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Fighting and Weapons in Romeo & Juliet

Posted by: | December 5, 2011 | No Comment |

Okay, I will admit I’ve been known to be a little violent at times. Is it a surprise that the topic I chose was fighting and weapons?


I confess myself very much interested in things like Renaissance duels, and the codes of honour and such. I did get carried away more than once looking at more cool stuff that I found.

Well, anyways, here are a few of the questions and answers (the ones I could find) I had concerning the general violence in Romeo & Juliet:


What sort of weapons were usually used for fighting in the late 16th century?

We hear Capulet saying “Give me my long sword, ho!” Ergo, a longsword was used – at least by people like Capulet. I couldn’t find too much about what weapons in that specific area or in the play, but here are a few weapons from that general time period:

The longsword (or bastard sword) - a two-handed European sword, weighing about 2-4lbs. This was a more military weapon, unlike the rapier.

The rapier - a slender, pointed, double-edged sword. It was nearly a metre long, and there was usually a very elaborate hand-guard and hilt. It was a lighter, nimbler sword, becoming popular a little before  the time of Shakespeare and Romeo & Juliet.

Dagger - this was a short double-bladed knife, commonly carried around in the time (unlike the single-bladed knives from earlier time periods). Only during the Renaissance did it become common to hold it with the blade up (the end of your hand with the thumb), unlike the middle ages, where it was held in the opposite direction – a “reverse grip”. Some people considered it to be a “poetic” weapon of choice for assassins. (a parrying dagger was often used alongside a one-handed sword – y’all remember this from the movie, I’m sure)


Who usually carried a weapon? What weapons?

Well. In the book of the play, we hear about Romeo, Mercutio, Tybalt, Benvolio, and just about every other young guy in Verona seems to have a sword. From my research, the rapier was a primarily civilian weapon.

Many civilians began wearing swords as the need for a self-defense weapon was being felt in more and more ordinary citizens, though wearing swords as part of civilian dress was something that began with the nobility at court. Rapier use began with street fighting among commoners and shopkeepers and merchants.

I’d hoped to find if any of the women carried weapons of some sort – presumably daggers – but I found nothing. Also couldn’t find a whole lot about at what age people started carrying around their own weapons.


What were the general rules around fighting? (Rules of engagement, chivalry, honour?)

Duels were very much illegal, with a few exceptions. They were more for restoring one’s honour or avenging an insult than for killing one’ opponent. It was basically on the principle of restoring one’s honour by being to risk one’s life for it.

Aside of being illegal, there weren’t really too many rules for this kind of fight. The only real well known “rules” were that running away from a fight was cowardly and dishonourable.

In almost all records of fights and duels, sword combats involved wrestling and grappling as a major part. It wasn’t uncommon for one to use their non-sword hand to deflect or grab their opponent’s weapon.

So. I chose this area, since I do rather like the fight scenes in movies, and finding out a bunch of cool stuff about the history of weapons and random useless facts about time periods and such. What am I taking away from this? Well, good bloody question. I’m not too sure. Personally, I had fun looking up old ways of people killing each other.


And now, for your reading pleasure: a few things I stumbled upon while researching this.

A few strange duels fought:

In 1808, apparently two Frenchmen fought in balloons over Paris, each attempting to shoot and puncture the other’s balloon; apparently one of them was shot down and killed with his second.

In 1843, two men are said to have fought a duel by throwing billiard balls at each other.

In the 1860s, Otto von Bismarck was said to have challenged Rudolf Virchow to a duel. Virchow, being entitled to choose the weapons, picked two pork sausages, one infected with the roundworm Trichinella; the two would each choose and eat a sausage. Bismarck reportedly declined. 

And also, a Renaissance joke.

It was asked of a painter why, since he made such beautiful figures, which were but dead things, his children were so ugly; to which the painter replied that he made his pictures by day, and his children by night.



ARMA, a collection of essays from the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts.

Cunnan, a wiki for Renaissance or Middle Ages re-enactors.

Wikipedia.  I’m sure you know what that is. I used many pages, like the ones on duelling, chivalry, honour codes, feuds, longswords, parrying daggers, etc.

under: English Assignments, Romeo and Juliet, TALONS Stuff

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