Is Mercutio Really a Plain Minor Character?
Josefino Rivera. Jr.
October 21. 2017
One of the most interesting characters in Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet is Mercutio. We never know what he looks like on the outside, but his character traits are vivid, like a bouquet of flowers. Mercutio is Romeo’s good friend, they share life, stories and thoughts together. Shakespeare created Mercutio in direct opposition to Romeo, the main character. Even though Mercutio’s life in the play is very short his appearance dominates the dialogue and the action whenever he appears in the play because his character combines traits like using humor and jokes, offensive-provocative language and strong sense of friendship and loyalty.
Shakespeare created a character who is funny, witty, entertains with his jokes and has an attitude towards love. In the following quote Romeo has just fallen in love with Juliet and forgotten about his beloved Rosalind. Using humor and ridicule Mercutio is commenting that Romeo falls in love easily. “Nay, I’ll conjure too. / Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover! / Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh: / Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;/Cry but ‘Ay me!’ pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove” (2.1.6–10). What Mercutio is saying is basically that Romeo should not take love too seriously but rather have fun. Saying this Mercutio reveals to the audience one of his character traits. Life is easier when you humor your ordeals. Also Mercutio’s attitude to love specifically is that of arrogance and joking with true feelings. Once again Mercutio has shown his characteristics: “Why, is not this better now than groaning for love?” (2.4.42). Mercutio continues with his attitude towards Romeo’s love with Juliet. From the beginning till the end he has shown that he doesn’t believe in love, and has not changed his opinion towards it. Thus Shakespeare shows the reader that Mercutio is also a static character. In this situation Romeo and Mercutio were teasing each other and Mercutio mentioned that he prefers gentle assaults rather than listening to his friend’s love stories.
The impression of a provocative playboy enjoying life that Mercutio makes, becomes even stronger when the reader “hears” his language. This language mocks true feelings and is offensive and dirty, often anti-women oriented. While the main character is hiding in the bushes under the balcony of his beloved one, Mercutio is expressing his opinion to Benvolio: “If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark./Now will he sit under a medlar tree/And wish his/ mistress were that kind of fruit/ As maids call medlars when they laugh alone. — / O Romeo, that she were! Oh, that she were/ An open arse, and thou a poperin pear” (2.1.33–38). We can tell that Mercutio doesn’t believe in love except in its physical form. By using a metaphor he means that a man will fall in love no matter what and with whom. Mercutio totally does not understand this love and true feelings and thus the only thing he can do is mock and laugh and joke with it. He continues being anti-feminist and dirty minded by using medlar as a metaphor for a woman’s private parts. Another example is when Romeo and Mercutio were sharing their dreams “Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you”(1.4.54). In this quote we can tell that Mercutio doesn’t have respect towards females. In the beginning he was encouraging Romeo to go talk to Juliet while he was supposed to marry another girl. After Romeo fell in love with Juliet, Mercutio is calling her names such as, “Quean Mab” “Quean is a slang for a whore and MAb is a stereotype prostitute’s name.” Mercutio’s language stands out as one of the dirtiest and most provocative ones in the whole play.
Mercutio has so much more than these character traits. Deeper under this surface, as if to confuse the audience, Shakespeare incorporated other qualities, qualities that somehow are in opposition to the impression of the witty play boy using dirty language. Mercutio is a true friend, loyal to death to the Montague house, he himself not belonging to it. His strong sense of honor, his courage and quick, hot temper led him to accept the Tybalt offer to fight. “I will not budge for no man’s pleasure” (3.1.26) Through the use of clear, straight to the point language Mercutio is revealing his bravery, loyalty and determination to fight and to defend Romeo. Once again Mercutio has demonstrated his loyalty towards Romeo and the Montagues. “O calm dishonourable, vile submission!/ Alla stoccata carries it away. (draws his sword)/ Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?” (3.1.44–46) Mercutio stays by Romeo’s side and doesn’t accept Tybalt to have such an attitude towards Romeo. Mercutio is willing to risk his life for Romeo and the Montagues. He has proven that he is a loyal friend. We can also tell that friendship is very important for Mercutio and he is willing to do everything for it.
Mercutio is a very vivid character, combining traits like being funny, anti romantic and sexually rude to women but also we can see that this is a man who has fine emotions of loyalty, friendship, standing for his honor and defending the name of his friend with his life. Killing Mercutio is very important point in the Shakespeare’s play, because from here on the humor gives a way to sadness and tragedy. Somehow Shakespeare uses the last words of Mercutio to foreshadow the tragic death of Romeo and Juliet. Thus Mercutio’s role, even short, leaves colorful, vivid memories in the audience and makes him one of the important characters in this play.