His other role in the play is to provide vulgar humour and bring the first part of the play to life. So that when Mercutio dies the humour dies as well. His death shows that humour can have no part in the final stages of the play. Although Mercutio’s character is short lived his role in the play is much bigger, as his protectiveness over Romeo causes the tragedy. His death triggers off a sequence of tragic events, which ends with the death of the lovers. If Mercutio had not been killed then Romeo would not have been forced to avenge his friends death, he would not have been banished and therefore from seeing Juliet.
Mercutio’s other role in the play is to have contrasting ideas than that of the main character, so that Romeo’s attitudes and behaviour can be emphasised. For example Mercutio’s bawdy phrases and expressions of love opposes Romeo’s innocent romantic love. Mercutio’s essential love of fighting opposes Romeo’s unwillingness to fight unless his tolerance is pushed, Mercutio’s lively witty mockery of everything around him opposes Romeo’s quiet courtesy and consideration and finally Mercutio’s cynical view of people opposes Romeo’s innocent belief in others.
He is also important as a device for Shakespeare to express his own feelings and views of Elizabethan society. To get the audience to see the wrongs present in the world. Mercutio first appears rather late in the play in Act1 Scene4 when we have already met most of the main characters. He appears with Romeo and friends in a street carrying masks and torches about to gatecrash the Capulets’ party. His opening words and actions are very revealing of his character and his role in the play, ‘Nay gentle Romeo, we must have you dance,’ Here Shakespeare shows Mercutio’s concern and intense loyalty towards Romeo.
He wants Romeo to dance at the party and enjoy himself. Mercutio does not seem to like the melancholy Romeo, and so wishes him to have fun, be merry and in good spirits, he does not want to see his friend sad or unhappy and so shows interest in his well being. We can see his importance as a friend wanting to protect Romeo from unhappiness. We can see from the very first words spoken by Romeo to Mercutio of the type of character he is, ‘â€¦you have dancing shoes With nimble soles, I have a soul of lead So stakes me to the ground I cannot move. Mercutio is described as being active, agile, and lively.
Although Romeo is describing Mercutio’s soles on shoes as being ‘nimble’, he is actually punning and therefore referring to Mercutio’s spiritual soul and character. Here we also see an antithesis between Romeo and Mercutio. Romeo who has a soul of ‘lead’ so is heavy and earthbound, and Mercutio, who is light and free-minded. We are also able to see the first contrast between Mercutio and Romeo, as Mercutio is lively and able to dance because he does not have the burden of love, whereas Romeo is moody and miserable.
Here Mercutio is used as a device to highlight Romeo’s feelings. Mercutio’s attitude to Romeo’s lovesick infatuation is not very sympathetic, he is teasing and mocking Romeo’s attitude towards his love for Rosaline, and believes he should part with this infatuation and ‘borrow cupid’s wings and soar with them’. He believes Romeo being a lover should dance with other girls. Here we see that Mercutio cannot understand the full concept of love. He thinks that one girl can be regarded as another. He believes that Romeo should no longer linger on his unreturned love and dance with other girls.
This is the first of many references in which Mercutio’s attitude of love will be essential in highlighting Romeo’s genuine love. Mercutio bursts onto the scene with lively and bawdy wit, he mocks love with bawdy expressions, therefore continuing the theme of highlighting Romeo’s attitudes to love, ‘And to sink in it should you burden love; Too great oppression for a tender thing. ‘ Mercutio uses rude words with double meanings to express his view of love, as ‘oppression’ has the meaning of being pressed down. It seems that the concept of romantic love amuses him. He says ‘Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.
Here again he uses a bawdy pun on ‘prick’ and ‘beat love down’ meaning give love back as good as you get and you will defeat it. Elizabethans admired word play and punning and throughout the play the young men including Mercutio are important, in showing their wit to keep the audience amused. Mercutio’s sense of humour appeals to us, his jesting about everything even his fatal wound, which kills him. Mercutio acting like an elder brother advises Romeo to take charge in controlling his own life, ‘If love be rough with you, be rough with love. ‘ From this speech we see the attitude Mercutio takes to life.
