My assignment was Mercutio/Tybalt, which made me do a doubletake -- because I couldn't figure out if they had a scene together beyond the one where they both die. And then I was trying to figure out what the hell I thought of Tybalt in general, to see if there was some way to create a backstory for him that would be interesting, and the more I thought about Tybalt the more I fell in love with him.
Which is funny, because in the story I ended up writing, Tybalt doesn't get much time spent on him. More on Tybalt himself, later.
My recipient characterized Tybalt/Mercutio as 'antagonist' slash, so at the time I was like envisioning an Angel and Lindsey kind of a situation. I hadn't read the play in ages and ages, so I sat down with it, and sort of thumbed through to everywhere that was about Tybalt or Mercutio to try to piece together something more about their characters than what I remembered ( which was only that John Leguizamo as Tybalt had been weirdly hot yet slimy and he'd had a thing going on with Juliet's mom, which I found no textual evidence for, btw and that Ben Affleck is hilarious in Shakespeare in Love).
Also, at this point, I'm going to take a little sidebar to talk about how utterly frightening it was to write Shakespeare fic. Because -- really. It felt profane, more so than writing Bibleslash or anything else would have, and I think this definitely reflects more on my tendency toward slavish devotion than anything else. But. SHAKESPEARE.
So I read the scene with Mercutio and Tybalt fighting in it, and what strikes me most about that scene is that Tybalt tries very hard not to get into a fight with Mercutio. In fact, Mercutio entirely provokes him, many times, and Tybalt keeps his cool, and heads after Romeo instead. This seemed somewhat different from what I remembered -- because isn't Tybalt the asshole, right? Isn't Tybalt the fiery hot-head who's just a ball of violence waiting to explode on all bystanders?
Apparently not, according to this scene. Look at this:
By my head, here come the Capulets.
By my heel, I care not.
Mercutio is already spoiling for a fight here, to some degree. Benvolio's utterance of distress is totally lost on Mercutio, who's flippancy is a pretty good key that he's about to tease these guys, which can really only lead to madness.
[Enter Tybalt and others.]
Follow me close, for I will speak to them.—Gentlemen, good-den:
a word with one of you.
And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something; make
it a word and a blow.
Okay, so maybe I'm twelve, but that's suggestive. At this point, I can rock the antagonist slash thing. But here you've got Mercutio initiating hostilities.
You shall find me apt enough to that, sir, an you will give
Could you not take some occasion without giving?
Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo,—
Here, though, I start to wonder what it is that's going on with Tybalt. He's civil, polite even, in the face of Mercutio's slicing witticisms, and attempts to provoke. "Could you not take some occasion..." is again, suggestive, but everything Mercuio says to anyone has a level of that going on. Mercutio is a huge flirt, and I think we can all agree on that.
And of course, to anybody who lives in the slash goggles, the phrase "thou consortest with Romeo" is like "Oh, now does he?"
And remember, Mercutio is no Montagu himself. So what the fuck is his deal provoking Tybalt like this, right? It makes little sense, taken out of context of an earlier scene, wherein Mercutio extols Tybalt's ability as a swordsman, and discusses the fact that Tybalt is challenging Romeo to a duel:
Tybalt, the kinsman to old Capulet,
Hath sent a letter to his father's house.
A challenge, on my life.
Romeo will answer it.
Any man that can write may answer a letter.
Nay, he will answer the letter's master, how he
dares, being dared.
Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead! stabbed with a white
wench's black eye; shot through the ear with a love song; the
very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft:
and is he a man to encounter Tybalt?
Why, what is Tybalt?
More than prince of cats, I can tell you. O, he's the
courageous captain of compliments. He fights as you sing
prick-song—keeps time, distance, and proportion; rests me his
minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom: the very
butcher of a silk button, a duellist, a duellist; a gentleman of
the very first house,—of the first and second cause: ah, the
immortal passado! the punto reverso! the hay.—
The pox of such antic, lisping, affecting fantasticoes; these
new tuners of accents!—'By Jesu, a very good blade!—a very tall
man!—a very good whore!'—Why, is not this a lamentable thing,
grandsire, that we should be thus afflicted with these strange
flies, these fashion-mongers, these pardonnez-moi's, who stand so
much on the new form that they cannot sit at ease on the old
bench? O, their bons, their bons!
