In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the Bard employs the dramatic character of the foil. A foil is a character set up as a contrast to another character. This contrast makes the particular qualities of each character stand out. The Nurse is a foil to Juliet and, likewise, Mercutio is a foil to Romeo. Both Romeo and Juliet are romantics who idealize love as spiritual and a mutual adoration between two people. In contrast, the Nurse and Mercutio are anti-romantic and emphasize the sexual and physical aspects of love.
In Act I, Scene 4, Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio and the other Montague men are on their way to Capulet's party. It is known to Mercutio that Romeo has been spurned in his affection for Rosaline. Ever the skeptic and joker, Mercutio advises Romeo to have fun at the party and to dance. But Romeo is very serious over his recent lack of success with Rosaline. He contemplates the cruel aspects of love when he says,
Is love a tender thing? It is too rough,
Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.
Mercutio's bawdy and sexually charged reply uses both a personification
of love and a pun
on the word prick. He says,
If love be rough with you, be rough with love.
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.
He personifies love as someone that can be beaten down and uses two meanings of the word prick, the one that sticks, as Romeo uses it, and the second a reference to the male genitalia. He is telling Romeo to forget about love and just have sex.