Why is the conversation between Mercutio and Benvolio in Act III scene I ironic? (In the beginning)?What are the similarities and differences between the two in the beginning of the Scene?

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Susan Woodward | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Mercutio accuses Benvolio of being hot-tempered and willing to fight, especially when the temperature climbs.  Mercutio's name alone suggests that, like the element mercury, he is the one with the low boiling point.  It is ironic that Mercutio would make that statement about Benvolio, whose name means "one who shows good will and kindness."  The images that Mercutio uses to accuse Benvolio of instigating fights do not fit with his character; for example, he accuses Benvolio of being the type of person who would "quarrel with a man that hath a hair more, or a hair less, in his beard" than he has or "for cracking nuts, having no other reason but because [he- Benvolio] hast hazel eyes" (III, i, lines 16-19).  These behaviors are more fitting of Mercutio himself.  In this scene, Mercutio is "punchy" and looking for an excuse to fight.  That's why he so willingly taunts Tybalt when the young Capulet comes looking for Romeo shortly after this conversation.


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