What character traits did Mercutio show during Romeo and Juliet?  How did he exhibit them?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Romeo and Juliet, one need look no further than Mercutio's name to uncover his traits and function in the play:

mercurial, an adjective meaning changeable; Mercury, the Roman messenger god and of eloquence; and mercury, the poisonous element.

Mercutio is a comic foil to Romeo in Acts I-III.  His bawdy humor underscores the melodrama of the two lovers.  Here's an example of his sexual innuendo:

'Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the
dial is now upon the prick of noon.

Whereas Romeo is a melancholy Romantic regarding love, Mercutio is a skeptic realist and satirist when it comes to dreams and all things romantic.  He makes fun or Romeo's lovesickness:

Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh:
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;

He is known for two famous monologues: his Queen Mab speech and his death scene, both of which are eerie foreshadowings of the tragedy to come.  Indeed, Mercutio will be a martyr for the two families' hate.  His playfulness will rile Tybalt, also his foil, into a duel where he is stabbed and dies.  His famous "a plague upon your houses" foreshadows the tragedy to come.

Also, his death will incite a chain of events that leads to Romeo's exile and subsequent separation from his family, Mantua, and his new bride, Juliet.