How would you characterize Mercutio as seen in act 2, scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet?

One could characterize Mercutio in act 2, scene 4 as something of a clown with a very bawdy sense of humor. He clearly doesn't take Romeo's love life seriously at all and thinks his friend's love for Rosaline is all just an infatuation. When Romeo enters the scene, Mercutio further shows his lack of seriousness by engaging in a spot of witty banter with him.

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Mercutio's sense of humor and cynicism regarding love shine through in act 2, scene 4. He mocks Romeo's infatuation with Rosaline (unaware he has now gotten involved with Juliet) and then when Romeo appears, he needles him for giving both himself and Benvolio "the slip" at the Capulet ball. He and Romeo exchange a series of bawdy puns, bantering casually about sex and women as young men normally do.

At the end of this exchange, Mercutio rejoices that Romeo is now back to acting like his normal self:

Why, is not this better now than groaning
for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou
Romeo, now art thou what thou art, by art as well as
by nature.

However, this little bit of dialogue is ironic because it shows just how much Mercutio does not know about Romeo. He is unaware that Romeo is not back to normal; he is still in love, only this time with Juliet. Romeo never confides in either of his friends about his relationship with her either, probably because he knows how Mercutio will react: mockery. So this suggests that Mercutio, while possessing a keen wit, is only privy to Romeo's social persona. In spite of this, Mercutio is a good friend and concerned for Romeo's happiness. He says he is glad Romeo is no longer miserable over Rosaline.

The scene concludes with the appearance of the Nurse. Mercutio mocks her, making his usual bawdy jokes and puns. (This suggests Mercutio hasn't much respect for his elders, though in this society, the Nurse's lower class is likely a bigger factor in his willingness to make fun of her.)

So overall, this scene illustrates the big points of Mercutio's characterization: his bawdy sense of humor, his cynicism about love, his concern for his friends, and his casual attitude towards social niceties.

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Mercutio is a very good friend to Romeo, but he's not above indulging in a spot of fun at his bosom buddy's expense. Though Romeo may know for sure that he's in love, Mercutio is skeptical, to say the least. Although it's actually Juliet who's driving Romeo crazy, Mercutio still thinks he has the hots for Rosaline. Under the circumstances, all that Mercutio can do is to laugh—in the nicest possible way, of course—at his friend's latest amorous adventure.

Mercutio is never happier when he's playing the clown, and he plays this part to perfection in act 2, scene 4. Before Romeo enters the scene, Mercutio indulges in a spot of badinage with Benvolio about Tybalt. Although, as Mercutio acknowledges, Tybalt is pretty handy with a blade, Mercutio still makes a big joke about it. He doesn't take Tybalt's fighting prowess any more seriously that Romeo's love life.

When Romeo enters the scene Mercutio engages him in a back-and-forth of witty repartee. Though rather silly on the surface, this epic battle of wits is important in that it briefly puts a halt to Romeo's "groaning for love," as Mercutio calls it. Mercutio may joke about this friend's penchant for falling in love at the drop of a hat, but he still cares about him enough to try to bring him to his senses again.

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If we were to armchair diagnose Mercutio in his appearances throughout the play, we'd say he was in a "manic state," with his mind racing and his tongue doing a pretty good job of keeping up with it. If, in fact, you watch the Zeffirelli film version of the play, with John McEnery as Mercutio, you will see in the famous "Queen Mab" speech how this state exhausts and disorients him.

In the scene referred to in this question, this manic behavior is amplified, with the ribald byplay going back and forth between him and Romeo leading up to the teasing-crossing-the-line-to abuse of the Nurse.

Mercutio is clearly no fan of women, as evidenced in this list of epithets as he sees Romeo approaching:

"Without his roe, like a dried herring: flesh, flesh,

how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers

that Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a

kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to

be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy;

Helen and Hero hildings and harlots; Thisbe a grey

eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior

Romeo, bon jour! there's a French salutation

to your French slop."

Therefore, it's very likely that Romeo's mooning over Rosaline has contributed to Mercutio's mood, which, unfortunately for him, is partially responsible for his death.

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This scene demonstrates that Mercutio is both a jokester and a considerate, loyal friend.

At the beginning of Act II, Scene 4, Mercutio demonstrates that he is a good friend because he is worried about Romeo.  He knows that Romeo is upset about the breakup with Rosaline, and it “torments him so that he will sure run mad” (enotes etext p. 47).  When he hears about the challenge by Tybalt, he knows that Romeo cannot hold his own as a swordsman.

Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead! stabb'd with

a white wench's black eye; shot through the ear with a

love song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind(15)

bow-boy's butt-shaft; and is he a man to encounter

Tybalt? (p. 48)

Despite his jesting, Mercutio is showing a serious side.  He is truly worried about Romeo.  Mercutio goes often on another flowery tangent, describing Tybalt as “more than the prince of cats” (p. 48) and describing his talent with the sword.  Mercutio does not think Romeo can beat him.

When Romeo arrives, Mercutio describes him as looking like a “dried herring” (p. 49) and demands to know where he was the night before.  They get into a duel of jests, with Mercutio describing him in feminine terms.  Mercutio is surprised that he is in a good mood, and no longer “groaning for love” (p. 50).  Juliet’s nurse arrives to talk to Romeo, and Mercutio immediately begins making crude jokes about her, returning to his playful self.

 

 

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