He is his own person, and will not let anyone or anything take control of his life; he lives life to the full, is lively and well expressed. His words are important, as it seems that Romeo takes it to heart, because love is rough with Romeo and Juliet. It conquers their minds and will and they can think of nothing but being together. They are hurt and torn apart because of this love and so they are rough back to it, killing themselves to be together. Mercutio’s importance as an elder brother who advises Romeo is stressed here as Romeo takes charge of death; he controls his life in the end like Mercutio advised.
We can also see another characteristic of Mercutio in this scene. He appears to not care about his appearance, ‘Give me a case to put my visage in. A visor for a visor. What care I’. He is asking for a mask to put his face in, a visor for a face that is already ugly, therefore saying that his face is already hideous enough not to need a mask. Mercutio does not care what people think of him, he is an individual who does not need people to love him for his beauty but for his wit and so makes fun of himself.
He does not believe in external, on the surface appearances but believes real beauty lies in a person’s mind. We also see Mercutio commenting on himself on the way to the party, when he says they are wasting their time, ‘come, we burn daylight. ‘ This shows that Mercutio never likes to waste time. He lives every second to the full. When Mercutio plunges into the Queen Mab speech we see other characteristics of him; he steals the limelight from Romeo who wants to tell the audience about his dream and dominates the stage with a very long speech made up of colourful, sensual language.
It demonstrates his fiery explosiveness and wild imagination, ‘her wagon-spokes made of long spinners’ legs’, he conjures up this ‘nonsensical fantasy’, as an example of his love to perform in front of others, have people around him enchanted and enthralled with his words running out in an uncontrollable flow. Once again his imaginative language contrasts that of melancholy Romeo. He loves to hear himself talk as Romeo describes him to the nurse ‘A gentleman nurse, that loves to hear himself talk; and will speak more in a minute than he will stand in a month. Romeo is telling the audience as the Queen Mab speech shows that, Mercutio is a man of words rather than actions. However that is not so, Mercutio through his actions is killed.
Another purpose of Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech is a way for Shakespeare to express his own views upon the selfish, dishonest flaws in human kind. While delivering his speech Mercutio seems angry at his society and through satirical commentary conveys his cynicism of the world. Mercutio describes Queen Mab as the ‘fairies midwife’ who is responsible for the dreams of humans.
As Mercutio puts together the image of Queen Mab flying through the air in a wagon we receive a revolting picture. For example the ‘cover’ is made from grasshoppers wings, likewise for the riding-whip made of ‘crickets bones’. Maybe this is to show the uneasiness and sickening disgust of Mercutio. The disgust he feels towards Queen Mab by describing her carriage as being made up from horrible insect parts. To show how she tears up reality as the animals are torn apart to make her carriage and grants people what they desire when they do not deserve it.
Mercutio goes on to criticise society’s superstitions, lifestyle and the way they behave towards other people, ‘Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid,’ He is referring to worms being pricked out, as worms are supposed to breed in the finger ends of lazy maids. Mercutio is saying that these people do not have the right to call anyone lazy especially their servants. For it is they who are lazy, employing people to do their work, they are hypocrites. God gave them hands and legs to use but just because they happen to have the money they do not use them.
They live a life of luxury while watching people do their ‘dirty work’. From line 71 Mercutio comments sarcastically that most people dream of selfish things, that courtiers ‘dream on curtsies straight’ so they may get more money by doing insufficient deeds that anyone could do. Lawyers who ‘straight dreams on fees,’ are not happy with their status, the amount of money they already get. Instead they are greedy and want more. Ladies who dream ‘straight on kisses’ although their breaths are ‘tainted’ with unpleasant smells.
They should not eat all those sweets and still expect to be kissed. These ladies cannot give up something less sweets for what they desire as they are spoilt. Courtiers who dream of ‘smelling out a suit,’ once again they are willing to take money off others to do a job that is unnecessary. They are taking advantage of their position to gain more money. Mercutio even goes as far as to criticise parson’s who are ‘supposedly’ devoted to God yet dream of another ‘benefice’. Soldiers who dream of cutting ‘foreign throats’, and when awake get scared so swear ‘a prayer or two and sleep again. These soldiers dream of killing men, God’s human beings with high quality swords, yet they turn to God when they need help.
