Peer Pressure in Romeo & Juliet

Instructor: Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

Peer pressure can be a strong force, and in Romeo and Juliet, it leads to more than just the deaths of two young teenagers. Read on to find out how it affects some of the other characters in the play.

The Power of Influence

As William Shakespeare's iconic Romeo and Juliet opens, the audience learns right away that the play is about two rival families, 'both alike in dignity,/In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,/From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,/Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean' (I.prologue.1-4). The Capulets and Montagues have been at war with one another for much longer than the audience, or even the characters, seem to know. This rivalry extends even to friends of the family, as we see with Romeo's friend Mercutio. This influence that comes from a friend is known as peer pressure. Let's take a look at some instances of peer pressure in the play.

Three Civil Brawls

The first instance of peer pressure in Romeo and Juliet occurs in the play's opening fight scene between the Montagues and the Capulets. This is not a new development, as the audience later learns that 'Three civil brawls/By thee, old Capulet, and Montague,/Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets' (I.1.91-93). The two families seem to enjoy fighting one another more than anything, judging by such an 'ancient grudge' that a cause for which cannot be determined.

The two groups find themselves occupying the same space, and because they are sworn enemies, they must fight. Initially, it is the Capulets' men, Sampson and Gregory, who pick a fight with Abram, a Montague. Because of peer pressure, they seem to be unable to help themselves from initiating what they call a quarrel. Sampson says, 'Draw if you be men.--Gregory, remember thy washing blow,' (I.1.63-64) and they begin to fight. Then, Benvolio, a Montague, enters the scene and in spite of pulling out his own sword, he demands they 'Put up your swords. You know not what you do' (I.1.66). However, as Tybalt, the most respected and feared of the Capulets, joins the fight, Benvolio finds himself unable to stop the quarrel from growing. Benvolio suggests that he 'Put up thy sword,/Or manage it to part these men with me,' (I.1.69-70) but Tybalt says, 'What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word/As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee./Have at thee, coward' (I.1.71-73). Though Benvolio attempts to convince Tybalt to help him end the fight, Tybalt's only concern is for his kinsmen--his peers and the pressure they've put upon him. The desire to stay loyal to his family and its name overwhelms his desire to stay out of a fight. Being a Capulet is more important than anything else, it seems. For Tybalt, peer pressure defeats logic in this scene.

A Soft-Hearted Boy

Benvolio is not the only Montague whose behavior is influenced by peer pressure, for Romeo goes to the Capulets' party where he will meet Juliet only at the insistence of his good friend, Mercutio. Romeo insists firmly, 'Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes/With nimble soles. I have a soul of lead' (I.4.14-15). Granted, he is still dealing with the breakup from a girl named Rosaline, but Romeo's emotions seem to rule him more than his mind.

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