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Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet: Character Analysis, Personality & Traits

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  • 0:01 Character Analysis
  • 0:57 Mercutio as the Skeptic Foil
  • 2:31 Mercutio's Warning
  • 3:11 Mercutio's Death
  • 5:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Every hero needs a best friend. In this lesson, we'll learn about Mercutio, Romeo's loyal comedic foil, who loses his life in a duel in order to protect the Montague name.

Character Analysis

'Loyal,' 'devoted,' 'funny' and 'witty' are just a few of the words that describe Romeo's best friend, Mercutio, in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. He is neither a Montague nor a Capulet, but he is more than just an interested party in the epic family feud.

Romeo and Juliet Playwright William Shakespeare
Shakespeare

Although Mercutio is just a secondary character, appearing in only four scenes, his character is known for stealing the show. Audiences cannot get enough of the funny and oftentimes even dirty Prince's kinsman. And for those of you who do not know, Mercutio is murdered in Act 3, Scene 1 in a fight with Tybalt (more on that later). It's reported that audiences love Mercutio so much that some performances go south after his character dies. There's even a story that Shakespeare himself confessed that Mercutio had to die or else his character would take the spotlight away from the star-crossed lovers.

Mercutio as the Skeptic Foil

Mercutio's character serves as a foil in Romeo and Juliet. A foil is a character who juxtaposes another character so audiences can clearly see certain qualities of the other character. This is usually done to help define the protagonist, or lead character, of the story. In Mercutio's case, he is the direct opposite of the hero, Romeo. As we already know, Romeo is a romantic, a man who easily falls in love and hopes beyond hope that true love can conquer all, even an epic family rivalry.

Romeo and Juliet

Meanwhile, Mercutio is a skeptic, a man who mocks love. When he finds out that Romeo is in love with a Capulet, his reaction is to make fun of his best friend.

'Romeo, Humors! Madman! Passion! Lover!

Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh,

Speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied.'

Yes, Mercutio is cynical; perhaps he doesn't necessarily believe in the idea of true love. More so, Mercutio is even outright hostile towards women in general. At the beginning of the play, Romeo is upset that his love for a woman named Rosaline went unrequited. Romeo is heartbroken, so what does his best friend do? He mocks him with a vulgar monologue that objectifies Rosaline's body.

'I must conjure him.

I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,

By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,

By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh

And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,

That in thy likeness thou appear to us!'

Mercutio's Warning

Every character in Romeo and Juliet serves a distinct purpose in moving the narrative forward. Mercutio does not think that Romeo should get involved with Juliet, that it will only cause a monster headache and that it will never work out. Although Mercutio is a sort of tough guy, his goal is to keep peace between the families. But Romeo doesn't listen and instead mocks his friend: 'A gentleman that loves to hear himself talk and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month.'

So Romeo ignores Mercutio's pleads. Love has already blinded him. It is this idea of true love that stops Mercutio from keeping the peace.

Mercutio's Death

Later on in the play, Tybalt, who is Juliet's cousin, challenges Romeo to a duel to the death. What Tybalt doesn't know is that it's already too late to stop his cousin from marrying the enemy Romeo, because they already married in secret.

Mercutio thinks Tybalt is a fool and ridicules him when he arrives to duel Romeo. Of course, Romeo can't fight the man who is now his secret cousin by marriage, which makes the quick-tempered Tybalt very angry. Mercutio also does not know about Romeo's marriage to Juliet, so he is confused when Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt. However, Mercutio, above all, is loyal to Romeo. Even though he doesn't understand the situation, in order to defend Romeo's name, he accepts Tybalt's challenge to a duel.

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