Romeo and Juliet Act III Scene I The Death of Mercutio Romeo's Friend, Edwin Austin Abbey, 1904.
|Play||Romeo and Juliet|
|Family||Valentine (brother), Count Paris, The Prince|
Mercutio (//, mur-KYEW-shee-oh) is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's 1597 tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. He is a close friend to Romeo and Benvolio and a blood relative to Prince Escalus and Count Paris. As such, being neither a Montague nor a Capulet, Mercutio is one of the few in Verona with the ability to freely float around both houses. The invitation to Capulet's party states that he has a brother named Valentine.
Though often fun-loving and witty, the latter demonstrated in his Queen Mab speech in the first act, Mercutio's sense of humor can at times be facetious or even coarse, much to his friends' annoyance. Moreover, he is moody and given to sudden outbursts of temper, one of which sets a key plot development in motion.
Role in the play
One of Romeo's closest friends, Mercutio entreats Romeo to forget about his unrequited love for a girl named Rosaline and come with him to a masked ball at Lord Capulet's estate. There, Mercutio and his friends become the life of the party, but Romeo steals away to Juliet, Capulet's daughter, with whom he has fallen in love, and he falls out of love with Rosaline. When Mercutio sees Romeo the next day, he is glad to see that his friend is his old self again, and he encourages Romeo to meet again with Juliet, all the while making bawdy jokes at her Nurse's expense.
After Romeo receives a death threat from Tybalt, Mercutio expects Romeo to engage Tybalt in a duel. However, Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, as Tybalt is Juliet's cousin and therefore his kinsman. Mercutio is incensed at his friend's "vile submission", and decides to fight Tybalt himself. Romeo, not wanting his friend or his relative to get hurt, intervenes, causing Mercutio to be killed by Tybalt's stabbing Mercutio "under [Romeo's] arm."
Before he dies, Mercutio curses both the Montagues and Capulets, crying several times, "A plague o' both your houses!" (Act III, Sc. 1, often quoted as "A pox on both your houses"). He makes one final pun before he dies: "Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man." A grief-stricken and enraged Romeo kills Tybalt, thus leading to Romeo's banishment from Verona and beginning the tragic turn of events that make up the rest of the play.
The name Mercutio was present in Shakespeare's sources for Romeo and Juliet, though his character was not well developed and he was presented as a romantic rival for Juliet. The name is first used in Luigi Da Porto's 1530 "Giulietta e Romeo". Da Porto briefly introduces a character named Marcuccio Guertio, a noble youth "with very cold hands, in July as in January", who makes Giulietta Cappelletti appreciate the warm hands of Romeo Montecchi.
Mercutio's name may be related to the word "mercurial", meaning, "having an unpredictable and fast changing mood", an accurate description of Mercutio's personality. The word "mercurial" itself derives from the ancient Roman messenger god Mercury (Greek: Hermes).
Earlier versions of the story described a different chain of events leading to Tybalt's death, omitting Mercutio completely. Arthur Brooke's The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet and William Painter's 1567 versions of the story both left the entire episode solely to Romeo and Tybalt. In both stories, Tybalt attacks the peace-pleading Romeo with such force that Romeo is forced to take up the sword to defend himself. He is then banished rather than executed because the killing was provoked. In 1672, English poet John Dryden wrote, "Shakespeare show'd the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forced to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him."
The addition of Mercutio into the fray increases the tension, and Tybalt is seen as a slightly more peaceful character than in previous versions, as Mercutio is disgusted by the fact that Tybalt continues to search for a quarrel with Romeo, when Romeo is trying to bring peace between them. Mercutio hurls insults and taunts at Tybalt, and draws the sword first, in reaction to Tybalt's insults, which are directed to Romeo.
Mercutio's death in Act III, scene I is the pivotal point of the play, which up to this point is relatively light-hearted. Mercutio's death is sudden and makes death a dark reality for several characters, causing a domino effect of tragic fate that leads ultimately to the tragic climax.
A number of famous actors have played the role of Mercutio. A small sampling follows.
- In 1935, Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud alternated the roles of Romeo and Mercutio in a London stage production directed by Gielgud.
- In 1945, Ralph Richardson made his Broadway debut as Mercutio opposite the Romeo of Maurice Evans and the Juliet of Katharine Cornell.
- In 1947, Paul Scofield memorably played Mercutio in a production directed by Peter Brook.
- In 1958, Alec McCowen enjoyed a major success as Mercutio in London.
- Keanu Reeves played the character when he was 15.
- In 2006, Benjamin Walker portrayed Mercutio during the Williamstown Theater Festival with Emmy Rossum as Juliet and Greg Hildreth as Benvolio.
- Mickey Calin portrayed Riff Lorton, the Mercutio and Lord Montague character, in the stage musical of West Side Story.
- In 1936, John Barrymore portrayed Mercutio in George Cukor's film Romeo and Juliet opposite Leslie Howard as Romeo.
- In 1961, Russ Tamblyn played the Mercutio character, Riff Lorton, in the film adaptation of West Side Story, the musical modernized version of "Romeo and Juliet".
- In 1968, John McEnery portrayed Mercutio in Franco Zeffirelli's film Romeo and Juliet.
- In 1996, Harold Perrineau Jr. portrayed Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann's modernized version, William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet.
- In 1998, Ben Affleck portrayed actor Edward Alleyn in the romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love. In the film, Alleyn serves as history's first Mercutio.
- In 2007, Tetsuya Kakihara and Christopher Bevins voice Mercutio in the anime series Romeo x Juliet.
- In 2011, Hale Appleman portrayed Mercutio in Alan Brown's Private Romeo, a modern-day adaptation set at an all-male military academy.
- In 2013, Christian Cooke played Mercutio in the film adaption directed by Carlo Carlei, starring Douglas Booth as Romeo Montague and Hailee Steinfeld as Juliet Capulet.
- Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster, Incorporated. 1995. p. 753. ISBN 978-0-87779-042-6. (The pronunciation mər-ˈkyü-shē-ō was transcribed to IPA per Pronunciation respelling for English.)
- Sobczak, A. J., ed. (1998) [First Edition published 1963]. Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Edition 4. Pasadena, California: Salem Press, Inc. p. 1661. ISBN 978-0-89356-438-4.
- Draper, John. W. 1939. "Shakespeare's 'Star-Crossed Lovers' ". The Review of English Studies 15 (57).
- Harold Bloom, Introduction to Romeo and Juliet, Chelsea House Publishers, 2005, p. 15
- Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: Early Comedies, Poems, Romeo and Juliet, Routledge and Kegan Paul Lt, London, 1957, p. 270
- Scott, Mark W.; Schoenbaum, S. (1987). Shakespearean Criticism 5. Detroit: Gale Research Inc. p. 415. ISBN 0-8103-6129-9.
- Maxwell, Jennifer. The Catalytic Function of Mercutio. (doc)