Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet
Mercutio is a rich source of comedy in the play. In this respect he deserves a comparison with the Nurse who also provides considerable amusement to us. But Mercutio is far superior to the Nurse in every respect, even in providing comedy in the play. The comedy provided by Mercutio proceeds from his wit. Mercutio has a fertile and nimble wit which bubbles and sparkles, and which not only amuses us but also stimulates our minds. Wit is always conscious of itself; and so the mirth which Mercutio provides is consciously provided, his object being to tickle his listeners and make them laugh. Romeo and Juliet is a tragic play but it has a large component of comedy; and Mercutio’s contribution to the comedy is the most considerable, and is highly valued. At the same time, Mercutio is integral to the action of the play and has an important role in the plot.
We meet Mercutio first when Romeo and his friends are getting ready to go in a masked procession to Capulet’s house. It is at this time that we find Mercutio talking in a witty manner and become aware of this quality in him. He tells Romeo that being a lover, Romeo should borrow Cupid’s wings and soar with them high above the ground. Here he is simply making fun of Romeo’s love for Rosaline. Then he makes fun of himself by saying that it would not matter to him even if he were to wear the mask because his face is itself the ugliest conceivable. Later, when Romeo speaks of a dream which he had seen last night, Mercutio makes a long speech about the many kinds of dreams which Queen Mab brings to various persons during their sleep. This is a fairly amusing speech, though a long one and, though it has little to do with the development of the plot. In this speech, Mercutio describes the kinds of dreams seen by countiers, lawyers, parsons, soldiers, and others.
Mercutio’s wit is truly irrepressible and sometimes his remarks become obscene. After the banquet, when there is no sign of Romeo, Mercutio says that he will summon Romeo in the same way as a magician summons a ghost by means of a magic invocation: “Nay, I’ll conjure too,” Says Mercutio. And then he proceeds to speak as a conjurer might. He uses all kinds of formulas relating to the blind passion of love, and then tries to summon Romeo in the name of Rosaline’s bright eyes, in the name of her high- forehead and her scarlet lip, in the name of her quivering thigh and in the name of the territory which lies adjacent to her thigh. And then he tells Benvolio that his invocation is fair and honest, and that Romeo cannot take offence at this invocation.
During his fight with Tybalt, The humor arises from Mercutio’s use of so many words of contempt for Tybalt, and also from his paradoxical remarks that his wound is a mere scratch which will prove fatal to him. Mercutio also at the time curses the two feuding families, the Montagues and the Capulets. It is as a result of this feud that he is now going to die. In this connection he says to Romeo:
“A plague on both your houses, /They have made worm’s meat of me.”
A little later, Mercutio dies; but, he dies joking. His death is an important event in the play because it has serious repercussions.
Mercutio is indirectly responsible for a crisis in Romeo’s life. Mercutio’s wit reminds us of Benedick’s m Much Ado About Nothing. His wit, like Benedick’s, is bright and pungent. He ridicules Romeo for being in love, and he ridicules Tybalt’s aggressiveness and belligerency. At the same time, we must admire him for his sense of honour, his courage, his bravery, and his loyalty to Romeo. It is true that he becomes reckless and takes the initiative in starting a fight with Tybalt. It is said that discretion is the better part of valor, but Mercutio does not subscribe to this view. He believes in valor, and not in discretion. By being killed in the fight with Tybalt, Mercutio unknowingly becomes responsible for the crisis in Romeo’s life. Romeo’s sense of honour now demands that he should avenge Mercutio’s death, especially because Tybalt returns to the scene of fighting’ in the same wrathful mood. In the fight, which now ensues, Tybalt is killed. Romeo’s murder of Tybalt leads to his banishment from Verona; and the banishment creates all the complications such as his having to leave Verona, Juliet being urged by her parents to marry Paris, Juliet’s having to resort to the remedy devised by Friar Laurence, and so on. Mercutio thus plays a pivotal role in the action of the play. His fight with Tybalt and his death in the fight constitute one of the grimmest and the most piteous scenes of the play. The fight and Mercu1io’s death give rise strong of fears and pity in our hearts. A. sword fight is a most exciting and suspenseful affair; while the death of a man, whom we love and admire, is a most poignant situation. But that is not all. The fight and Mercutio’s death lead to Tybalt’s death which, in turn, leads to Romeo’s banishment and thus gives a new twist to the plot of the play.
Furthermore, Mercutio is Romeo’s answer to Juliet’s Nurse. Mercutio is a rich source of comedy and he is at the same time indispensable to the plot of the play. Both comedy-wise and plot-wise, he is far more important than the Nurse. Although the personality of Mercutio, with so much air and fire, is in strong contrast to the Nurse’s, his relationship with Romeo follows a parallel pattern, for all Mercutio’s affectionate concern and deliberately infectious enthusiasm in countering Romeo’s melancholy is based on a radical misconception of Romeo’s true nature.