A Study on the Role of Mercutio in William Shakespeare’s Play, Romeo and Juliet
In Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” two lovers find themselves being torn apart by a feud between their two families. Mercutio is a friend of Romeo, one of the main characters. Thought only present for half of the play, Mercutio’s cocky, loyal and risque personality have an everlasting effect on the plot.
Mercutio’s cocky attitude causes trouble for himself as well as his friends. When Benvolio and Mercutio hear about the challenge from Tybalt, Benvolio is curious as to who the man is. Mercutio, instead of answering simply, takes advantage of the question and lets his ego flow like a river.
“More than a prince of cats. O, he’s the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion. He rests his minimum rests, one, two, and the third in your bosom-the very butcher of a silk button, a duelist, a duelist, a gentleman of the very first house of the first and second cause. Ah the immortal pasado, the punto reverso the hay!” (II,iv,20-27)
Though an unlikely candidate as an example of cockiness, he says these lines with a full understanding that he will be the one to duel him, as Tybalt has challenged the love-struck Romeo to a duel, who is no duelist in the first place. In a previous discussion with Benvolio, Mercutio acknowledges Romeo’s inability to battle Tybalt, and plans to take his place. He directly compliments his upcoming opponent without the slightest fear or worry. Mercutio’s cockiness convinces him that he has the necessary talent to face him before his brain can. This premature commitment to fight not only proves his cockiness but pulls the threat of death at Tybalt’s hands away from Romeo and towards Mercutio, if only temporary.
Not only his cockiness, but Mercutio’s loyalty also plays a role into the duel with Tybalt, but influences the outcome of events in a different manner. Benvolio acknowledges that they are in public and are at risk for being killed for dueling, but Mercutio declines Benvolio’s plea for peace, knowing well that this is an unavoidable fate; Tybalt will hound Romeo until satisfaction has been gained. Mercutio is outraged at Romeo’s neutrality and starts off the destined duel by taunting Tybalt.
“Mercutio: O calm, dishonorable, vile submission! Alla stoccato carries it away. Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?
“Tybalt: What wouldst thou have with me?”
“Mercutio: Good king of cats, nothing tbut one of your nine lives, that I mean to make bold withal, and, as you shall use me hereafter, dry-beat the rest of the eight.” (III,i,74-81)
Mercutio, though appalled at Romeo’s attitude, is willing to fight for his friend. If Mercutio had not of stepped up, Benvolio would have either persuaded the two of them to postpone the duel, or if unable, may take his place. Regardless, Mercutio’s loyalty had a lasting effect on the plot.
Mercutio’s risque humor develops a deep connection with Romeo, influencing his romantic life. Romeo is out to woo Juliet in the backyard of the Capulets, while Mercutio and Benvolio are looking for him. Benvolio gives out a simple call, but Mercutio, being the sly fox that he is, comes up with a risque and dirty call.
“If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark. Now he will sit under a medlar tree and wish his mistress were that kind of fruid as maids call medlars when they laugh alone. O romeo, that she were, O, that she were an open-arse, thou a pop’rin pear. Romeo, good night. I’ll to my truckle bed;This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep. Come, shall we go?” (II, ii, 36-44)
This call makes fun of Romeo, since in the past he has been hit by Cupids “unbarbed arrow.” Mercutio makes Romeo regret his past romances, since they have all been immature compared to the one he has now. Romeo doesn’t want Juliet to be another one of his random romances, and his mindset to make this last is thanks to Mercutio. Mercutio’s dirty speech has Romeo regret his actions and changes for Juliet, making this arrow barbed.
Dirty calls, clever taunts and undying devotion all serve the play in various ways. His cockiness protects Romeo, and causes his own death, which in itself is a profound event. His loyalty, even when betrayed, is kept on and is willing to fight on his behalf. His risque humor soothes the mind of Romeo, barbing the arrow of Cupid’s shot, a feat no other character could do. This character lasts only for half the play, but leaves a permanent mark on the plot’s flow of events.
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