In Act 3, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet, what does Mercutio say about Benvolio's fighting habits?  

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robertwilliam's profile pic

robertwilliam | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted on

It's a hot day, and the "mad blood is stirring", Benvolio says at the very start of the scene. Mercutio, it seems, is looking for a fight - actively looking for trouble, even though Benvolio has told him that the Capulets are out.

Mercutio argues that Benvolio is extremely quick to anger, and quick to quarrel:

Come, come, thou art as hot a jack in thy mood as any in Italy; and as soon moved to be moody, and as soon moody to be moved.

This theory is then backed up with several examples:

Nay, an there were two such, we should have none shortly, for one would kill the other. Thou! Why, thou wilt quarrel with a man that hath a hair more or a hair less in his beard than thou hast. Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes. Thy head is as full of quarrels...

Benvolio, Mercutio says, would quarrel about the most trivial of matters. In short, Benvolio is always up for a fight.

Whether you believe this character sketch of Benvolio, who throughout the play is portrayed as a peacemaker, and whose name means good-wishing, is a different story. Personally, I'm rather inclined to think that Mercutio's claims are somewhat ironic.

teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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 At the beginning of Act III, scene 1, Benvolio is nervous about the possibility of a fight, saying to Mercutio:

I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire.
The day is hot; the Capulets, abroad;
And if we meet we shall not 'scape a brawl.
However, the ever-lively Mercutio attributes his own hot-blooded personality to the peace-loving Benvolio. He accurately describes his own fighting habits and, as a joke, assigns them to Benvolio. Mercutio falls more and more into hyperbole as he talks, saying:
Thy head is as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat, and yet thy head hath been beaten as addle as an egg for quarreling. Thou hast quarreled with a man for coughing in the street because he hath wakened thy dog that hath lain asleep in the sun. Didst thou not fall out with a tailor for wearing his new doublet before Easter? With another, for tying his new shoes with old ribbon? And yet thou wilt tutor me from quarreling!
We see from the last line that Mercutio doesn't want to be lectured about fighting and is delivering to Benvolio the lecture he already knows Benvolio is preparing to give to him, only ratcheting it up to absurd levels. In other words, Mercutio has heard this all before, is aware of what he is like, and is not going to change today. That he, not Benvolio, is spoiling for a fight becomes even more clear when Tybalt asks for a word and Mercutio retorts by proposing a word and a blow? 
 
Benvolio, true to his character, tries to counsel Mercutio to be reasonable, saying: 
Either withdraw unto some private place,
And reason coldly of your grievances,
Or else depart.
Mercutio will, of course, have none of it, gets the fight he wants, and ultimately ends up dead. Shakespeare shows that it's not what people say that counts but what they do. Despite all Mercutio's joking, Benvolio remains the peacemaker. Despite all of Mercutio's self-awareness of his own reckless and hot-tempered personality, he remains heedless, unwilling to take advice, and like many young people, thinks he is invincible.

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