Last week I chatted about why I think Juliet Capulet is a total badass. In this week’s installment of Emily’s Overbearing Opinions About Shakespeare Characters, I bring you some thoughts about my favorite low-key genius in sixteenth-century literature: Mercutio.
What we know:
He’s not a member of either feuding family
We don’t meet him until the fourth scene
He has the fewest amount of lines of all the major characters in play
*Spoiler alert* He dies halfway through
Yet he’s objectively one of the most memorable characters in all of Shakespeare. WHY IS HE SO LOVABLE? Or is it just me? Anyone?
He’s what makes us able to like Romeo. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Romeo Montague is not my cup of tea. He’s been steeped far too long. I try to appreciate his valiant efforts to look past the family feud and pursue his heart, I really do, but his mope charade is a real bummer.
But Mercutio hangs out with him anyway, and by choice, no less. And tbh they do seem to bring out the best in each other (see Act 2, Scene 4). By the transitive property, I like Mercutio, Mercutio likes Romeo, therefore I sort of like Romeo a little bit. Is that how that works? I haven’t done a math equation in five years.
So hat tip to you, Mercutio, for helping me actually give a crap about what happens to the main character of this play.
His banter kills me. Romeo’s not so bad at it either, but Mercutio is usually the one spitting the vulgar puns and witty backtalk for Romeo to catch and spit back. Take this exchange the day after Romeo ditches him for the balcony scene (No Fear Shakespeare version):
Mercutio: You faked us out pretty well last night. Romeo: Excuse me, good Mercutio. I had very important business to take care of. It was so important that I had to forget about my courtesy and good manners. Mercutio: In other words “important business” made you flex your buttocks. (2.4.17-24)
He lives for the DAY. Remember when he insists on crashing the Capulets’ party even though he’s on the guest list, just to spice up their lives? He’s the resident hype man of Verona and no one seems to be mad about it. Besides Tybalt, who’s actually really mad about it.
He gives the Queen Mab speech. It’s meant to be a breather from the action, a scathing criticism of society, a foreshadowing of doom, and the point at which you develop an irrevocable crush on a fictional character.
I’m not even worried about how confusing the speech is or how many minuscule Elizabethan references I’m missing; tell me anyone describing tiny squirrels and hazelnut chariots in detail isn’t endearing and I’ll eat my hat.
He defends Romeo’s honor in the name of their bromance. By calling Tybalt a cat and telling him he’s THIIIIS CLOSE to taking one of his nine lives if he doesn’t simmer down.
He’s hilarious. Arguably the only character who’s a perfect combination of clever/cutting/suave/ridiculous. Qualitative evidence is found in his joke:line ratio of, like, 3:1. Two seconds after he’s stabbed in the vitals he manages one final, morbid pun: “Ask me for tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man” (3.1.66). (!!!)
He tells it like it is. (As he dies) “A plague o’ both your houses!” = “This wasn’t fate. It’s you and your families being numbnuts” (3.1.68).