Last Updated on November 5, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564
Extended Character Analysis
Mercutio is Romeo’s friend and the prince’s kinsman. His name—which recalls the adjective “mercurial,” meaning volatile; mercury, the ungraspable, fluid metal; and Mercury, the Roman God of messages and trickery—sheds light on his complex character.
Mercutio is one of the most charismatic and eloquent characters in the novel, hinted at by his name’s allusion to the Roman God of communication. He is also mercurial, or easily and rapidly changeable. When he believes the Capulets are threatening him or one of the Montagues, he quickly transforms from charismatic and loveable to vengeful and vindictive.
Mercutio is one of the most comedic characters in the play—in fact, many of his actions fulfil the role of a traditional Shakespearean fool: neither a Capulet nor a Montague, he is free of restrictions on his behavior; he freely makes bawdy jokes and plays with words, and his joyous spirit makes him one of the play's most lovable characters.
In his role as friend and fool, he serves as a foil to the moping, lovestruck Romeo. Mercutio loves his friend and tries to cheer him up with his witty and bawdy jokes. In one of the most well-known, pun-filled speeches of the play, Mercutio cheers up Romeo before the ball by telling him that he has been visited by “Queen Mab,” “the fairies’ midwife” who rides in a tiny coach made of “empty hazelnuts” and who “plagues” lovers in their sleep and leaves “blisters” on the lips of sleeping women. In this passage, Mercutio uses his eloquence and vivid imagination to prompt Romeo out of his lovesick slump over Rosaline. Mercutio reassures him that dreaming about Rosaline is ludicrous when there are so many other beautiful women. Furthermore, when the equally witty nurse comes to visit on Romeo’s behalf in act II, scene IV, Mercutio banters with her.
While Mercutio has a playful and jovial side, he is also an intense, loyal, and hellbent character. His allegiance lies wholeheartedly with the Montagues and especially Romeo. In the marketplace brawl scene in act III, scene I, Mercutio grows frustrated when Romeo refuses to fight the Capulet enemy, Tybalt. He swiftly takes Romeo’s place and duels with Tybalt. His sudden and erratic decision results in his death—Romeo steps in to stop the fight, and Tybalt fatally stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. As he dies, Mercutio wishes “a plague o’ both your houses,” illustrating his ever-changing nature and his capacity for both loyalty as well as revenge.
Mercutio's character and death signal a tonal shift in the drama. Up through act III, scene I, Romeo and Juliet contains many attributes of a Shakespearean comedy: hapless lovers, puns and innuendo, and a fool who provides bawdy antics. However, when Tybalt slays Mercutio, the tone shifts from comic to a tragic, as shown by the change in Mercutio's own behavior as he realizes he is dying. He initially attempts to joke, saying of the wound that "'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church / door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man." These jokes quickly give way to tragedy when he realizes his death is at hand:
"A plague o’ both your houses!
They have made worms’ meat of me. I have it,
And soundly too. Your houses!"
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