What does Mercutio reveal about his feelings for Tybalt in act 2, scene 4, of Romeo and Juliet?

In act 2, scene 4, of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio reveals his fear of Tybalt by listing Tybalt's qualities as a swordsman. Yet he also shows his contempt for Tybalt by mimicking Tybalt's use of foreign words and calling him the "Prince of Cats."

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Mercutio's feelings about Tybalt are a cross between respect and contempt. He admits that Tybalt is a fantastic swordsman and rightfully fears his power in this area:

O, he is
the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as
you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and
proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and
the third in your bosom: the very butcher of a silk
button, a duellist, a duellist; a gentleman of the
very first house, of the first and second cause:
ah, the immortal passado! the punto reverso! the
hai!

This passage shows Mercutio's respect for Tybalt as a physical threat and even creates some suspense in the fight between them later in the play. Mercutio is generally a scornful fellow when it comes to everyone else, up to and including his own friends, so for him to admit anything good about an opponent is more likely to be taken seriously by the audience. However, this does not mean Mercutio completely finds Tybalt worthy.

By referring to Tybalt as the "Prince of Cats," Mercutio is lacing his compliments about Tybalt's fighting prowess with mockery. The Prince of Cats was a figure in medieval folklore, specifically the cycle of Reynard the Fox. These tales featured anthropomorphic animals, including a character called Tybalt, the Prince of Cats. Mercutio is comparing Tybalt to an animal known for its temperamental qualities, thus trivializing his hot-headed nature as childish. He also mocks Tybalt's fashionable use of foreign terms in common speech.

So, it can be safe to say that while Mercutio is aware that Tybalt is a dangerous person, he also finds his pretensions and temper silly enough to mock in public.

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Mercutio may often play the fool, but he's not in the least bit naive when it comes to assessing the danger presented by the hot-headed Tybalt.

In an expression compounded of both fear and admiration, Mercutio proceeds to reel off a list of Tybalt's qualities as a swordsman. This young man, tougher than the mythological figure of the Prince of Cats according to Mercutio, sure knows how to handle a blade. He fights with his sword the way one would sing at a recital: by the book. Like an expert singer, he pays close attention to time, distance, and proportion.

Mercutio marvels at the way that Tybalt can hit a silk button with his blade. At the same time, it's notable that he refers to Tybalt as a butcher, which indicates that he's afraid of him. After all, if a swordsman gains a reputation as a butcher, there's a reason for it, and under the circumstances, it's better to give him a wide berth.

Master of dueling though he may be, Tybalt still remains an object of contempt and derision to Mercutio. Romeo's friend, ever the jokester, has no hesitation in mocking Tybalt's use of affected phrasing and foreign slang, such as by saying of a trusty sword, “By Jesu, a very good blade!”

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In William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the conflict that sets everything into motion is the long-standing family feud between the Montagues and Capulets. If it wasn’t for this feud, Romeo and Juliet would have no impediments to their ambitions, and their eventual deaths probably would not occur.

The feud is so important to the story that Shakespeare actually opens the play with it, as men from both houses encounter each other in the streets of Verona and very nearly come to blows.

In act II, scene IV, Shakespeare continues to develop the feud as Mercutio, having just learned of Tybalt’s intention to duel Romeo, speaks of Tybalt in terms at once complimentary (regarding his swordsmanship) and disparaging (calling him “a very good whore”).

But note that before he does that, he first addresses the idea that Romeo has already been defeated by Rosaline, because he is helplessly in love with her:

Alas, poor Romeo! He is already dead, stabbed with a white wench’s black eye, run through the ear with a love song . . .

Mercutio describes Romeo in terms we would normally expect to hear in a situation of violence and murder. It is almost as if he is saying that it doesn’t really matter what Tybalt wants to do to Romeo because he is already a lost cause.

The fact that Mercutio does not yet know that Romeo has forgotten Rosaline and fallen in love with Juliet does not bode well for Mercutio’s future, as this will end up creating the situation that leads to his death.

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Mercutio seems to fear and respect Tybalt. When he finds out that Tybalt has issued a challenge to Romeo, Mercutio says that Tybalt is a formidable duelist, and a very tough man to fight. He compares his fighting skills to a virtuoso singer, and praises his mastery of the techniques of sword fighting.

He fights as you sing pricksong, keeps time, distance, and proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom! the very butcher of a silk button, a duellist, a duellist! a gentle man of the very first house, of the first and second cause. Ah, the immortal passado! the punto reverso! the hai!

This foreshadows an actual duel between Mercutio and Tybalt, in which Tybalt kills Mercutio (though that is really Romeo's fault, not Mercutio's.) In any case, it is clear that Tybalt is not a man to be trifled with, and we also get a sense of the violence that seems to surround every aspect of life in Verona, stemming from the feud that serves as the backdrop for the play.

 

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