Romeo and Juliet (Film 1968)

Romeo and Juliet (Film 1968) Summary and Analysis of Section 4: Mercutio Fights With Tybalt - Romeo and Juliet Say Goodbye

We open on a shot of Mercutio shouting silly things with a cloth over his head. Benvolio asks him if they can go, as it’s hot out. He worries that if they run into the Capulets, the heat will make them want to fight. Mercutio waves him off and says he’s quick to anger regardless of heat. They then see a group of Capulets approaching, and Mercutio jumps into a nearby fountain to cool himself off and drink from the spout. Tybalt greets them and asks if Mercutio associates with Romeo. Mercutio mocks him and pulls out his sword in the water. Benvolio warns them that they’re in public and shouldn’t fight. Mercutio waves him off as Tybalt sees Romeo approaching. Romeo comes yelling for Mercutio but halts when he sees Tybalt, who calls him a villain. Romeo says that he has too much love for Tybalt to acknowledge that insult, but again Tybalt accuses him of crimes against him. Romeo earnestly tells him that he has no quarrel with him, shakes his hand, and attempts to leave. By the other Montagues' loud reactions, they seem to think Romeo is mocking him with his unexpected kindness.

Tybalt makes a childish show of washing the hand Romeo touched in the fountain, prompting laughter from his fellows. He splashes Mercutio with the water and begins to exit. Enraged, Mercutio gets out of the fountain, pushing a protesting Benvolio aside, and draws his sword, calling for Tybalt to fight him. He puts his blade on Tybalt’s shoulder and Tybalt turns and draws as well. They begin to duel, the others forming an excited circle around them. Romeo tries to get them to stop, reminding them that the prince has forbidden such fighting in the streets, but they continue. After a moment, Tybalt catches Mercutio exposed and stands ready to strike his chest. Everyone looks briefly worried, but then Mercutio fakes like he doesn’t care and begins whistling, prompting Tybalt to laugh. Mercutio steals around to his other side and the two shake hands and resume their duel. They fight dramatically, with sweeping gestures. Tybalt gets hold of Mercutio’s head and cuts off a chunk of his hair, angering Mercutio. Tybalt then lunges at him and gets his sword stuck in a sack by a hay cart, which Mercutio traps with a pitch fork. He takes Tybalt’s sword such that he now holds both, and Tybalt comes after him with just the fork. Mercutio then throws Tybalt back his sword as he and his fellows jeer. Tybalt appears angry and comes at Mercutio again. When Romeo and Benvolio get between them to stop their fighting, a wrong blow by Tybalt penetrates Mercutio’s body. Tybalt sees the blood on his sword, dumbstruck, and flees with the other Capulets.

Mercutio attempts to take in the ensuring cheers from his friends, covering his wound with his hand, but quickly collapses in pain, claiming that he’s hurt. He stands again, saying that he’ll be dead by the next day, which makes the others laugh. He asks for a doctor, but again they just laugh. He looks at Romeo in desperation, saying he was hurt under his arm. Romeo is shocked, saying he meant well. Mercutio collapses again, and this time Benvolio appears gravely concerned. Mercutio very slowly gets to his feet yet again and climbs the church steps, atop which he curses both the Montagues and Capulets. Romeo and Benvolio seem horrified, not sure what’s happening, but the others continue to react as if he’s joking. Mercutio then falls down the stairs and lands limp on the cobblestone. Benvolio goes to him and says that he’s dead, but still the others laugh, believing it to be a joke. When Romeo bends down and lifts Mercutio’s hand, they see he was covering a bleeding wound. Suddenly, the laughter stops. Romeo grows livid, screaming that Tybalt will pay for what he’s done. He takes Mercutio’s bloodied cloth and runs off, shouting for Tybalt. The others try and fail to stop him.

Romeo finds and confronts Tybalt in the street. He shoves the bloody cloth in his face and says that either he or Tybalt have to join Mercutio in heaven. Tybalt draws two swords and someone throws Romeo two as well. They begin dueling aggressively. The others look on, cheering and throwing advice to each of them. Tybalt knocks Romeo to the ground, from which he quickly recovers and rounds on him again. They continue their sweeping blows at one another until Tybalt catches Romeo’s swords and throws them from his hands. Romeo runs to get away and yells for a sword as the others give chase. They end up back in the square, where Romeo tackles Tybalt to the ground, at which point they begin brawling violently with just their hands. Tybalt punches Romeo in the stomach and calls for a sword. He finds one and lunges at Romeo, but Romeo finds one of his own and throws it into Tybalt’s stomach, stopping him in his tracks. Tybalt cries out, and without a word collapses dead on top of Romeo. Romeo throws his body off and runs away, cursing his terrible luck.

We cut to the Nurse sobbing and mourning the loss of her best friend Tybalt. Juliet asks if Romeo killed him, and when the Nurse says yes, they collapse together, crying inconsolably. The Nurse curses Romeo, and Juliet admonishes her, conflicted that her beloved husband is also the murderer of her cousin.

Out in the streets, the Montagues bring the body of Mercutio to the steps of the prince’s castle, as the Capulet’s bring the body of Tybalt. Benvolio tells the prince and silent crowd that Tybalt began the whole ordeal, and Lady Capulet, grief-stricken, her hair a falling mess, protests. Benvolio explains that Tybalt killed Mercutio, which prompted Romeo to seek revenge by killing Tybalt. A Capulet servant strikes Benvolio, causing a brawl in the crowd. Lady Capulet begs for Romeo’s death as justice. Lord Montague argues that Romeo was carrying out justice by killing Mercutio’s killer. The prince agrees with the latter, and rather than sentences Romeo to death, banishes him from Verona forever. A bell tolls and the prince goes back inside.

