Mercutio is a character in Romeo and Juliet. He dies halfway through the action. It is with his death and Romeo’s response to it that the comic mood changes and the path to a tragic end is set.
Verona is divided by an ancient feud between its two most prominent families – the Montagues and the Capulets. Members of the families avoid each other and move in completely different social circles. There is always the danger that a fight may break out among the young men, and following a recent incident the Prince of Verona has ruled that if it does, the person responsible will be punished so the young men of both families are careful about that.
Mercutio is Romeo’s best friend and they are very close. He is related to the Prince and not a member of either feuding family. He does not take sides but because of his friendship with the Montague, Romeo, he hangs out with the Montagues.
He is highly intelligent, witty, sophisticated, well educated, and also playful and very funny. He is admired by all the young men who gravitate towards Romeo and his cousin Benvolio, and he entertains them with his wit and his madcap antics.
The group of friends meet in the town square every day and just hang out, laughing and joking and amusing themselves with banter and silly games. Mercutio is a natural entertainer and plays to the crowd.
On the day that Romeo goes to Friar Laurence’s cell to marry Juliet in secret, his friends gather as usual and wonder where he is. It is midday in the middle of summer and scorching hot. Benvolio is nervous because he has heard that there are Capulets about and in this weather, when the hot blood is stirring, anything could happen.
Mercutio is interrupted in the middle of one of his antics by the arrival of a group of young Capulets led by Juliet’s hot-tempered cousin, Tybalt. He is still angry about the previous evening when he had caught Romeo and his friends gate-crashing a party his uncle, Juliet’s father, was holding. He was stopped from doing anything about it by his uncle, who did not mind that the young Montagues had come to the party.
Although Tybalt doesn’t know it it was at that party that Romeo and Juliet met and decided, after the party, to get married. For now, he is just angry, driven by his irrational, baseless hatred for the Montagues. And he is resentful about his uncle having told him to behave himself.
Tybalt and Mercutio engage in some banter. Mercutio approaches the encounter with humour and Tybalt enters into the spirit of it. When Tybalt accuses Mercutio of consorting with Romeo Mercutio pretends to be offended, jokingly turning the word consort into another of the meanings of “consort.” – a group of minstrels.
‘Does’t thou make us minstrels?’ he says and draws his sword. The two enter into a theatrical play fight with both groups laughing at the comical scene. During this pretend fight Romeo arrives, full of joy. He misinterprets what is happening and tries to stop them.
He goes between them, turning from one to the other, and at one point Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo’s arm by mistake. Realising what he’s done he flees, followed by his friends.
Romeo and Mercutio’s other friends do not realise that Mercutio has been mortally wounded. Mercutio jokes about it but finally shows them the wound and falls down. He curses both families and dies. That turns the laughter into a stunned silence as his friends watch him die.
Romeo runs after Tybalt. They fight ferociously and Romeo kills Tybalt. This is the turning point in the play. The Prince banishes him and the action moves swiftly to its climax with the tragic death of the young lovers.
Top Mercutio Quotes
a plague on both your houses (act 3, scene 1)
speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied! (act 2, scene 1)
prick love for pricking and you beat love down! (act 1, scene 4)
not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but ’tis enough (act 3, scene 1)
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark 21 (act 2, scene 1)
They have made worms’ meat of me (act 3, scene 1)