Shakespeare uses Mercutio and the Nurse to explore the relationship
between comedy and tragedy in Romeo and Juliet. These characters, in
their comic roles, serve as foils for Romeo and Juliet by highlighting
the couple's youth and innocence as well as the pure and vulnerable
quality of their love.
Mercutio, Romeo's quick-tempered, witty friend, links the comic and
violent action of the play. He is initially presented as a playful
rogue who possesses both a brilliant comic capacity and an
opportunistic, galvanized approach to love. Later, Mercutio's death
functions as a turning point for the action of the play. In death, he
becomes a tragic figure, shifting the play's direction from comedy to
Mercutio's first appearance in Act I, Scene 4, shows Romeo and his
friend to be of quite opposite characters. Mercutio mocks Romeo as a
helpless victim of an overzealous, undersatisfied love. Romeo
describes his love for Rosaline using the clichéd image of the rose
with thorns to stress the pain of his unrequited love.
Mercutio ridicules Romeo as a fashionable, Petrarchan lover for his
use of conventional poetic imagery. He puns lewdly, "If love be rough
with you, be rough with love; / Prick love for pricking and you beat
love down." Whereas the naïve Romeo is in love with the idea of being
in love and devoted to the distant Rosaline, Mercutio is a predatory
lover, hunting for objectified, female prey. His bawdy wit thus sets
up Romeo to take the role of the innocent tragic hero.
When Mercutio delivers his Queen Mab speech (also in Act I, Scene 4),
he again c...
... middle of paper ...
further isolates the couple and fuels the tragic consequences of their
elevated love. Thus, while the Nurse drives some of the most comedic
scenes in the play, within her comic commentaries are woven the
subtler threads of tragedy created by enslavement to social
Shakespeare uses the comic roles of Mercutio and the Nurse to develop
the roles of Romeo and Juliet as young tragic lovers. Prior to Tybalt
and Mercutio's deaths, the Nurse had served primarily as comic relief.
After Mercutio dies, the Nurse's comic role changes to a less
sympathetic one-helping to shift the focus to the tragic plight of
Romeo and Juliet. Both comic characters' rejection of the ideal of
love shared by Romeo and Juliet emphasizes the vulnerable quality of
that love and its inability to survive in the world of the play.
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