We cut to Romeo sobbing over his banishment sentence in Friar Lawrence’s chamber. A knock draws the Friar to the door, where the Nurse is waiting. He lets her in and she finds Romeo, who continues to wail. She says that Juliet is acting the same way. She tries to get Romeo to stand for Juliet’s sake, and slowly he does, asking what Juliet thinks of their “cancelled love.” She says she’s just been crying. Romeo asks where his name is embedded in his body so that he may cut it out, and grabs one of the Friar’s knife and attempts to stab himself with it. The Friar quickly wrestles it away from him and reprimands him for behaving so weakly. He lists all the reasons that Romeo should feel blessed, not the least of which being that the prince spared his life by choosing only to banish him. He says that Romeo will live in Mantua until they can convince the prince to pardon him, after which Romeo can come back happily. He sends the Nurse off to prepare Juliet for Romeo to come see her. Romeo then kisses the Friar’s hand and leaves.

We open next on a naked Romeo and Juliet lying exposed in bed, having spent the night together. Sweet music plays and birds begin to chirp as Romeo slowly awakens. He gives Juliet a gentle kiss and gets out of bed to open the curtains. With the inpouring sunlight, Juliet wakes up to see Romeo dressing slowly. She asks him not to go so soon, saying that it’s not time yet. He jumps into her arms, saying he’d do anything she asked to be able to stay. When she hears the lark singing, however, she gets up suddenly and helps him dress, worrying that he won’t leave in time. The Nurse knocks to let Juliet know her mother is coming. Romeo quickly goes to her balcony as Juliet asks him to write her every day. They share a bittersweet kiss goodbye. He climbs down the wall and, with a final “adieu,” runs off, leaving Juliet in tears.

Section 4 Analysis

The death of Mercutio is among the more tragic moments in the film. Mercutio has since the opening of the story established himself as the jokester among the Montagues, going out of his way to entertain and amuse his fellows. When he’s struck by Tybalt’s blade, his initial reaction is therefore to wave it off. However, this quickly proves impossible as he feels the severity of his wound. As he then pleads for help in earnest, most of his peers think he’s kidding, a “crying wolf” scenario in which his previous antics are now working against his credibility. Only Romeo, whom Mercutio personally blames for getting in the way of the duel, and Benvolio, ever the realist, seem to understand that something is gravely wrong. Right through to the end, even after cursing the feuding families and collapsing on the ground, the other boys still think he’s kidding, until Romeo reveals the bloody wound he was concealing. This is a dark, twisted moment, as Mercutio’s comical, immature disposition is ultimately his undoing—had another character so dramatically cried out for a doctor, they likely would have been taken seriously, but Mercutio’s reputation as a witty exaggerator discredits him, and so he dies to the sound of his friends’ incessant laugher.

Romeo’s fast transition from overjoyed pacifist to bloodthirsty avenger toward Tybalt is another testament of the corrupting power of the families’ bitter feud. At the start of Section 4, Romeo is content to be newly, if secretly, married to the love of his life. When Tybalt confronts him, he responds with respect, and this is consistent with his newly emboldened ability to separate the Capulets from their name and see them as individuals rather than as part of the collective enemy. Mercutio’s death, however, changes this instantly as his rage overtakes him and he seeks revenge. The prologue’s prophecy that “civil blood makes civil hands unclean” comes full-circle and is finally realized, and Romeo’s fate as an exile is sealed.

Juliet faces a deep conundrum once Romeo slays Tybalt: his act of revenge truly justifies his status as her family’s enemy, and yet she has already separated him from that identity in order to make him her husband. The Nurse is quick to curse Romeo, but Juliet admonishes her, saying she cannot defend his actions, and yet she cannot speak ill of him because he’s her spouse. The distinction between the Nurse’s angry reaction and Juliet’s forgiving one reminds us that Juliet is overcome by her passion for Romeo and allows it to influence all of her decisions and actions.

Romeo similarly demonstrates inconsolable emotions upon learning of his banishment sentence, for without Juliet he feels his life is worthless. He demonstrates a drastic escalation from his earlier proclamation that he’d give up his name to be with her when he grabs the Friar’s knife and attempts to cut out the metaphorical part of him that holds his name. This moment is also one where the Friar must once again be the voice of reason. His monologue in which he reminds Romeo of all that he has to be grateful for—not the least of which is that the prince chose to spare his life—helps to calm Romeo’s youthful rashness and passion.

The night Romeo and Juliet spend together, of which we glimpse only the tail-end, is among the most intimate and peaceful scenes in the film. The two lovers are completely naked to emphasize their vulnerability, as well as their desire to be free of anything that doesn't remind them of each other, especially the contrasting colors of their family garments. Juliet’s argument that she hears the nightingale—which sings at night—and not the lark—which sings in the morning—shows how desperately she wants Romeo to stay. Once she realizes the hour and the fact that Romeo will be in more trouble if he doesn’t leave on time, however, she seems to come to her senses, encouraging him to dress and leave. The goodbye they share as he descends the balcony and heads for Mantua is the last time they will see each other alive.