Pride and Honour in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Short Essay
In Romeo and Juliet, while the Montagues and Capulets feel a great deal of familial pride, William Shakespeare warns of pride that goes too far. Both families, blinded by arrogance, honour their family names, but neglect to honour their neighbours and countrymen, resulting in a tragic loss. While this flaw can be seen in many characters, Tybalt and Capulet provide an interesting parallel. Tybalt’s hot temper and desire to prove himself ultimately result in his death. Meanwhile, Capulet undergoes a progression from violent familial pride in the beginning, to honouring his fellow man in the final scene. Through Tybalt and Capulet, Shakespeare illustrates both the negative aspects of pride and the importance of honouring others as well as oneself.
Tybalt is introduced to the audience brimming with youthful arrogance. While Benvolio tries to avoid violence after Samson ‘bites his thumb’ at the Capulets, Tybalt ridicules the idea of peace: ‘What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word/As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.’1 Capulet enters and is also ready to draw his sword against Samson, who Capulet claims ‘flourishes his blade in spite of me.’2 Tybalt and Capulet read the biting of the thumb and the drawing of the sword as insults against their house and jump to defend it. This continues to be a trend for Tybalt, despite Prince Escalus’ chastisement that their quarrels ‘have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets.’3 The Prince makes it clear that while Tybalt and Capulet may have a high sense of familial pride, they neglect to honour their country and fellow citizens. As the Prince warns that further disregard for a peaceful Verona will result in death,4 Shakespeare also warns of excessive pride that eclipses one’s honouring of one’s country and neighbours.
Unfortunately, the Prince’s message is not headed by Tybalt, as he again hastily calls for his rapier against Romeo at Capulet’s masquerade.5 Capulet, on the other hand, appears to have listened. He tells Tybalt that Romeo’s presence ‘shall be endured.’6 However, Capulet also slings insults at Tybalt, calling him a ‘saucy boy’ and a ‘princox.’7 Then a dance ends, and Capulet jumps between entertaining and complimenting his guests, ordering servants, and lecturing Tybalt.8 His divided attention indicates that perhaps he is not hoping honour his city and restore peace, but rather to appear as a gracious host. Nevertheless, Shakespeare does use Capulet to relay an ominous and prophetic message to Tybalt: ‘This trick may chance to scathe you.’9 Capulet chastises Tybalt for his youthful arrogance, warning that it may one day hurt him, though it remains unclear whether Capulet has understood true honour, or whether he simply wishes to look good in front of a crowd.
Meanwhile, Tybalt has ignored both the Prince and Capulet. He vows that ‘this intrusion shall,/Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall.’10 He sends a note to Romeo, challenging him to a duel,11 but Romeo refuses.12 Mercutio, declaring Romeo’s rebuff a ‘calm, dishonourable, vile submission,’13 fights Tybalt instead. Audiences can see the irony in this, as it is this violence that the Prince denounced as dishonourable to Verona. The duel degrades into a series of immature jests and insults, and Mercutio is slain by Tybalt. He dies with a curse on his lips: ‘A plague o’ both your houses./They have made worms’ meat of me.’14 Here Mercutio acknowledges, though too late, that the enmity between the Montagues and Capulets is not honourable, but that it harms their fellow men, and dishonours them, reducing them to ‘worm’s meat.’ Tybalt, however, once again ignores the warning, instead taunting Romeo further and meeting the same end as Mercutio.
It is only with the deaths of Romeo and Juliet that Capulet realises the true meaning of honour. The Prince laments that he has ‘lost a brace of kinsmen’ and ‘all are punished’ for it.15 Capulet is the first to respond, demonstrating he has learned the importance of honouring one’s neighbours and countrymen: ‘O brother Montague, give me thy hand./This is my daughter’s jointure, for no more/Can I demand.’16 By giving Montague his hand as a dowry for his daughter, Capulet shows he has been humbled by his loss, and now wishes to honour peace and brotherhood in Verona. Capulet and Montague agree to erect gold statues of the lovers, whom Capulet calls ‘poor sacrifices of our enmity.’17 The new peace is a testament to the lesson Capulet has learned about the dangers of excessive pride and the importance of honouring one’s country and fellow man, as one would honour their own family.
Shakespeare, W ‘The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’ in The Norton Shakespeare, 2nd edition, S. Greenblatt, W. Cohen, J.E. Howard and K. Eisaman Maus (eds). Norton, New York, 2008, pp. 905-972.