Mercutio’s Role in Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet are two of Shakespeare’s most well-known characters. In one of Shakespeare’s most popular tragedies, these two star-crossed lovers fall in love despite the long feud between their families, the Capulets and Montagues. Although, like most of Shakespeare’s plays, the two lead roles are not the only ones to capture the audience’s attention. Neither a Capulet or a Montague, Mercutio, who is well known for his humour and wit, is one of these memorable and special characters. However, Mercutio also aids in developing the plot, foreshadowing the tragic ending, and advancing the characterization of Romeo as a tragic hero. Clearly, Mercutio shows that he is more than a mere sense of comic relief and plays an important role in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
First, Mercutio plays a critical role in developing the plot of the play. For example, Mercutio is responsible for Romeo and Juliet meeting because he convinces Romeo to go to the Capulet ball, despite Romeo’s insistence that he had a bad dream the night before warning him about going to the party. When discussing Romeo’s dream, Mercutio delivers his famous Queen Mab speech, and then adds: “True, I talk of dreams, / Which are the children of an idle brain, / Begot of nothing but vain fantasy, / Which is as thin of substance as the air / And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes” (I, IV, 96). Here, Mercutio tells Romeo his dream meant nothing and this persuades Romeo to enter the ball. This develops the plot by ensuring Romeo and Juliet meet, which then creates the conflict that occurs when Romeo and Juliet fall in love from opposite sides of the family feud. If Mercutio had not pushed for Romeo to enter the ball, Romeo would have followed his instincts and would not have met Juliet. Next, Mercutio plays a critical role in developing the climax of the play when he challenges Tybalt to a fight, after Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt himself. As a result, Mercutio is killed and Romeo is forced to choose between retaliating against Tybalt or walking away to spare Juliet’s cousin’s life. After Mercutio dies, Romeo acknowledges the impact his death will have on the future when he says: “This day’s black fate on more days doth depend; / This but begins the woe others must end” (III, I, 15). This advances the plot by complicating the original conflict faced by Romeo and Juliet and the play becomes a tragedy. When Romeo kills Tybalt in retaliation for Mercutio’s death, the feud between the Capulets and Montagues is intensified as Romeo has now killed Juliet’s cousin, and Romeo is sentenced to exile from Verona. This scene, caused by Mercutio’s hastiness and impulsivity to fight Tybalt, is the climax of the play and ultimately leads to the fatal events in the following scenes. The worst has just begun for the star-crossed lovers after Romeo’s retaliation.
In addition to advancing the plot of the play, Mercutio also foreshadows the tragic ending of Romeo and...