Who is Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet?

Mercutio is Romeo's best friend. He's also a blood relative of Prince Escalus and Count Paris. A young man with a wicked sense of humor, Mercutio provides much in the way of comic relief in this tragic tale. However, his own demise is no less tragic than that of Romeo and Juliet themselves. He's killed in a duel with the headstrong Tybalt.

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Mercutio is undoubtedly one of the more sympathetic characters in Romeo and Juliet. It's clear right from the start that he has a very wicked sense of humor, which he uses to great effect to lighten the sense of danger and imminent tragedy that hangs over just about every...

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Mercutio is undoubtedly one of the more sympathetic characters in Romeo and Juliet. It's clear right from the start that he has a very wicked sense of humor, which he uses to great effect to lighten the sense of danger and imminent tragedy that hangs over just about every scene like a dark cloud.

Mercutio's sense of humor is particularly effective at deflating the gushingly romantic effusions of his best friend, Romeo. Romeo has fallen head over heels in love with Juliet, but Mercutio's seen it all before. He thinks that Juliet will be another infatuation, just like Rosaline. He therefore feels perfectly entitled to engage in a spot of bawdy banter with Romeo, gently mocking his pal for letting his heart rule his head once again.

And yet Mercutio himself can be a tad impetuous at times. He may be one of life's jokers, but he's still deeply embroiled in the culture of violent manliness that has brought chaos, bloodshed, and disorder to the streets of Verona. After Romeo receives a death threat from the headstrong Tybalt (Juliet's cousin) and refuses to engage in a duel with him, Mercutio steps into the fray himself, and it costs him his life.

In the ensuing duel, Romeo tries to intercede to stop any bloodshed. But sneaky Tybalt simply takes the opportunity to stab Mercutio to death under Romeo's arm. Even as he lays dying, Mercutio's sense of humor doesn't leave him and he engages in a spot of wordplay, as he says that if Romeo asks for him tomorrow, Romeo will find him a grave man. Grave means “serious,” but it also refers to a gravestone, under which poor Mercutio will be lying the following day.

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Mercutio is one of Romeo's closest friends and is, as well, a relative of the prince.

He serves three main functions within the text.  First, he is a highly entertaining character, and often breaks the tension within a scene.  His word play and use of frequent puns would have been particularly funny to a Shakespearean audience.

Second, Mercutio serves as the antithesis of Romeo's overly romantic ideals.  To Mercutio, love is more about the physical attraction -- a point that he makes with plenty of sexual jokes and innuendos.

Finally, Mercutio serves as an important person within the plot of Romeo and Juliet.  It is Mercutio's murder, shortly after Romeo and Juliet's wedding, that sets into motion all of the other events that ultimately turn the play into a tragedy.

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