However abusing the prayers by ‘swearing’ them out as swearing has become so natural, they cannot pray. Here Mercutio is questioning how these people can have murder on their consciences, he is criticising soldiers who are meant to fight for reason and truth, kill if necessary but dream of gaining glory by abusing their profession. Mercutio in line 92 describes Queen Mab as a ‘hag’ who presses on maids as they sleep and ‘learns them first to bear’. Here Mercutio’s bawdy references return.
He calls Queen Mab a fairy form of hag for giving girls erotic dreams. The imagery used in this speech is disgusting, and so shows Mercutio’s disgust with the world. Mercutio’s character is very important at present, as he is the only character who will speak out and express his feelings, therefore acting as an instrument to provide satirical commentary. Romeo interrupts Mercutio and cuts his speech short, ‘Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace. Thou talk’st of nothing. ‘ It seems that Romeo is trying to calm Mercutio down from his anger, his ‘pent-up disgust’, and his cynical, depressive streak.
It seems that Mercutio’s intelligence causes him to be unfulfilled and restless, as he is dissatisfied with ordinary affairs of men. Here Shakespeare portrays another contrast between Mercutio and Romeo in the way that Romeo does not share the same cynicism as Mercutio but rather thinks his speech is trivial. His belief that people always act selfishly highlights Romeo’s innocent belief in others. Maybe Shakespeare is using Mercutio to highlight Elizabethan ignorance of human kind in the way that Romeo thinks Mercutio’s speech is ‘nothing’.
Mercutio however carries on, changing his tone to more serious poetry, as conveyed through lines 100-104, maybe as a sign of an unintentional prophesy of Romeo’s wavering love for icy Rosaline to the warm welcoming Juliet, ‘turning his side to the dew dropping south. ‘ His speech was supposed to cheer Romeo up but rather than diminish his foreboding has deepened it. Maybe Mercutio himself without realising it has foreseen his own death, the ultimate dreamless sleep and so his speech being essential in changing the mood of the play and preparing the audience of what is to come, the brutal, cruelness of reality.
In Act 2 Scene 1 Mercutio mocks Romeo’s previous love of Rosaline, as they do not know about his new love Juliet. Mercutio continues to tease Romeo about his lovelorn state throughout the remainder of the scene. He pretends, bursting with high spirits to be a conjurer or magician. Thus making Romeo appear by uttering a spell based on Rosaline’s beauty, ‘I conjure thee by Rosaline’sâ€¦scarlet lipâ€¦quivering thigh. ‘ Mercutio speaks about love as well as the human body in physical and bawdy terms.
His spell is full of sexual innuendo; he is actually making a mockery of love as he jumps from one outrageous indecency to another. Mercutio is particularly bawdy in lines 23-6 and in his next speech, ”Now will he sit under a medlar tree, And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit,’ Here Mercutio uses rude Elizabethan slang as a ‘medlar tree’ bore small brown apples, which were meant to resemble the female sexual organ. Through this Shakespeare is again showing the main features of Mercutio’s character, his mocking vulgar humour, his exuberant love of words.
However we also see his rude jokes, sexual innuendo and altogether profane view of love oppose the ‘holy love’ that Romeo spoke of. He cannot accept love as pure and passionate. Shakespeare uses this scene to set Mercutio’s idea of love against Romeo’s transformed and purified version. At the beginning of Act2 Scene 2 Romeo discharges Mercutio’s bawdiness, ‘he jests at scars that never felt a wound,’ interpreting as ‘a man who has never been wounded by love cannot understand its pains’.
In Act 2 Scene 4, which is set in the street, we see Mercutio once again as he mocks Tybalt. He ridicules new fashion, the Italian style of fencing and Tybalt who is most skilled in this new fashion of duelling, ‘He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion,’ Meaning he fights in rhythm as if to music, keeping time, distance and balance. He comments on Tybalt’s speaking in the latest fashion, which affects all the expressions and ‘mannerisms of speech,’ and he proceeds to imitate him, ‘By Jesu, a very good bladeâ€¦whore! He refers to these ‘fashion-mongers’ as ‘strange flies’ who buzz about and waste their energy, they are so specific about seeming modern that they ‘cannot sit at ease on the old bench’ meaning that they complain about everything old. Once again Mercutio shows his anger and criticism towards young men who are excessively concerned with fashion ‘no matter how stupid each new trend may be’. Mercutio is an individual who does not slavishly follow fashion and likens fancy speech, manners and fencing with falseness and shallowness.