So, Mercutio knows that Tybalt is there in order to call out Romeo, and he knows that Tybalt is "a duellest, a duellist" who "keeps time, distance, and proportion". Romeo's own prowess in duels, we don't know about, but Mercutio already is voicing doubt -- "is he a man to encounter Tybalt?" So, now, Mercutio's egging on of Tybalt takes on a quality of protectivness. Mercutio's trying to piss Tybalt off enough to get Tybalt to fight him instead of Romeo. The provoking continues, and Tybalt's response is to rather wait for Romeo, and say to Mercutio " Well, peace be with you, sir.—Here comes my man." when Romeo (with whom Mercutio consorts) shows up.
When Romeo gets there, Mercutio gets even more intense in the way that he provokes Tybalt. He starts the next bout of insults off by telling Tybalt that he is *less* than Romeo. And Tybalt doesn't even respond to that, ignores it completely, and focuses on Romeo:
But I'll be hanged, sir, if he wear your livery:
Marry, go before to field, he'll be your follower;
Your worship in that sense may call him man.
Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford
No better term than this,—Thou art a villain.
Romeo mediates as best he can, because he's married to Juliet, blah blah blah, but Tybalt's clearly not settling for anything less than a full out fight, calling Romeo a "boy" and saying "this shall not excuse the injuries/ that thou has done me; therefore turn and draw". And so Mercutio, after another bout of Romeo being a weiney and trying to placate Tybalt, steps in. Because Tybalt wants this fight with Romeo and Mercutio is bound and determined to stop it.
Mercutio draws first, and Tybalt is confused, incredibly confused by that. He doesn't understand the wealth of agression Mercutio has toward him. I think it's important that Mercutio draws first and Tybalt asks him the equivalent of "What the fuck, man?" and waits for Mercutio to explicitly say, "I'm going to kill you." for Tybalt to engage in the fight at all:
O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!
Alla stoccata carries it away.[Draws.]
Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?
What wouldst thou have with me?
Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives; that I
mean to make bold withal, and, as you shall use me hereafter,
dry-beat the rest of the eight. Will you pluck your sword out of
his pitcher by the ears? make haste, lest mine be about your ears
ere it be out.
I am for you.[Drawing.]
Mercutio forces the fight. He forces Tybalt, and he does so to protect Romeo. His attitude toward Tybalt (as seen in the previous scene with Benvolio) is one of respect, but he also interestingly spends a lot of time in those speeches feminizing Tybalt. So it’s kind of a grudging admiration of Tybalt’s swordplay, with also a hint of bitterness, which is interesting. It could be that Mercutio’s just mid-bitchfest because Romeo’s still off with Rosaline (or so Mercutio thinks), and his annoyance with Romeo is projected onto Tybalt. Or it could be something else, deserving of fic, right?
Does this make them antagonists, though? This entire interaction is *antagonistic* certainly, but I don’t know. Tybalt’s disinclination to fight with Mercutio is such that it makes me wonder, because he’s certainly not portrayed as the model of discretion before this scene. In fact, he’s the one who really gets the Third Civil Brawl going in the first scene, and poor Benvolio’s stuck in the middle again.
And Mercutio’s actions seemed to have less to do with genuine dislike of Tybalt than adoration of Romeo.
This is what really made me start thinking about how I was going to manage to write Mercutio/Tybalt, when I read this scene and I felt like the strongest pairing to jump out at me was Mercutio/Romeo. How do I fit Tybalt – who really doesn’t belong to the same world as Mercutio and Romeo due to his Capuletness (and also there are indications that he’s far lower class than they are, a sort of hanger on in the Capulet household ala Fanny Price in Mansfield Park) – between the incredibly tight bonds that exist between Mercutio and Romeo?
