Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why does Mercutio tease Romeo in Act II, Scene 4?  

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In the first three scenes of Act II Romeo pursues Juliet and asks for her hand in marriage. She agrees and Romeo arranges for Friar Lawrence to perform the ceremony. In an example of dramatic irony, when we get to Scene 4 neither Benvolio nor Mercutio know of Romeo's love for Juliet. They believe him still to be in love with Rosaline. The scene opens with the two men discussing the fact Tybalt has sent a challenge to Romeo because the Capulet hot head saw Romeo at the party the night before. 

Mercutio goes into one of his typical harangues exaggerating the entire situation (he does the same thing in the Queen Mab speech in Act I, Scene 4 and again before the fight with Tybalt in Act III, Scene 1). In lines 20-27 he goes on about Romeo's skill in fencing and how he is a better "duelist" than Tybalt (Tybalt's name comes from a medieval fairly tale about a cat):

More than prince of cats. O, he’s the courageous
captain of compliments. He fights as you sing
prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion.
He rests his minim rests, one, two, and the third in
your bosom—the very butcher of a silk button, a
duelist, a duelist, a gentleman of the very first house
of the first and second cause. Ah, the immortal
passado, the punto reverso, the hay!
When Romeo shows up, Mercutio is still upset over Romeo ditching him the night before. He makes fun of him by calling him a pale fish and saying he is in love with a girl who is better than some of the great beauties in history (he means Rosaline) in lines 39-47:
Without his roe, like a dried herring. O
flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the
numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady
was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love
to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy,
Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray
eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo,
bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French
slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.
Romeo, who is no longer depressed about Rosaline, trades barbs with Mercutio. When Romeo tries to apologize about the night before Mercutio makes a sexual joke by saying, in lines 54-55: "That’s as much as to say, such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams." Romeo gets into the spirit of this bawdy exchange and the two use terms such as target, pink flower and toy, to suggest male and female genitalia. 
When Juliet's nurse arrives Mercutio continues the rude dialogue making fun of her and suggesting sex with her would be like eating old rabbit's meat. The scene ends, of course, with Romeo telling the nurse that Juliet should come to Friar Lawrence's cell for the wedding that same day. 

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