In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio says, ''If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.'' How does the language in this quote develop Mercutio's...

In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio says, ''If love be rough with you, be rough with love. Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.'' How does the language in this quote develop Mercutio's character?
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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I Scene 4, Benvolio has convinced Romeo to go to the Capulets and partake briefly in the dancing and feasting. Mercutio accompanies them and he begins to mock Romeo's lugubrious comments about love, changing them into licentious metaphors. Romeo, however, will not engage in this banter because he claims to have had a dream in which he learned that attending the feast was a bad idea. At this point Romeo demonstrates the characteristics of the Petrarchan lover; that is, he moans about the loss of his lover and speaks of her in mournful and passionate tones. Hearing Romeo, Mercutio tries to convince Romeo otherwise by telling him to cast aside his melancholy and stop deprecating love:

If love be rough with you, be rough with love.
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down. (1.4.27-28)

Benvolio, too, encourages Romeo. He suggests that they go in and dance. Still Romeo declines and says that he will not participate. Instead, he will hold the light for them as he believes the evening presages something bad.

In this passage Mercutio's character is developed as one believing in action rather than dwelling in melancholy as Romeo does. As his name suggests, however, Mercutio is mercurial and he can quickly react.

jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mercutio makes this remark when he is trying to convince Romeo to give up Rosaline, who does not return Romeo's love. Romeo has complained that love is painful and pricks like a thorn. In response, Mercutio says in the quote in the question that if love treats you badly, treat it badly. If love pricks you, prick it back, and then you'll defeat it. 

The language in this quote is an insight into Mercutio's character because he uses violent words to describe love, showing that he is quickly moved to anger and violence. Later, Mercutio wants Romeo to have a duel with Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, who has challenged Romeo to a duel. Mercutio rushes into fighting with Tybalt first and dies as a result, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge. Mercutio is quick to anger, as this quote shows, and his anger results in worsening the feud between the Capulets and Montagues.