For although Tybalt may appear to be a gentleman on the surface, he does not behave like one, for gentlemen do not look to start fights. Shakespeare is showing that characters like Tybalt are only skin deep, they have no depth, Mercutio in contrast is always himself, he does not disguise his feelings, his personality, his character with trying to be something else. Theses speeches suggest that Elizabethan society was obsessed with money, fashion, manners and all that is superficial.
In this scene we actually see for the first time Mercutio lost for words. Mercutio greets Romeo with a bout of bawdy punning and we see Romeo joining in as they both battle it out verbally, ending with Mercutio saying ‘come between us good Benvolio, my wits faints? ‘ Romeo matches Mercutio’s teasing with his own jokes and puns. Maybe Mercutio likes to be in the company of witty and lively conversation such as Romeo’s at present, as it stimulates him. He is so happy that Romeo is more ‘sociable’.
Delighted that Romeo is rid of his melancholy love sickness, they battle in ridiculous nonsensical puns, he does not have the tolerance for any mans groaning for love as he believes it like fashion and fencing to be full of pretence. Here Shakespeare is preparing us for a different kind of duelling for later on, which will end first in Mercutio’s then Tybalt’s death. Shakespeare is showing that words can be used to battle, but actions result in death. Both Mercutio and Benvolio are delighted in Romeo’s change in character from love sickness because they think he is out of love, when he is actually very deeply in it.
The nurse’s arrival leads to more banter and teasing, this creates a different atmosphere from the one immediately before it and contrasts with the next. Here Shakespeare has the young men talk not in a flowing blank verse, but in an energetic, bright prose. It is ‘full of snappy wisecracks’ ‘No hare sir, unless a hare sir in a lenten pie, that is something stale and hoar ere it be spent. ‘ Here Mercutio’s jokes are about hares, which he purposely and punning confuses with whores. He mockingly describes Juliet’s nurse as dry and old, a prostitute, grey haired and a whore who is used up.
Mercutio is teasing the nurse bawdily and the nurse pretends to be outraged by it, ‘I pray you sir, what saucy merchant was that. ‘ This is the only time throughout the play that Mercutio and the nurse actually meet. They are parallel characters, both are bawdy, talkative, and think of life and it’s pleasures ‘purely in physical terms’. The nurse’s coarse dialogue between her and the witty lads emphasises the constant feuding between the two families. Act 3 Scene 1 is important in studying Mercutio as his death triggers off a series of tragic events, inevitable disasters, which result in the deaths of the lovers.
The death of Mercutio is to a great extent responsible for the death of Tybalt, Romeo’s banishment and not being able to see Juliet. If Romeo were allowed to stay in Verona he would have known the scheme of Juliet’s pretence death to get out of marrying Paris and therefore would have no reason to kill himself. Both of them could have lived happily together ‘alls well ends well’, however this scene acts as a pivotal turning point where the signs of a comical or love play are diminished.
Mercutio, the major source of comedy is lost and the play goes from a comedy to a tragedy. This scene is the climax, it marks the final appearance of Mercutio where after the attention of the audience can be focused on Romeo and Juliet, and captures the highest, memorable part of him; it sums up his character preparing the audience to lose him altogether. Firstly Shakespeare again conveys Mercutio’s showman, exhibitionist side when he replies to Benvolio’s urging to withdraw to a private place as ‘all eyes gaze on us’, ‘Men’s eyes were made to look, and let them gaze.
I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I. ‘ Once again Mercutio the natural born performer, he enjoys being the centre of attention and giving people something to see where he can display his humour and wit. We see that he does not care about what people think of him. He is his own man and will ‘budge for no man’s pleasure’. Secondly we see his physical protectiveness toward Romeo as he steps in front of him and defends Romeo’s and the Montague’s honour by saying that he wants ‘nothing but one of’ Tybalt’s ‘nine lives. Here we see Mercutio’s courage and his genuine love and loyalty for Romeo as a friend. Thirdly we see Mercutio’s stubbornness and strong-willed mind as he refuses to back down even after Romeo urges him to stop, ‘Gentlemenâ€¦forbear this outrage. â€¦the Prince expressly hath Forbid this bandying in Verona streets. ‘ This shows that Mercutio despises Tybalt so much that he is prepares to be put to death for fighting in the streets than have Tybalt gain satisfaction out of the yielding of Romeo from a fight.
