Mercutio as Catalyst in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet

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Mercutio as Catalyst in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet

In Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, the quick-witted character Mercutio “is a notorious scene-stealer” (Utterback 105). Mercutio’s major function in the play is to be a catalyst for the plot. Mercutio’s purpose as a character is most significantly revealed in his relationship with Romeo, his baiting of Tybalt, and his death. More importantly, Mercutio functions as the catalyst for the pattern of disasters in the play that follows his own tragic death, making him, as described by critic Stephen Greenblatt “a spirit that seems to challenge the very possibility of romantic love or tragic destiny” (856).

Mercutio’s role in the play is directly linked to his relationship with his “very friend,” Romeo (III.i.108). This bond and camaraderie of the men provides the basis for the revelation of Mercutio’s character as a foil to Romeo. “These basic roles for the two friends mean that, through the badinage, Mercutio is essentially active and Romeo reactive or passive” (Porter 103). For example, Mercutio tells Romeo “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance” (I.iv.13). He playfully pushes Romeo to “borrow cupid’s wings / And soar with them above a common bound” (I.iv.17-18) and advises his friend that “If love be rough with you, be rough with love. / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down” (I.iv.27-28). These lines demonstrate Mercutio’s characteristic need for urgency and action. “Romeo by contrast characteristically replies that he is unable to comply with his friend’s exhortations—he won’t dance, don’t ask him—and his most urgent words, ‘Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace’ (I.v.95), urge not action but its cessation” (Porter 103)....

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... Pennsylvania State University Press, 1965.

Phillips, Brian. “Character Analysis.” SparkNote on Romeo and Juliet. 24 April 2003.

Porter, Joseph A. Shakespeare’s Mercutio: His History and Drama. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Baz Luhrman. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, Brian Dennehy, and John Leguizamo. 20th Century Fox, 1997.

Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. Perf. Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey, John McEnery, and Milo O’Shea. Paramount, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 1997. 865-939.

Utterback, Raymond V. “The Death of Mercutio.” Shakespeare Quarterly. 24.2 (1973): 105-116.
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