What are some similarities and differences between Romeo and Mercutio?

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William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedyRomeo and Juliet is an early, experimental work in which the author develops many themes that are dealt with more deeply in his later tragedies. In this play, Shakespeare attempts to combine poetry with melodrama and romance with tragedy, along with a splash of comedic...

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William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet is an early, experimental work in which the author develops many themes that are dealt with more deeply in his later tragedies. In this play, Shakespeare attempts to combine poetry with melodrama and romance with tragedy, along with a splash of comedic relief throughout. One way to explore how the author integrated these themes, motifs, and genres into a single work is to compare and contrast his characters, and protagonist Romeo and his good friend and relative Mercutio are prime candidates for examination.

Romeo is portrayed as a sensitive, gentle, intelligent, and somewhat idealistic character. He is more than a simple romantic. He is lovesick to the point of being naïve and emotional at times. Nevertheless, he suffers from an innate rashness and impetuosity that develops as the action in the play unfolds. For example, after announcing his unrequited love for Rosaline, who has rejected him, he falls for Juliet at first sight:

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

Be not her maid, since she is envious;

Her vestal livery is but sick and green,

And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.

It is my lady, O, it is my love!

As the play progresses, Romeo undergoes a drastic character change. While his obsession with the concept of love continues to develop, he begins to display alternate characteristics after Mercutio is killed. Without focusing on Juliet, he is losing self-control. The destructive force of hatred takes over, and Romeo is drawn to violence.

Cynical and argumentative Mercutio, like Romeo, tends to be reckless, but provides comic relief in the play. He is a jokester, a prankster, and a precursor to the fools prevalent in later Shakespearean works. Like Romeo, he is charismatic and fiercely loyal to his friends. Unlike the gentle Romeo, he need not be persuaded to violence. When he perceives threats to his friends, he leaps into action, becoming hostile and vindictive. For example, when Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, Mercutio recognizes Romeo’s mild behavior and reluctance and takes up the challenge himself:

Mer. Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?

Tyb. What wouldst thou have with me?

Mer. Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives; that I mean to make bold withal, and as you shall use me hereafter, dry-beat the rest of the eight. Will you pluck your sword out of his pilcher by the ears? Make haste, lest mine be about your ears ere it be out.

Tyb. I am for you.

After Mercutio is slain, Romeo is instantly transformed out of his gentle character and slays Tybalt.

Romeo’s peaceful yet impetuous character, obsessed with love, combined with Mercutio’s fierce loyalty and violent tendencies allow the author to demonstrate a multitude of themes in this early Shakespearean drama.

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Mercutio and Romeo both display their intelligence and affinity for witty wordplay at various moments and have relatively charismatic personalities. Both characters also share the capacity for using puns and verbal sparring, which is depicted in act one, scene four. Mercutio and Romeo are both portrayed as capricious individuals who wear their emotions on their sleeves and are capable of acting rash and violent. Their mercurial personalities and potential for hostility are displayed in act three, scene one during their altercation with Tybalt. Mercutio attempts to defend Romeo by challenging Tybalt, while Romeo reacts abruptly by slaying Tybalt to avenge Mercutio's death.

Despite their several similarities, Romeo is much more romantic and sensitive than Mercutio. Romeo is extremely in touch with his feelings and falls in love easily, while Mercutio is driven by sex and is less attracted to the idea of falling in love. He is also a more masculine, confident man, who is less dramatic and fickle than Romeo. Mercutio is also crasser and more vulgar than Romeo, who puts women on a pedestal and has an affinity for romance. Mercutio's insensitive, crude personality and opposite feelings towards the idea of love make him the perfect foil to Romeo.

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The two good friends are both young and immature, especially when it comes to women. They merrily engage in smutty banter concerning sex. Unlike Mercutio, however, Romeo has a deeply romantic streak, which manifests itself in his all-consuming love for Juliet.

Nevertheless, there are a number of similarities between the two. Both can be quite fiery and passionate at times; witness the violent haste with which Romeo and Mercutio attack Tybalt. And there can certainly be no doubting the great importance these passionate young men attach to friendship and loyalty. Mercutio doesn't hesitate to fight Tybalt on behalf of his friend, and Romeo, in turn, doesn't hang about when it comes to settling scores with Tybalt, even though Tybalt is Juliet's cousin.

Though both may be faulted for their impetuosity, one cannot deny the fact that Romeo and Mercutio care deeply for each other. Mercutio may scoff at his friend's romantic habit of falling in love at the drop of a hat, but beneath the veneer of mocking cynicism, he genuinely cares about Romeo's well-being and doesn't want to see him get hurt. Romeo doesn't want Mercutio to get physically hurt, either, which is why he gains revenge on Tybalt for killing his good friend, despite the serious consequences that he knows will follow.

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Romeo and Mercutio seem to be more different than they are similar, but they do have a few similarities. Both men enjoy wordplay and witty repartee, can be rather immature when they are together, and show bad judgment at some point in the play.

The discussion between Romeo and Mercutio in Act I, Scene 4, is so clever; they discuss the nature of love using puns. Mercutio also tries to convince Romeo that he should attend the Capulets' party that night, even though Romeo is depressed about Rosaline. Mercutio has a tendency to wax philosophic more than Romeo does, however, and he becomes quite poetic when the mood strikes him.

The behavior of Romeo and Mercutio when Juliet's nurse approaches them in Act II, Scene 4, is likewise somewhat immature. Romeo remarks on the Nurse's attractiveness, prompting Mercutio to insult her and make lewd jokes. Mercutio is a great deal more immature and insulting than Romeo is; he really says some terribly inappropriate things to a woman, and an older woman at that. Romeo is certainly immature here as well, but Mercutio is far worse.

Mercutio shows his poor judgment when he insists on fighting Tybalt because Romeo will not. It is not Mercutio's fight, and the only reason Mercutio involves himself is because he feels Romeo is acting submissively. Romeo then shows poor judgment when he immediately turns around and slays Tybalt. Initially, Romeo tried to exercise good judgment while Tybalt insulted him. Romeo manages to respond calmly and patiently until Tybalt slays Mercutio. All of Romeo's patience and forethought disappears when he becomes emotional.

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