How would one approach answering the following multiple-choice questions concerning Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:
1) The main character most associated with bawdy (sexual) punning is:
A) Romeo B) Tybalt C) Benvolio D) Mercutio
2) When Mercutio calls Tybalt "Prince of Cats" he is making what kind of allusion?
A) Classical B) Biblical C) Literary D) Topical
1 Answer | Add Yours
In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we certainly do see Mercutio making many sexual puns. There are particularly many sexual puns in act 1, scene iv, in which both Mercutio and Benvolio are trying to persuade Romeo to crash the Capulet ball. When Romeo replies he doesn't want to dance because his heart feels too heavy due to being rejected by Rosaline ("under love's heavy burden [does he] sink"), Mercutio's response is to say, "And, to sink in it, should you burden love -- / Too great oppression for a tender thing" (I.iv.23, 24-25). In using the word sink, Mercutio is actually speaking of "sinking into a woman" and that should Romeo win Rosaline, sexually, he'll only burden her by sinking into her (Shakespeare Navigators, "Bawdy"). Hence, for your first question, the answer choice that makes the most sense is (D) Mercutio.
In act III, scene i, Tybalt comes looking for Romeo to challenge him to a duel. When Romeo refuses to fight, Mercutio challenges Tybalt himself, saying, "Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?" (74). When Tybalt asks what Mercutio wants with him, Mercutio continues his insult, saying, "Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives" (76). The phrase "King of Cats" is written as "Prince of Cats" in some versions. Both insults in lines 74 and 75 are allusions to a cat character in folklore released in the middle ages that became popular in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. The folklore features a character named Reynard the Fox, who is very sly and devious and has a friend named Tybalt the Cat, who is equally sly but also considered "a little bit stingy and hot-headed," just as Shakespeare's Tybalt is hotheaded ("Tybalt: Prince of Cats"). Hence, Mercutio's use of the phrase "King/Prince of Cats" is an allusion to the literary character Tybalt the Cat, making it a literary allusion.
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