Mercutio’s name derives from the adjective Mercurial which is also known as ‘changeable’ The variations of his name give a relevant insight into the complicated character of Mercutio. Other names such as Mercury – the Roman messenger God suggest the quick paced humour and witty character. All these many names speak a lot about his personality and big influence in Romeo and Juliet. Some of Mercutio’s many contributions to the play are as a comic foil to Romeo, contrasting with Romeo’s more softly spoken, humourless character or as guidance about love.
Mercutio is first introduce in Act 1 Scene 4. “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.” This immediately suggests his lively cheerful personality. Shakespeare introduces Mercutio at this point in time as a way to break up the tension of the previous happenings. “If love be rough with you, be rough with love.” Shows his jovial, positive view towards anything. Another similar idea is when Mercutio says “Prick love for pricking.” This portrays Mercutio as a joker and the use of puns ‘pricks/prick’ shows his quick witted comedy. Throughout the first scene Mercutio displays many different views of love. “You are a lover, borrow Cupid’s wings/ Too great oppression for a tender thing.” This shows that Mercutio is a person who is acquainted with love as may have experienced it in the past.
Later on in this scene Mercutio recites to Romeo a soliloquy of Queen Mab. This is one of the most prominent and influential moments in the play. It demonstrates Mercutio’s vivid imagination, including lots of imagery prefiguring events to come. “In shape no bigger than an agate-stone.” Or “On the forefinger of an alderman.” The character of Queen Mab is based on figures in the pagan Celtic mythology that predated Christianity’s arrival in England. This links in with the idea of religion being a strong part of the play. Mercutio picks up on this supernatural and mystical idea and uses it to illustrate a deeper darker meaning.
At first the speech seems to be based around mystical fairies but another meaning is also apparent towards the end of the play. “This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs.” Words such as “quean” and “mab” refer to whores in Elizabethan England. Mercutio uses the pun of talking about magical fairies but references it to prostitution. This again shows the deeply intricate character of Mercutio. Shakespeare also combines the idea of supernatural with fate in that he includes many references to what will happen in later scenes. “Through lovers’ brains, and they dream of love.” Anticipates the meeting of Romeo and Juliet in Act 1 Scene 5. However more cleverly Mercutio comes to the conclusion that ‘Dreams are nothing but silly imagination’ which is shown by “True, I talk of dreams Which are the children of an idle brain.” This quote reveals a very important hidden meaning. Mercutio is saying that dreams are nothing but imagination and delusions. This gives a very different view to the play. It contrasts with the Romantic tragedy and shows a view on reality. In that Romeo dreams of being with Juliet yet they will never be together, Friar Lawrence dreams of bringing peace to Verona through the marriage of Romeo and Juliet yet instead it works out with the death of both of them. Each of these examples illustrates the important prediction of Mercutio. Shakespeare uses the complicated character of Mercutio to represent complex and contrasting views to things.
Mercutio is appears again in Act 2 Scene 2 where he is used to play a very much different role. Shakespeare intends for Mercutio to be a likeable character and someone the audience can relate too with his appealing humour and vast knowledge. “Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover!” This sentence showing key aspects in the plot give an insight into Romeo’s character. It is used by Shakespeare to build up the tension for what is too come but also to give the audience and better insight into the character of Mercutio.
This scene in Act 2 is one of Shakespeare most humorous and least tragic acts in the play. Shakespeare uses this to explore the positive, joyful, and romantic aspects of young love. Mercutio’s wordplay in Act 2 is also very sexual, highlighting and opposing the true love of Romeo and Juliet. Words such as “An open-arse, thou a pop’rin pear!” Demonstrate Mercutio’s view on Romeo’s love for Rosaline. “If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.” Cross references back to Act 1 Scene 4 where Mercutio says “If love be rough…be rough with love.” It shows his repeated references and advice towards Romeo.
In Scene 4 Mercutio once again shows his sexual humour when he makes jokes about the Nurse. “Good Peter, to hide her face, for her fan’s the fairer face.” This shows Mercutio’s bawdy humour. Shakespeare also uses Mercutio to incorporate an obscene song. Mercutio uses puns ‘hare/hoare’ This shows intelligent use of wordplay showing Mercutio as not afraid of anything. This ties in later when he fights to defend the life of his friend Romeo showing a loyal and thoughtful character which is often hidden under the humour and sexual punning.
Mercutio makes his final appearance in Act 3 Scene 1 where he is fatally stabbed. Due to his funny and likeable personality many people think Shakespeare killed this major character off early as it drew attention away from the real main characters of the story ‘Romeo and Juliet’ However another interpretation and reason could be that Shakespeare wanted a dramatic and intense turning point to the play. Shakespeare builds up the tension in the play with Tybalt seeking revenge and the many incidents relating to the Montagues and the Capulets and finally releases it all in this one scene. Shakespeare uses Mercutio’s final scene as a reminder that, for all its emphasis on love, beauty, and romance in Romeo and Juliet it is till set in a world where death and tragedies can happen.
Romeo’s dialogue, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” refers to his unluckiness in being forced to kill his new wife’s cousin, which results in him getting banished. It also reiterates the sense of fate that hangs over the play. However, Mercutio’s response is very much contrasting to Romeo’s. Romeo blames fate, or fortune, for what has happened to him but Mercutio curses the Montagues and Capulets. Mercutio sees people as the cause of his death, and gives no credit to any larger force. This shows Mercutio’s clever, thoughtful characteristics. This is again shown when he cries “A plague o’both your houses.” This shows Mercutio as mature and understanding as he is able to work out the ongoing problem is the conflict between the two households. Shakespeare cleverly incorporates a last pun in Mercutio’s dialogue. “…You shall find me a grave man.” This gives the audience mixed feelings whether to think of it as ‘serious’ or ‘dead’ It is important as it shows Mercutio’s fighting spirit and the fact that he does not want to share the burden by telling everyone he is injured, instead just dying.
Overall Shakespeare portrays Mercutio as humorous and intelligent. One of the main reasons he is included in the play is for comedy and interesting views. However Shakespeare also uses him as a foil to many of his characters. His constant use of sexual punning adds complexity and interest to the dialogue whilst his mystical, magical inclination ties in with many relevant themes. On the whole he is a great influence to the play and Shakespeare even makes use with the death of Mercutio as a way to signify darker more sinister events to come. The death of Mercutio signifies the death of humour and Shakespeare uses this as a way to prefigure what is later to come.