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Shakespeare's character of Mercutio bears in his name his very nature: contrasts of feeling. Thus, he plays more than one role in Romeo and Juliet:
- With his comic antics, Mercutio acts as a foil to the moribund Romeo of Act I who speaks of his despair:"This love feel I, that feel no love in this"(1.1.180).
- Mercutio's character itself is inconstant, and he often masks his own feelings, thus demonstrating two themes of the play. (1) His Queen Mab speech of Scene 4 of Act I is a pivotal point of the plot development as Mercutio introduces the idea of inconstancy/constancy relative to Romeo's unrequited love with Rosalind--
I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain (188.8.131.52-104)
against the constancy of Juliet's and Romeo's love as Juliet demands that Romeo not swear by "the inconstant moon"; (2)further, he again demonstrates the inconstancy of fate and the motif of masks in Act III when he is certainly mercurial in the first scene as, after joking with Benvolio about quarreling, he begins an argument with Tybalt. This fateful argument leads to Mercutio's being wounded when Romeo intervenes in order to ameliorate the argument. Yet Mercutio masks his mortal wound by jesting about it,
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church
door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow,
and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I
warrant, for this world (3.1.96-98)
This jesting and pun are in sharp contrast to Mercutio next lines that curse the Montague and Capulet families, a curse that is repeated the significant three times, words that demonstrate his bitterness against these families. Certainly, in analyzing the character of Mercution it is important to consider the connotations and denotations of his name. For one thing, mercurial, is an adjective meaning changeable; an adjective derived from the name Mercury, the Roman messenger god and of eloquence; and mercury, the poisonous element. Indeed, in many ways, Mercutio is the voice of the motifs of Shakespeare's play of contrasts: inconstancy/constancy; age/youth; virtue/vice; love/hate.
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