We also see Mercutio’s disrespect and mockery towards Tybalt because he is shallow, and not genuine. He is a poser who looks down on Romeo because he is a Montague; he is prejudiced, which causes Mercutio to not be able to restrain his feelings and attitude because of sheer hatred towards him. Finally we see again Mercutio’s quick-witted humour, ‘And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something, make it a word and a blow’ Here Mercutio is deliberately provocative and aggressive. Everything that Tybalt says he turns around, twists and tears apart.
In the opening lines of Act 3 Scene 1 we can see some notification of what will happen later in the scene. The first three lines set the mood of the scene as Benvolio tries to persuade Mercutio to ‘retire’ as the ‘day is hot’, therefore people are likely to be more quarrelsome. He is warning Mercutio that there is bound to be a fight. This tension and apprehension is communicated to the audience as Benvolio prepares us for a ‘brawl’. However Mercutio disregards what anyone says or does and embarks on a speech, which is likened to himself rather than Benvolio.
This speech is the typical not bothered, spoiling for a fight, reckless Mercutio. He goes off at a tangent and turns on poor, hapless Benvolio. However this speech is ironic as Mercutio is talking more about himself. Mercutio has so much energy that it has to find a release, which he does by selecting a topic to give a lecture on. Because at present he does not have a target, he picks on Benvolio who takes the full blast of his behaviour. He teases Benvolio by inventing a tough, hard man who is ready to fight, who is violent and a show off.
He launches into a tirade and accuses Benvolio of quarrelling with someone for no reason because his head is ‘as full of quarrels as an egg is full of meat,’ this is an ironic statement as Mercutio is the quarrelsome one. Shakespeare uses a simile to get the audience to imagine Mercutio full of words, imagery and humour. He has so much to say, express his feelings and attitudes that his head is crammed, as an egg is crammed with meat. He is the one who is ‘hot tempered’ and will pick a fight over nothing.
Benvolio unintentionally forecasts Mercutio’s death by saying ‘truly that such a man could not survive as much as an hour and a quarter. ‘ This is an example of Mercutio’s twisted humour; he has nothing better to do so invents a fictitious character of Benvolio. This speech is important in an effort to express Mercutio’s restlessness and edginess so that the audience can see he will willingly accept a fight. When Tybalt arrives on stage the characteristics of Mercutio that the audience know and love are emphasised as we see the actions and words exchanged with Juliet’s cousin.
Tybalt is stolid, unimaginative, lacking in humour, and stony faced. Mercutio contrasts his character so much, that the audience immediately hate him when he appears on the scene. There is an exchange of insults between Mercutio and Tybalt. The combination of opposing ideas in sentences is an example of Mercutio’s quick wit, ‘Could you not take some occasion without giving? ‘ the antithesis in that sentence being ‘give’ and ‘take’, meaning that can Tybalt not seize the opportunity without one having to give him it.
Mercutio is describing himself, his quick wit and intelligence enables himself to mock anything he desires whether words or actions. He therefore seizes the opportunity to mock Tybalt by punning on the word ‘consort’, Tybalt tells him that he ‘consortest’ with Romeo, meaning that he is a friend who goes along with him, like a companion. But then Mercutio twists it around and replies ‘consort? What dost thou make us minstrels? ‘ meaning musicians in a band, servants of Romeo, a low life. He then puns on Tybalt’s words again when Romeo arrives on the scene, when Tybalt say’s ‘here comes my man’, meaning the one he is after.
However Mercutio twists it around and replies, ‘But I’ll be hanged sir, if he wear your livery. Marry go before to field, he’ll be your follower; Your worship in that sense may call him man. ‘ Mercutio discredits Tybalt’s words, he is saying that he will be ‘hanged’ if Romeo would ever wear his livery; therefore Romeo is not his servant. When you would say ‘my man’ you would be referring to your servant and Mercutio is saying that Romeo never ever in his life would become Tybalt’s servant, he would rather die. Mercutio then says ‘go ahead to the field where he will fight you or be your servant’.
