How Is Mercutio A Foil To Romeo

How is Mercutio a foil for Romeo?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mercutio is a foil to Romeo in their attitudes toward love and in their personality traits.

Whereas Romeo is in love with love, speaking of it in Petrarchan reverence as he pines over Rosaline, Mercutio exhibits a somewhat cavalier attitude toward love. For instance, Romeo declares that Mercutio has "dancing shoes/With nimble soles," but he is unable to dance because he has "a soul of lead and cannot move" (1.4.21-22). Then, when he says he will not attend the Capulet ball, Mercutio challenges Romeo. He suggests that Romeo not allow himself to be victimized by love: "If love be rough with you, be rough with love. / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down" (1.4.28-29). Here Mercutio perceives love only in erotic terms. Further, he launches into his Queen Mab monologue in which he speaks of the realm of airy dreams that have no substance nor constancy, teasing Romeo.

As his name suggests, Mercutio is, indeed, mercurial. In Act 3, he becomes belligerent as he argues with Tybalt. In contrast to Mercutio, Romeo, who is now married to Tybalt's cousin Juliet, tries to ameliorate their relationship as he tells Tybalt that he would typically feel anger toward him, but now he has a reason to love him.

gkopf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mercutio is most clearly seen as a foil for Romeo right before the party scene at the Capulet house.  Romeo is attending the party at the request of Benvolio, who, desperate to help his friend forget Rosaline, encourages Romeo to "examine other beauties."  Before the party, Romeo tells his friends that he had dreamed the previous night.  While Romeo seems to have a positive attitude towards dreams, it is clear that Mercutio believes that they mean nothing.  For example, Mercutio too says that he dreamed, and when Romeo asks him what he dreamed of, Mercutio responds, "That dreamers often lie."  

Mercutio then launches into his famous Queen Mab speech, in which he describes the fairy Mab as one who inspires certain kinds of dreamers.  For example, Mab might fly over ladies' lips, and make them dream of kisses. 

Romeo finally stops Mercutio, telling him that he "talks of nothing."  "True, I talk of dreams," Mercutio replies, implying that dreams hold no real meaning.  

Mercutio continues to taunt Romeo after the party, calling him "madman" and "lover."  His view of Romeo's love is negative, while Romeo believes in true love.

iamkaori | Student

A foil is a character that is usually very contrasting from the protagonist. The protagonist, in this case Romeo, is very contrasting from Mercutio. Mercutio is more light-hearted and outgoing, and is very cheerful. In contrast, Romeo is in love with Juliette, is more somber and serious about everything, and sees things deeper than does Mercutio. When Mercutio and Romeo are introduced together in the piece, it becomes very clear that Romeo is indeed very serious about his love.