Death in Symmetry

In Romeo and Juliet, there are “Two households both alike in dignity” (1Chorus.1). Yes, the Capulets and Montagues are alike in “the quality of being worthy or honorable; worthiness, worth, nobleness, excellence” (Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition on CD-ROM [v. 4.0]). But there are actually three families. The Prince (with a name in the cast of characters–but never uttered on stage–of Escalus… a homonym to the father of Greek tragedy Aeschylus, perhaps?) has two kinsman in the play, Mercutio and Paris.

As the Prince says near the end of the play, “All are punished” (V.iii.295). How true this is:

  • The Capulets lose  Juliet (V.iii.171) and Tybalt (III.i.130).
  • The Montagues lose Romeo (V.iii.120) and Lady Montague (Capulet tells the Prince: “Alas, my liege, my wife is dead tonight! // Grief of my son’s exile hath stopped her breath” [V.iii.210-211]).
  • The Prince loses Mercutio (III..115) and Paris (V.iii.70).

In stating his own culpability in the tragic events, the Prince says, “And I, for winking at your discords, too, // Have lost a brace of kinsman” (V.iii.294-295), here “brace” meaning “a pair, a couple” (OED).

Yes, “All are punished” … each of the three families loses two members.

It is interesting that in the “Bad Quarto” of 1597, Montague also announces the death of Benvolio. But for the subsequent printings, that death is removed. Could it be that having Benvolio die would ruin the symmetry of death in Romeo and Juliet?

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