BENVOLIO Here comes the furious Tybalt back again.
ROMEO Again, in triumph, and Mercutio slain?
Away to heaven, respective lenity,
And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!
Now, Tybalt, take the ‘villain’ back again
That late thou gavest me, for Mercutio’s soul
Is but a little way above our heads,
Staying for thine to keep him company:
Either thou or I, or both, must go with him. (3.1.112-120)
Why does Tybalt come back? To triumph, as Romeo suggests? to find out what’s actually happened? after all, he left at speed immediately after inflicting the fatal wound. Is he actively furious, spoiling for another fight, this time with Romeo? Benvolio’s left to do implicit stage directions and messages, emphasising his powerlessness as a bystander in this terrible scene. There’s a sense here of Romeo allowing himself to be taken over by the extremity of his emotions and the situation, banishing respective lenity, any mercy or consideration that might be due to Tybalt as Juliet’s cousin, any sense of balance, and instead being governed by fire, fury, and revenge. As editors have pointed out, Romeo sounds like the hero of a revenge tragedy here – not least a bit like Hamlet – abandoning the claims of Christian morality and taking matters into his own hands. Romeo’s first three lines are addressed, again, to himself, a moment of hiatus and building tension, and then he lets rip directly at Tybalt, all his earlier rejection of the terms of honour and reputation set aside. He will not be called a villain, because he will avenge his friend, his friend whom he is now, finally, able to name as his cause. There’s a poignant vividness in his reimagining of Mercutio’s soul– which Benvolio has just described as aspiring the clouds, in a floaty, quite pictorial way – as still hovering over the scene, not quite gone yet, still within reach, almost touchable if Romeo just reaches up and out. Yes, waiting for Tybalt’s soul to keep him company, but also waiting to see how Romeo does at this, if he will do his friend proud, if the kid’s alright. And also because there’s some comfort in imagining not only that Mercutio’s still there, but also that he can’t bear to go either, that he’s as reluctant to abandon Romeo as Romeo is anguished to admit that Mercutio is gone. Either thou or I, or both, must go with him. No compromise. No way out.