Discuss the characters of the Nurse and Mercutio. What was Shakespeare's purpose for including these characters in the play? Do they detract from the main purpose of the play or do they increase to the play's entertainment value? Provide Examples from the play.
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Mercutio and the nurse both serve the function of adding comic relief.
Comic relief is the idea that even in a dramatic play, you need to give the audience a few light moments. These light moments give them a break from the drama, but they also serve to heighten the drama. Going back and forth between drama and humor increases the enjoyment for the audience. They do not detract from the main purpose, therefore, they augment it.
Mercutio and the nurse are not useless people. The nurse is a confidant to Juliet, and Mercutio is a confidant to Romeo. However, their main dramatic purpose is to make the audience laugh in a play where you are mostly concerned with whether or not Romeo and Juliet will get together and if the characters will see tomorrow.
Romeo is a dreamer, and a gentle soul. Mercutio is much crasser, and more like a locker room buddy. He brings us lovely sexual innuendo like this:
Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.
Pink for flower.
Why, then is my pump well-flower'd. (Act 2, Scene 4)
He tries to goad Romeo out of his doldrums by reminding him that he is a young man, and they are both young men. Mercuito’s puns and silliness serve as a sharp contrast to Romeo’s introspection and morose speeches. Mercutio has no trouble getting up a speech, as demonstrated by his Queen Mab spout, but he is also hotheaded and ready to fight. Romeo chides him that he talks of nothing after he goes on and on about Queen Mab, and Mercuito responds this way.
True, I talk of dreams;
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;(105)
Which is as thin of substance as the air…(Act 1, Scene 4)
Thus Mercutio is an eloquent punster, but also thoughtful. He is not just Romeo’s silly friend, although he has plenty of silly puns.
The nurse provides her fair share of puns, many of them sexual, and would have had the audience rolling the aisles as well.
I am the drudge, and toil in your delight;
But you shall bear the burden soon at night. (Act 2, Scene 5)
That being said, despite her goofy sexual puns, she genuinely cares about Juliet though, having lost her own daughter at a young age. She comments that her daughter would have been Juliet’s age. Although she does advise Juliet to go ahead and marry Paris, she also intervenes on Romeo’s behalf. On all accounts, she seems to care about Juliet. Even after Romeo kills Tybalt, the nurse still brings Romeo to Juliet, even though she thinks Juliet should be crying for her cousin.
Hie to your chamber. I'll find Romeo
To comfort you. I wot well where he is.
Hark ye, your Romeo will be here at night.(145)
I'll to him; he is hid at Laurence’ cell. (Act 3, Scene 2)
Romeo and Juliet would never have met if Mercutio hadn’t dragged him to the party, and they never would have gotten married if the nurse hadn’t assisted in all of the secret operations. Far more than that, these two perform the basic functions of comic relief, keeping us laughing at their crass puns and reminding us that Romeo and Juliet are young and in love. Shakespeare had to keep his audience entertained with more than just drama and swordfights. There is a little bit of something for everyone in this play!
So, to answer your unasked question, these two characters are needed in the play. They each add something, in different ways, and we are glad they are there. Rather than detract from the main story and the main tragedy, they add to it masterfully.
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