It is a wonderful opportunity for an actor to show off their skills with dexterity of language, pace and energy.