Explore the significance of the character Mercutio in the play Romeo and Juliet
Although Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ does not focus on Mercutio, he is one of the most unique characters of the play. He manages to manipulate other characters of the play through his imaginative and powerful language. He usually takes the lead in conversations and his friends generally go by what he says. Mercutio is neither Capulet nor Montague but his strong bond with Romeo associates him with the Montagues. In the play, Mercutio tends to stand out compared to the other characters; this is mainly because of his energetic and outrageous personality. His comical character lightens the mood of the tragic love story and helps to increase the sympathy of the audience when he later dies.
Mercutio is a catalyst, meaning that he has the ability to change what people think or do. An example of this is in Act 1 Scene 4, where Romeo is sad and doesn’t want to go to the Capulet’s ball but Mercutio lightens the mood with puns and word play;
“You are a lover; borrow Cupid’s wings”
An Elizabethan audience would have found this funny because cupid was and still is very well known as being the god of love. Mercutio is comedian, always making jokes at every chance he gets. He lives life on the edge and is always looking for something new and exiting to do. This could also make him an antagonist and troublemaker, especially when the Capulet’s are involved. His inevitable death and the death of several others are caused by Mercutio living life on the edge.
Read this – Puns in the Importance
Mercutio puts on a front which tells the audience that he does not respect women, such as the way he often uses animal features to describe women, “spiders…gallops…pig’s tail” perhaps suggesting that women are less superior to men.
However, when you look closer into his language you can see that his feelings go deeper, for example, in Act 1 Scene 4, Mercutio speaks about women being like Queen Mab;
“Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers”
During the queen Mab speech in particular, he uses sibilance, sibilance it the repetition of the ‘S’ sound which makes this speech sound soft and I think that it shows his true passion for women. In contrast, when he is talking to Romeo and giving him advice, he says to Romeo;
“Be rough with love; Prick love for pricking,
And you beat love down.”
This could show that he may have had a past relationship that may not have turned out so well. He may also be telling this to Romeo because he doesn’t want the same thing to happen to him.
In Act 1 Scene 4, Mercutio’s imagination runs wild as he is describing women as Queen Mab. This will begin to show the audience Mercutio’s true feelings for women. He uses passionate language such as;
“Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice”
On the other hand, Romeo has a different view to that of Mercutio’s towards women. Romeo, who is quite naï¿½ve towards love, shows the audience how much he loves everyone and everything. He is always talking about how fabulous love is and that it is the only thing that matters in the world.
“O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art
As glorious to this night, being o’er my head”
This can show that Romeo may not have been in a real relationship, but only fantasising about it.
Mercutio and Romeo have a strong friendship; they are both extremely loyal to each other and tend to help each other out;
“Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.”
They both have a strong influence on each other, which from Mercutio’s side tends to be positive but can sometimes turn out negative but this does not happen all the time. In the death scene of Mercutio he blames Romeo for his death even though Romeo was only tried to stop it.
In Act 2, Scene 1, after the ball Mercutio and Benvolio are looking for Romeo; they still believe that he is in love with Rosaline. Mercutio then begins to shout out for Romeo, by way of chanting a spell;
“Nay, I’ll conjure too. Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover! Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh”
The shortness of his sentences and the use of exclamation marks emphasises his humour in his speech, suggesting a light hearted tone, this would have created a more amusing scene for an Elizabethan audience. During this scene the actor playing Mercutio would probably be dancing around with imaginary props, pretending to brew up a potion.
He then continues to talk about Rosaline; he speaks about her in a manor that is rude and obnoxious, he mocks Romeo as he believes he is superficial and that he is only in love with Rosaline’s beauty;
“By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh”
Here Mercutio is saying that Rosaline is a prostitute and Benvolio believes that this would anger Romeo. Mercutio replies;
“This cannot anger him ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle”
In this sentence Mercutio begins to use sexual references; he says it would only anger Romeo if someone else was to sleep with Rosaline. During this scene Mercutio is loud and energetic. A modern audience would think this funny and witty but an Elizabethan audience may have been more shocked at what he was saying.
During Act 2 Scene 4, Mercutio and the Nurse meet. In much the same way as with Rosaline, Mercutio is again vulgar about the nurse;
“Good Peter, to hide her face; for her fan’s the fairer face.”
The repetition of the letter ‘F’ emphasizes a harsh tone and suggests to the audience a feeling of disgust towards the nurse. Mercutio is saying that the nurse is unattractive, but she does not let this pass as she is aggressive and says;
“Out upon you! What a man are you!”
This shows the Nurses mutual disliking for Mercutio as well.
In Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio compliments Tybalt’s skills as a fighter; he calls him “Prince of Cats”. This is because Mercutio thinks that Tybalt is quick on his feet and a fast swordsman, Tybalt wins all of his duels, Mercutio says that he has “nine lives” for this reason.
“Don’t think he’s just the Prince of Cats!
Oh no – he’s way more than that.”
Although Mercutio is saying how much of a good swordsman Tybalt is, he still ends up fighting him and ironically Mercutio loses, he does this because he is a show off and he thinks he is best. When Mercutio challenges Tybalt to a duel, Tybalt asks “What wouldst thou have with me?” Mercutio replies;
“Good king of cats, nothing but one of your nine lives”
This shows that Mercutio is still using references to Tybalt being “the Prince of Cats”. Also even when he has been stabbed by Tybalt, Mercutio says that the wound is only;
“A scratch, a scratch”
In Act 3, Scene 1, where Mercutio is nearing his death, he suddenly becomes a lot more serious, but because of his ego he still manages to make witty remarks and keeping the comedy going;
“Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”
I believe that because of Mercutio’s personality, and always making things worse, he brought upon his own death even though in his mind he would have thought it was a good thing to do. Shakespeare probably killed Mercutio off here because it builds up a climax and creates a dramatic effect.
In my opinion Mercutio has brought his death on himself by his antagonistic personality, and always provoking others. He finally meets his match, Tybalt. Although, I don’t think the play would be what it is without Mercutio, as a comic character is needed, for example; to help lighten moods of scenes when needed. Without Mercutio in the play, Romeo and other characters would have died a lot sooner, suggesting to the audience that Mercutio is a hero in some way. On the other hand, everyone may have survived as it was generally Mercutio that pushed things on, often making things worse.