Fighting Words in Romeo and Juliet

Part II of 2-Part Anti-Bullying Lesson

PREREQUISITES: Read Romeo and Juliet

LESSON OBJECTIVES: a) Closely read Shakespeare’s text in the scenes under investigation and explore the male characters’ motivations for violence; b) Examine the relationship between stereotyping and bullying in the play; c) Foster empathy

MATERIALS: Internet access, word processor (or pen and notebook), copy of Romeo and Juliet

TASK: 1) List passages in which one character insults another and explore why the young male characters are so easily offended by words. 2) Apply Juliet’s famous observation – “That which we call a rose/By any other name, would smell as sweet” – to five contemporary situations that involve people (not in your school). Be specific and explain how the line applies.

VOCABULARY: hypersensitive, bandying, to heed, inadvertently, brawls, bred, appertaining, devise, submission, slander, effeminate, temper valor’s steel, strife

VOCABULARY: : gibes, jests, consort, discords, strife, scurvy, knave, foe, disparagement, appertaining


Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).

Image Courtesy of Folger Shakespeare Library

Anti-Bullying and Anti-Stereotyping Lesson – Part II

People are disturbed not by things,

but by the view which they take of them. – Epictetus



What does name-calling tell us about the person who’s doing the name-calling?


STUDENTS SHOULD ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS IN A WORD or PAGES DOCUMENT or ON PAPER – 2 points per question for a total of 30 points.

In Act II, Sc. 2, in response to Mercutio’s name-calling, Romeo says, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound.” Reread Act II, Sc. 1, which provides the context for Romeo’s comment. (For more on the friendly banter (persiflage) between Romeo and Mercutio see the NEXUS supplement “Mercutio vs. Mr. Manners” in the LESSON PLANS menu.)

  1. What is Romeo saying about name-calling in this particular instance? To answer this question, you must identify the scar and wound to which Romeo refers and explain what Romeo reveals in this quote about Mercutio’s background or experience. Then explain Romeo’s psychological insight? Is it valid? Can Romeo’s insight be applied to name-calling in general? Explain your answer. Is there more to the psychology behind name-calling than Romeo’s insight suggests?


In Act I Sc. 5, Tybalt feels he’s being mocked simply because Romeo crashes the Capulets’ party. Tybalt is young, intolerant, and ready to kill or be killed for the sake of his ego. Like many, if not all bullies, Tybalt is hypersensitive and can’t cope with any perceived slight. Bullies are often if not always insecure and need to assert themselves frequently (like Curley in Of Mice and Men). On the day of their deaths, Tybalt and Mercutio’s insult-detecting antennae are on high alert. Instead of bandying insults, they should have heeded the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus:`

It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.


Whenever you are angry, be assured that it is not only a present evil, but that you have increased a habit.

  1. Explain one of Epictetus’ quotations and back up your explanation with examples from life.
  2. What words in Act I, Sc. 5 show that Tybalt’s ego is offended or threatened by Romeo’s presence at the party?
  3. In your opinion, if Tybalt knew Romeo had crashed the festivities to see Rosaline, would he be more offended or less? Explain your answer.
  4. Note that Tybalt uses the words “shame” and “honor” in this scene. You could say he rides a shame-honor teeter totter throughout scene 5. He is either at the top end of the teeter totter feeling honor or at the bottom feeling shame (“Why, Uncle, ‘tis a shame.”) Is there any room for kindness or love on this teeter-totter? In other words, can he ever rest and be content on a balanced teeter-totter, or must he always feels he’s on top?
  5. Where does Tybalt show that honor is more important to him than morality? Explain how he shows this.


  1. Based on the following excerpt and other scenes in the play, do you think Mercutio is correct in attributing hypersensitivity to Benvolio in Act III, Sc. 1 or is he inadvertently (unintentionally) describing himself? Use quotes from other Benvolio scenes and Mercutio scenes in the play to support your argument.

ACT III, Sc. 1

Mercutio: Why thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair

more or a hair less in his beard than thou hast. Thou

wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no

other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes. What

eye but such an eye would spy out such a quarrel?

Romeo, Mercutio and Tybalt

Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word [name-calling],
By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,
Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets
. – Prince

  1. Why does the Prince refer to name-calling as an “airy word”?


Tybalt:   Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford

No better term than this: thou art a villain.

Romeo: Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee

Doth much excuse the appertaining rage

To such a greeting. Villain am I none.

Therefore farewell.  I see thou knowest me not.

Tybalt:  Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries

That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.

Romeo: I do protest I never injured thee,

But love thee better than thou canst devise

Till thou shalt know the reason of my love;

And so, good Capulet, which name I tender

As dearly as mine own, be satisfied.

Mercutio: O calm, dishonorable, vile submission!

  1. What does Romeo’s reaction to Tybalt’s insult teach us about labels?
  2. When someone calls you a nasty name or places a negative label on you, do you react like Romeo and say the name or label doesn’t apply to you; therefore, the person attempting to stick you with it doesn’t know you? Or do you let the label stick and diminish your self-esteem? Or, when you feel it starting to stick and hurt, do you hurl insults back at your persecutor and ride the ego teeter-totter, one moment on the bottom, the next on top? Or, like Tybalt and Mercutio, do you pick a fight with the person you have allowed to offend you? IN YOUR ANSWER DO NOT USE OR REFER TO STUDENTS IN YOUR SCHOOL.
  3. Tybalt’s verbal assault is aimed at Romeo, not Mercutio. So why is Mercutio offended?

After Mercutio is stabbed, Romeo does an about-face regarding name-calling.

Romeo: This gentleman, the Prince’s near ally,

My very friend has got this mortal hurt

In my behalf – my reputation stained

With Tybalt’s slander – Tybalt, that an hour

Hath been my cousin. O sweet Juliet,

Thy beauty hath made me effeminate

And in my temper soft’ned valor’s steel.

From Romeo’s reactions we again see that name-calling can deeply affect even the best of characters – unless they have strong reasons to resist it or have learned to steel themselves against it. Romeo feels his reputation is “stained” by Tybalt’s insult (“slander”).

    Is Romeo’s reputation really stained by Tybalt’s put-down? Why or why not?

    Romeo claims that love for Juliet has made him effeminate. Has it? Or is Romeo’s anger, hurt, and ego doing the talking for him? Is it unmanly for males to be kind and gentle? Is “valor’s steel” a mental fortress men build around their vulnerable egos because they fear attack?

    WATCH THE FIGHT SCENE BETWEEN MERCUTIO AND TYBALT IN THE ZEFFIRELLI VERSION OF ROMEO AND JULIET. At what points is Tybalt on the top end of the ego teeter totter? When is he on the bottom? When is Mercutio on top and when at the bottom?


  1. Reread Lady Capulet’s account of the deadly fight in Act III, Sc. 1. Are her statements to the Prince driven by her emotions, her prejudices, her schemes, a combination of these, or by something else? Explain your answer using Lady C’s words to support your view.

Lady C: He is a kinsman to the Montague;

Affection makes him false, he speaks not true.

Some twenty of them fought in this black strife,

And all those twenty could but kill one life.

I beg for justice, which thou, Prince, must give.

Romeo slew Tybalt; Romeo must not live.

*Quatrain by Jesse Bryant Wilder and Allen Bryant