He sarcastically refers to Tybalt as ‘your worship’. The audience is able to see in this scene Mercutio and Tybalt fencing verbally. We are able to see Mercutio tear Tybalt’s words and make a mockery of him in front of everyone. Tybalt is so superficial that he has nothing inside of him, he has no words to match Mercutio like Romeo has, he can learn his fancy duelling and manners from a book, but he cannot learn to match anyone like Mercutio verbally. Mercutio challenges Tybalt to fight because he is the only person who is more willing minded to fight than Tybalt.
Also because he cannot believe that Romeo would withdraw from a fight and so allow someone like Tybalt who he hates so much, be able to mock his friend’s cowardice. He can hardly believe that Romeo would do this, as he does not know that Romeo will not fight because Tybalt is now his cousin as he has married Juliet, ‘O calm, dishonourable, vile submission! ‘ Mercutio is astonished at the calm way Romeo surrenders to insult, he is disgusted at Romeo’s shameful yielding and so prepares himself to stand up for his friend’s honour.
So with ‘Alla stoccata’ he starts defending the Montague’s honour. He replies this sarcastically as it is a stroke you would learn in fencing, to show Tybalt that he thinks all this fancy duelling as a travesty, a farce. He answers wittingly to Tybalt’s challenge, all his insults revolving around the imagery of a cat because of Tybalt’s name, ‘rat catcher’, ‘king of cats’, ‘nine lives’, this is ironic as Mercutio describes his fatal wound as a ‘scratch’ from Tybalt. Although physically it was Romeo’s fault that Mercutio got injured, Mercutio himself is actually to blame for his own death.
Shakespeare gives Mercutio these dying speeches to reflect what we know of him, as even though he is in pain, he humours us at a critical moment. Mercutio’s dying language is full of humour. He tells a series of jokes about death and wounds, even at death he does not show the feelings and emotions that matter like love. He is not dramatic about his own death and does not show that he is scared to die; he does not want his friends to see him behave differently. He puns on ‘grave man’ saying that he will be grave – meaning not happy, as he will be making no more jokes because he will be dead in his grave.
This shows his courage and bravery in coping with a wound. His bitterness and cynicism is emphasised when he shouts three times ‘a plague on both your houses’. This is a high point of the speech and turns out to be prophetic. We can see there is resentment and anger in his face, his tone changes to a more serious tone as he fences at the feuding families and scolds Romeo for coming between them to allow Tybalt to strike the blow. He cannot believe that a man who learnt fencing by the book won over him, one who fights with passion, emotion and natural skill.
Mercutio’s death is of a piece with the way he lived his life, as it represents his courage and nobleness. His very bitter jokes and loyalty to Romeo gain our admiration, as he is not involved in the feud. However we see an unexpected seriousness in his voice when he curses the two families, ‘a plague on both your houses,’ and we see his dying wish fulfilled, as in the final scene of the play the prince declares, ‘See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love! Mercutio’s death fits in with the way he lived his life, as we admire the performance he puts on even at his death. Mercutio can be compared to a shooting star that is hurled in the first part of the play. He lights up the first two acts as a star lights up the night sky, his death portraying the light extinguished as the play and the star go down hill from thereon to a final tragedy, the play becomes biter and no longer light hearted. The death of Mercutio’s character was important for Shakespeare as he distracted the audience from the main plot.
If he were still present in the play the audience would be wondering what comical thing he would do or say next. He had to be removed from the play so that the audience would be able to see the clear storyline and feel the cruel, ruthlessness of the lovers’ deaths. Although Mercutio’s death is very moving and sad, Shakespeare ensures that Mercutio’s death does not have the same effect on the audience as the lovers’ deaths, by adding humour even when Mercutio is dying.
Also Shakespeare would have had him carried offstage to die hidden from the audience. Mercutio is the only character within the play “Romeo and Juliet” who demonstrates the characteristics of being individual. Therefore he is extremely significant in the play as his actions and speeches can be constantly used as a device for Shakespeare’s views of Elizabethan society, highlighting attitudes and providing amusement for the audience. However Shakespeare uses Mercutio most importantly to point out the moral of the play, the foolishness of the feud.