Romeo and Juliet is a play about the death-marked love of two young lovers from rival families, riddled with violence and tragedy. Upon seeing the tragic nature of the play, people often ponder a question about the tragedy: "How did this happen?" Often, people lay the blame with fate, or the violent nature of the feud the Capulets and the Montagues were engaged in, or the character flaws of Romeo and Juliet, or even the wrath of other characters, such as the temper of Lord Capulet or the bloodthirsty brutality of Tybalt. However, a closer inspection reveals a common trait found within the vast majority of the conflicts that led to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet - honor. In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, much of the conflict within the story was motivated by a sense of pride or honor by the characters, as shown through the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, the proud familial ties that characters are bound to, the forced marriage between Juliet and Paris, and the conflict between Tybalt, Mercutio, and Romeo.
The idea of honor was central to Shakespeare's Elizabethan England, as well as the Renaissance-era Italy portrayed in the play. Often, "honor was used to regulate behavior, social tensions, and conflict within the West European countries," (Grendler, The Renaissance). It also helped maintain social structures such as families, as well as to join different groups of people into a common culture that encouraged decency and respect. This lead to "people, especially noblemen, taking insults and offenses very seriously, with failures of honor becoming matters of both private guilt as well as of public shame," (George Washington University Magazine). This over glorification of honor in Italy during the 16th century was what ultimately leads to the arrogance and ego shown by the characters in Romeo and Juliet that stimulated much of the conflict that lead up to the tragedy of the play.