The Montague-Capulet Feud as Main Conflict in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

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Updated: Aug 15, 2023
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Romeo and Juliet is a story about love and conflicting families. However, many people debate what the main conflict is. The main conflict of this story lies in the rivalry between the two families; their hostility is the root cause of the problems that turn an otherwise normal love story into a tale fraught with violence, death, and the need for secrecy.

I believe that the main conflict in the story is the family feud that results in the death of our two protagonists, rather than the death itself being the main conflict.

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At the beginning of the play, the prologue and the chorus summarize the story, referencing the family conflict along the way. “Two households, both alike in dignity,” alongside “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny,” underscore that the feud has been ongoing and has resulted in violent outbursts and arguments. Intriguingly, we never learn the cause of the feud, underscoring the point that, in the end, the deaths of the children were pointless; the grudge brought nothing but danger to the families and the public. “My only love sprung from my only hate,” Juliet states in the famous balcony scene. She monologues about Romeo, wishing he had a different name or that he would renounce his family so they could be together. “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet,” she laments. Juliet is distraught upon learning Romeo is a Montague; she knows he would be the same person by any other name, so why should a name stand in their way? Rather than their love being the problem, it is the fact that they come from separate families that makes their love problematic in the first place.

The family conflict instigates a series of violent events towards the end of the play, culminating in heightened stakes and a darkening tone before the finale. There are several instances of altercations and disputes among the younger members of the families in the play, often involving mockery that escalates into battles, all set in public places. In the first battle, the prince declares, “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.” Despite putting the public at risk with their bickering and fighting, the characters continue this behavior into Act 3, Scene 1, where the violence intensifies. There are slight similarities between the initial conflict and subsequent battles. The first scene begins with the Capulets mocking the opposing house, with insults such as “A dog of the house of Montague moves me.” They go on to liken members of the other family to dogs, women, and virgins. This occurs again in the second battle, this time involving Benvolio, a Montague, and Romeo’s close friend Mercutio. They deride Tybalt as the ‘Prince of Cats,’ indicating both his swordsmanship skills and his cowardice. The battle escalates quickly, despite Romeo’s attempts to play peacemaker. In his efforts to break up the fight, Mercutio is fatally wounded. The families’ growing loyalty to each other prompts them to defend their kin, despite the obvious danger. The prince had served as a peacemaker in the first scene, but in the first scene of Act 3, their resentment becomes increasingly petty and violent, ending with Romeo’s banishment.

Tybalt serves as a prime example of familial devotion and dedication to one’s name. He is committed to upholding his name to such an extent that he is willing to cause a commotion at Lord Capulet’s party and to seek and kill Romeo. Tybalt first appears in the opening battle between the Montagues and the Capulets. When Benvolio tries to intervene, Tybalt challenges him to a fight, one of numerous violent actions he takes throughout the play. The dynamics between Tybalt and Lord Capulet come to light during a party hosted by the Capulets. “Now, by the stock and honour of my kin, to strike him dead I hold it not a sin,” Tybalt proclaims, deeming Romeo’s presence as a slight against the Capulet name. His readiness to murder Romeo, even at the risk of damaging the very name he seeks to protect, reveals his impulsive rage. Lord Capulet chastises him, referring to him as a “punk” and an “idiot” for thinking his actions would be remotely acceptable. Tybalt’s words, “Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting… Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall,” foreshadow the forthcoming battle with Mercutio and ultimately, Romeo’s death.

The theme of familial love is strong with this character. He takes pride in the Capulet name and isn’t willing to let anybody insult the family name while he is around. Tybalt represents familial love in its strongest, most violent form. Just because he saw Romeo at a party he should not have been at, he started events that led to his banishment and, therefore, death.

Romeo and Juliet is a play driven by family rivalry and conflict. I argue that family rivalry and conflict is the main theme. We are presented with feelings of betrayal by the protagonists, taking the love of one’s family name and honoring it by battling anybody who dares speak of it in any negative form. It’s one’s name that is preventing a safe and normal relationship. The play would be a very different story if the families had put away a petty rivalry that no one remembers the roots of, or if one of the protagonists had had a different name altogether.

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The Montague-Capulet Feud as Main Conflict in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. (2023, Feb 07). Retrieved from