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The exchange of greeting between the lovers on this occasion, affords another remarkable instance of that perfect unison of soul between them which the poet has so undeviatingly preserved throughout the piece:
Rom. Ah, Juliet, if the measure of thy joy
Jul. Conceit more rich in matter than in words,
Friar. Come, come with me, and we will make short work;
6.-ROMEO'S DUEL WITH TYBALT.-HIS PARTING WITH
So far, all is prosperous with our hero and heroine. But now comes their first great trial, resulting-not from any defect of character in either of them,
as has sometimes been hastily supposed—but from that overruling adverse destiny-triumphing eventually over the worldly happiness of the lovers, though triumphed over by their mutual constancy–which is the true mainspring of this great tragedy. In like manner as the dramatist has carefully kept Romeo blameless in the secret marriage, has he studiously shown him to be irreproachable in the fatal duel." In order to perceive this with the full conviction which the poet has intended to impress, we must consider attentively the very opposite character which he has assigned to
that young kinsman of Juliet's who so violently forces Romeo to become his personal antagonist.
Nothing, indeed, can contrast more perfectly than the violent harshness of the former character with the gentle harmony of the latter. Romeo has taken no personal interest whatever in the old family feud; he is no further implicated in it than as being “a Montague” by the mere accident of birth. Even the head of the opposite house admits that
Verona brags of him To be a virtuous and well-govern'd youth. But Tybalt finds in this hereditary quarrel a most acceptably permanent means of venting his natural turbulence and malignity—he out-Capulet's Capulet—is a studiously professed and practised duellist—that is, the most offensive compound of bully and assassin,and is consequently “the very head and front” of the
bandying in Verona streets”—the most habitual and incorrigible disturber of the public peace. Most fitly, therefore, is he here made to personify that spirit of discord, the disastrous collision of which with the exquisite harmony of the principal subject, runs through the piece, and creates its tragic interest
. How finely is this fatal clashing of these two dramatic elements foreshadowed by the placing of Tybalt's altercation with his uncle Capulet, concerning Romeo's presence as a masker at their feast, so as exactly to fill the short interval between Romeo's admiring exclamation at first beholding Juliet, and his words in first accosting her:
Tyb. This, by his voice, should be a Montague.
Cap. Why, how now, kinsman? wherefore storm you so?
Tyb. Uncle, this is a Montague, our foe;
Cap. Young Romeo is't?
'Tis he, that villain Romeo.
Tyb. It fits, when such a villain is a guest ;
He shall be endured.-
Tyb. Why, uncle, 'tis a shame.
Go to, go to,
Tyb. Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting,
[Erit. In how lively and forcible a manner are we here shown, that this propensity of Tybalt's to indulge his own spiteful violence by bringing forward the family quarrel upon every occasion, even the most improper, makes him a provoking nuisance even to his own kindred. As he himself has given us to understand in the words last quoted, he is not so easily to be withheld when meditating mischief. Early next morning, he sends Romeo a challenge, to his father's house—the receipt of which, had Romeo been at home, would have warned him to keep for a while out of the way of Juliet's quarrelsome cousin; but, being occupied, as we have seen, with the Friar, about the
arrangements for his marriage, the first notice that he has of Tybalt's hostile intention is, from encountering his antagonist in person, just after the marriage with Juliet has made him his kinsman. Let us here observe the care which the dramatist has taken to prevent the possibility of our at all mistaking the motives of Romeo in declining the combat with Tybalt,—by letting us know his previously established reputation for courage, in the following passage of the colloquy between Benvolio and Mercutio :
Ben. Tybalt, the kinsman of old Capulet, hath sent a letter to his father's house.
Mer. A challenge, on my life.
Ben. Nay, he will answer the letter's master, how he dares, being dared. We are thus prepared to give credit to the perfect singleness of the motive which Romeo covertly alleges, in the ensuing altercation, for declining Tybalt's defiance:
Tyb. Romeo, the hate I bear thee can afford
Rom. Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee,
Tyb. Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries
Rom. I do protest, I never injur'd thee;
As dearly as mine own,-be satisfied. It is plain, that Romeo is not at liberty to accept the challenge. It is equally plain, that he declines it in as dignified a manner as it is possible to do, without disclosing the secret which it so much behoves him to keep. But his spirited friend Mercutio, not suspecting its real motive, at once ascribes his reluctance to the apprehension which he entertains of Tybalt's superior swordsmanship; and now thinks himself
bound in honour to take up the quarrel in earnest, in which Tybalt had already been engaging him at the moment of Romeo's arrival :
Mer. O calm, dishonourable, vile submission !
Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk ? &c. Romeo has now no resource, for preventing bloodshed between his friend and his newly-made kinsman, but by appealing to their respect for the law:
In Verona streets.-Hold Tybalt!—Good Mercutio ! But this interference serves only to enable Tybalt, true to his character, to give his antagonist, with impunity, a mortal thrust under Romeo's arm. The predicament in which the latter is placed by this occurrence, is expressed with the greatest precision in his own reflection upon Mercutio's being carried off:
This gentleman, the prince's near ally,
Hath been my kinsman ! The balance of his feelings is already poised equally between the two opposing motives, as is beautifully shown us in the added sentence
O sweet Juliet,
And in my temper soften’d valour's steel ! Mercutio's decease, and Tybalt's re-appearance, turn the scale instantly and inevitably on the side of honour:
Ben. Here comes the furious Tybalt back again.
Rom. Alive! in triumph! and Mercutio slain !