So I had to loosen the bonds, to make room for a night o’ Tybalt or whatever (and how I was going to work the Tybalt/Mercutio was something that worried me from day one), but the play already has within it good material for jimmying a little air between Mercutio and Romeo: Rosaline.
Rosaline, who we never meet, who Mercutio spends the length of several scenes mocking to Romeo. Rosaline, who so preoccupies Romeo that he doesn’t listen to Mercutio’s cajoling pleas, and Mercutio does cajole. The whole scene with the Queen Mab speech is essentially Mercutio seducing Romeo away from his depressive tendencies toward obsession.
Though, I mean, really good luck with that one. Romeo is the kind of guy who, if he were alive today, would wear stripey shirts, glasses, play the guitar to pick up chicks, lean like Jordan Catalono, and spend a lot of time saying things like, “I feel like we have a – cosmic connection, like our souls are joined, you know?” to a new girl every other month. And things with every girl would be “like, heavily complex, okay?” Romeo is in love with the idea of being in love, which he equates with a kind of existential angst that I find hilarious, because honestly? This a certain type of seventeen that still exists in boys today:
Look at this:
Away from light steals home my heavy son,
And private in his chamber pens himself;
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night:
Black and portentous must this humour prove,
Unless good counsel may the cause remove.
He LOCKS HIMSELF in his room, and lies there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about how intensely his life sucks. Yes. This type still exists.
So, anyway, Romeo’s all “My life is horrible, and let me wallow in the misery caused by Rosaline” shuts Mercutio out, and if there’s anything Mercutio hates, then it’s not being the center of attention. Not seeing Romeo engage with him in any meaningful way. So there’s your space, and what do you do in that time?
Me? I made Tybalt and Mercutio have a one time thing on the side of an old school tavern, but it’s up to whoever. The thing is that you absolutely have to make that about Romeo, too, because everything Mercutio does in this play is very concretely about Romeo.
You have to bring Mercutio back to this point:
Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? now art
thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; not art thou what thou art, by
art as well as by nature: for this drivelling love is like a
great natural, that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble
in a hole.
And the absolute *joy* of that moment isn’t something you can forget – you have to deal with the way that they reconnect before Mercutio dies. The time for Tybalt to worm into Mercutio’s life at all is a very finite window.
When Mercutio dies Romeo’s totally broken apart by it, but weirdly, Tybalt’s upset about it, too:
Alive in triumph! and Mercutio slain!
Away to heaven respective lenity,
And fire-ey'd 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.
Thou, wretched boy, that didst consort him here,
Shalt with him hence.
This shall determine that.
[They fight; Tybalt falls.]
“Thou wretched boy” – I mean, that’s some pretty intense language, isn’t it? Granted, Tybalt’s got a pretty serious hate-on for the Montagus, and a need to prove himself because of his somewhat tenuous social position, but for a guy who spent the better part of a scene trying to avoid the fight that Mercutio was picking, he seems to be showing a strange amount of remorse over Mercutio’s death.
*laughs weakly* I didn’t intend for this to get quite this long, just to give a quick set up for how I saw the dynamics between these three characters so I could then talk about the nitty gritty of writing the yuletide story in general. But I think the reason this explanation gets so long winded – other than the fact that I am firmly into essay-mode right now – is that when you’re dealing with a text like, oh, you know, SHAKESPEARE, you absolutely have to make it work.
There’s no half way here, or at least I felt like there sure wasn’t. You have to *know* these characters as best you can, and I spent so much time reading and re-reading R&J for that story that I really got very fully developed ideas of each of the characters in my head.
I got like, full visuals for what they looked like and everything – as I wrote every scene was, to me, a cinematic sort of experience because I could *see* it, very clearly. I could see them, the way that Mercutio needed Romeo so desperately, how Mercutio’s adoration was the taken for granted corner stone of Romeo’s life, how Tybalt was hungry and vulnerable.
Next up on the Nifra Gets Pompous and Verbose Series: I’ll do the actual ‘writing of’ post for Waste Our Lights in Vain. I promise.