Mercutio is named for the chemical element mercury, which itself is named for the Roman god Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Which characteristics of both the element and the god match Mercutio's character?
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One of the most delightful characters in Shakespeare's otherwise tragic Romeo and Juliet is Mercutio. He is a relative of the Prince of Verona and he is a good friend of Romeo.
Given his name, Mercutio is meant to remind the audience of the god Mercutio, who, as messenger of the gods, had to be a master of words. Thus, one of the definitions associated with the word "mercurial" is "eloquence." Indeed, Mercutio is an eloquent person. It is he who describes Tybalt as a "prince of cats." The god Mercury also was not well-known for being a "one-woman" man and this seems to be the case with Mercutio, whose attitude towards love does not seem unsuited to his divine counterpart: "Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down."
Another of the definitions associated with "mercurial" is "swiftness." Again, this seems applicable to Mercutio's verbal abilities. In Act 2, Scene 4, we find Mercutio's winged tongue in excellent form as he lashed Juliet's nurse with a series of insults and puns. Mercutio's song about the old nurse would make Dr. Seuss himself bow in admiration:
Of course, unlike the god Mercury, Mercutio is killed in the play and his dying words, a curse upon both the Montagues and the Capulets do not seem to be in line with the lightheartedness of his divine counterpart.
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