Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, but it does have episodes of humor, particularly in the first two Acts. In fact, if the play had ended after Act II, Scene 6 it would be labeled as a comedy with the marriage of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare's comedies usually end in a wedding and his tragedies end in death. Comedy is in evidence throughout those first two Acts.
In Act I, Scene 2, the servingman serves a comedic role when he is not able to read the list of people he is supposed to invite to Capulet's party. In fact, the servingmen in the beginning of Act I, Scene 5 are added to bring a humorous touch to the play. Picture the Three Stooges with lots of slapstick.
The biggest laughs probably come in Act I, Scene 3 when the Nurse is talking about Juliet's age. She recalls a bawdy story about her late husband who commented on Juliet falling on her face when she was only a toddler. He suggests the girl will want to fall on her back when she is older. The Nurse says,
For then she could stand high-lone. Nay, by th’
She could have run and waddled all about,
For even the day before, she broke her brow,
And then my husband (God be with his soul,
He was a merry man) took up the child.
“Yea,” quoth he, “Dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,
Wilt thou not, Jule?” And, by my holidam,
The pretty wretch left crying and said “Ay.”
To see now how a jest shall come about!
I warrant, an I should live a thousand years,
I never should forget it. “Wilt thou not, Jule?”
More humor comes from Mercutio
, especially in Act I, Scene 4 and Act II, Scene 4
. In Act I, as the Montagues are on their way to crash Capulet's party he makes humorous and sarcastic remarks about Romeo. He puns on the word "prick" and the word "done." He often uses exaggerations which are humorously sardonic, like his description of sword fighting in Act II and the elaborate description of how Benvolio
is really a fighter in Act III, Scene 1
. His humor is often sexual in connotation
, especially when he is terrorizing the Nurse. Mercutio insults her and uses sexual innuendo as they exchange words,
Mercutio: Good, Peter, to hide her face, for her fan’s the fairer face.
Nurse: God ye good morrow, gentlemen.
Mercutio: God ye good e'en, fair gentlewoman.
Nurse: Is it good e'en?
Mercutio: 'Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.
He also sings a bawdy song referring to the Nurse as a prostitute in this Act. Mercutio's humor is usually quite rude and sometimes even bitter, like the jokes he makes about his own death in Act III when he puns on the word "grave":
No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as
a church door, but ’tis enough. ’Twill serve. Ask for
me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.