There is a whole library of books dealing with Shakespeare. Half of this library would sum him up as the world’s greatest dramatist-poet. Even when we are interested in his career as a lyrical and epic poet, we cannot avoid alluding to the dramas. The aim of this short study is to put the basic concept of the drama under a magnifying glass from a legal as well as moral aspect. We cannot, obviously, change the basic conflict or other features that inevitably led to the tragic end; however, it would be a noble and interesting task to draw up hypotheses which might have changed the climax as well as the dreadful outcome of the play. What moral and legal liability can be identified? What moral roles do the different characters play? Who could be blamed and what for? Who should not have been involved in the conflict? There are several questions out of which surely many will be not answered however noble our initiation is. On the contrary, we intend to display the key concepts leading to the desperate ending, fallible humans, endless disputes, incompetent friends, impotent deeds of a churchman, struggle and fight for love and freedom, triving on hatred and revenge. Everthing that is human and everything that really could have happened differently. Analyzing the plot and the happenings from a purely literal point of view is not our task now. Being a canon lawyer, the writer of this essay would rather focus on the moral or immoral bahavior of the characters. Meanwhile introducing the stage figures we wish to emphasize our aim seeking responsibility and blame.
The age when Shakespeare worked was full of adventages for him and also for his contemporaries. The Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, supported the drama-writers, so it is not surprising that experts call those dramas Elizabethan dramas. Therefore, a great deal of dramas appeared at the end of the 16th century, including both major types: comedy and tragedy.One of the most favored tragedies of Shakespeare is Romeo and Juliet written in 1590s.
Most discussions and stage productions give a simplified view of the play. Moreover, most people consider that it is a “play of young love“ or “the great typical love-tragedy of the world“ and so on. However, such remarks do an injustice to the complexity of the play. It is a work of art which weaves together a large number of related impressions, ideas, images and moral judgements.
Since the plot itself is well-known we would not like to go into it deeply. The only thing is now to discuss who could be responsible for the tragic death of two pure lovers. After The Proluge in wich a chorus speaks, we get to know about two households ’both alike in dignity” /Pr.L.2./ and about the town where the scene takes place. We also come to be aware of the fact that these households are in mutual hate, and this is what destroys the lives of ’star-crossed lovers”. /Pr.L.6./ Although one reason for the tragedy (as we have seen it in The Prologue) is already given, we cannot be satisfied with it. Is the feud between the two families the only acceptable explanation for the tragic death? No, probably not. So right from the start, let us see which characters have influence on the end of the play.
By dividing them into two groups, we are to say that Mercutio, the kisman of Escalus, Benvolio, nephew of Montague, Abram and Balthasar are gathering around the Montague family, while Tybalt, nephew of Capulet, the Nurse, Peter and the other servants embody the group that is centered in Capulet family. Certainly, there are some people who are insignificant, which means that they are not in close connection with the families, like Paris, who is in fact the suitor of Juliet, but is not involved in the feud; Escalus, the Prince of Verona, and the two Friars, Laurence and John.
Mercutio is gay (certainly it rather refers to his masculine complexion and not a gender divergance) and brave. He is not really involved in the family feuds. As he is a kinsman of the Prince, he is also invited to the party of the Capulets. At the same time, he is also the friend of Benvolio and Romeo. He dislikes Tybalt who always challenges him to a duel. He seems to support Romeo until he gets a fatal injury when he says, ’A plague a’both your houses” /III.1.L.100/ expressing that this feud and hate is nonsence. By saying this, he seems to be a non-committal character as well, but in fact we know that his death, which is the first one in the play, reflects to the course of fatal events taking place in the following scenes. Could his sentence serve us like a balme and judgement on Romeo’s gang? Surely, it could. However, as we are only at the beginning of a blooming climax, we cannot consider it to be a final consequence. Moreover, he mentions both families, which does underline the basic concept featuring the two houses in hatred. Therefore, Mercutio’s line is acting like a first-instance judgement, the reader’s crave for more is not yet satisfied. A practical question, however, could be whether the happenings could be ceased at this point or not. Legally, it could have. As my being a lawyer, it even seems to be strange that after Tybalt being stabbed, Romeo is free to go away and is only put into exile and is not executed. At the time when the scences took place a simple execution could have been carried out easily. However, we have two roots of the story. It is not a secret that no matter how much we would like Shakespere to be the father of the story, honestly he took it from a novel-like prose written some time two hundred years before the Elisabethan dramas. We would suspect that Romeo was on the edge of being executed in the original work, and the master himself simply changed the plot and therefore acted against legal regulatioins.
Benvolio, the friend of Romeo, is a good example for those who are looking for the best solution: to maintain the peace. ’I do but keep the peace,” he says in scene one. /I.1.L.67./ He is the person who always helps Romeo, for instance, when Romeo kills Tybalt and is a little bit confused, Benvolio is the only one who realizes what has happened exactly, and urges Romeo to get flee:
1Szilassy, Zoltán-Pálffy, István, English Literature from 1485 to1660, Debrecen:KLTE, 1981/, 79, 82.
2Spencer, T. J. B., Romeo and Juliet, introductio, London: Penguin books,1967/, 7
 Liber Extra, Liber Sextus, Corpus Iuris Canonici: the key books of law, all punishing arbitrary murderer by imposing death penalty; however, they retrain the possibility of exile in political cases or when an uprise might be possible (see the term legal and state security).