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[His name suggests "mercurial."]
Buried in the list of those invited to Capulet's feast are "Mercutio and his brother Valentine" (1.2.67), but this probably doesn't have much significance. There are twelve proper names in the list, and among those listed only one other (Tybalt) is identifiable as a character in the play. It seems unlikely the audience would remember the list when Mercutio appears two scenes later. [Scene Summary]
Mercutio's first appearance is with Benvolio, Romeo, and some others, in front of Capulet's house the night of Capulet's feast. Mercutio and Benvolio want to put on their masks and make their entrance, but Romeo declares that he is too melancholy to dance. Mercutio protests, "Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance" (1.4.13). However, Romeo insists on being a party-pooper, and Mercutio tries to talk him out of it, which leads to Mercutio's famous "Queen Mab" speech. [Scene Summary]
After Capulet's party, Romeo jumps a wall into Capulet's garden, where he hides while Benvolio calls for him. Mercutio comments, "He is wise; / And, on my life, hath stol'n him home to bed" (2.1.2-3), but Benvolio doesn't think that Romeo has gone home. He asks Mercutio to help call for Romeo. Mercutio answers, "Nay, I'll conjure too" (2.1.6). Mercutio's joke is that since Romeo is under the magical spell of Rosaline, a conjuration is required to make him appear. Mercutio begins by calling out, "Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover! / Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh!" (2.1.7-8). Mercutio proceeds to to make one joke after another at the expense of Romeo and his love-lorn state. Mercutio is of the opinion that Romeo's love is only lust. [Scene Summary]
Alone in Capulet's orchard, Romeo's first words are about Mercutio: "He jests at scars that never felt a wound" (2.2.1). Romeo's point is that Mercutio can make jokes about the pain of love only because he has never felt any such pain. [Scene Summary]
The morning after Capulet's feast, Benvolio and Mercutio are looking for Romeo. Mercutio asks Benvolio, "Where the devil should this Romeo be? / Came he not home to-night?" (2.4.1-2). Benvolio mentions that Tybalt sent Romeo a letter containing a challenge. Benvolio is certain Romeo will answer the challenge, but Mercutio jokes that Romeo is too much in love with Rosaline to fight Tybalt. Then Benvolio asks who Tybalt is, and Mercutio mockingly describes him as a dangerous and conceited duelist.
When Romeo shows up, Mercutio -- who seems to enjoy his own wit -- switches from making fun of Tybalt to making fun of Romeo. Benvolio says, "Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo" (2.4.36), and Mercutio wisecracks, "Without his roe, like a dried herring: O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified!" (2.4.37-38). Mercutio and Romeo exchange witty insults until the Nurse appears, at which time Mercutio begins to make fun of her. He and Benvolio finally leave Romeo alone with the Nurse, but Mercutio's bawdy witticisms have so upset her that she asks Romeo, "I pray you, sir, what saucy merchant was this, that was so full of his ropery [knavery]?" (2.4.145-146). Romeo explains that Mercutio is just a guy who likes to hear himself talk, and who doesn't mean most of what he says. The Nurse is not really mollified by this. She declares that if Mercutio "speak any thing against me, I'll take him down" (2.4.150-151). [Scene Summary]
Benvolio and Mercutio are hanging out on the streets of Verona, but Benvolio is a little nervous. He knows the Capulets are out, "And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl; / For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring" (3.1.3-4). Apparently Mercutio doesn't want to believe that his buddy is afraid of a fight, so he tries to kid Benvolio into a different frame of mind. He says Benvolio is like a fellow who goes into a tavern, slaps his sword on the table and says loudly that he hopes he doesn't have to use that sword. This fellow, "by the operation of the second cup draws it on the drawer [bartender], when indeed there is no need" (3.1.8-9). Then Tybalt shows up, looking for Romeo. Mercutio tries to pick a fight with Tybalt, but Tybalt is only interested in Romeo, who soon appears. Romeo declines to fight Tybalt, but Mercutio, outraged that his friend has backed down, fights Tybalt. Romeo tries to stop the fight, and as he does so, Tybalt gives Mercutio his death wound.
Even as he is dying, Mercutio can still pun about himself and his fate. He says, "Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man" (3.1.97-98). Mercutio, who is always joking and never grave, will be grave tomorrow. Then the senselessness of it all comes rushing upon him. He curses the houses of Capulet and Montague; he curses Tybalt, and asks Romeo, "Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm" (3.1.102-103). Romeo answers that he was only trying to do what he thought best, but Mercutio isn't listening. He asks Benvolio to help him into a house before he collapses, and as Benvolio does so, Mercutio continues to curse "Your houses!" (3.1.108).
Three passages in this scene show that Mercutio is a kinsman of Prince Escalus. Romeo, speaking of Mercutio, says, "This gentleman, the prince's near ally, / My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt / In my behalf" (3.1.109-111). When Benvolio is explaining things to the Prince, he says, pointing at Tybalt, "There lies the man, slain by young Romeo, / That slew thy kinsman, brave Mercutio" (3.1.144-145). Later in the scene Prince Escalus says to Capulet and Montague, "I have an interest in your hate's proceeding, / My blood for your rude brawls doth lie a-bleeding" (3.1.188-189). [Scene Summary]
After Romeo kills Paris, he examines his face and recognizes him as "Mercutio's kinsman, noble County Paris!" (5.3.75).
At the end of the play Prince Escalus seems to be highly exasperated at everyone, including himself. He says to Capulet and Montague that they have been punished by the loss of their children, "And I for winking at your discords too / Have lost a brace of kinsmen [i.e., Mercutio and Paris]: all are punish'd" (5.3.294-295). [Scene Summary]
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