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Romeo and Juliet character
Death of Mercutio.png
Romeo and Juliet Act III Scene I The Death of Romeo's Friend, Mercutio. Edwin Austin Abbey, 1904
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
In-universe information
FamilyValentine (brother)
Prince Escalus (uncle)
Count Paris

Mercutio (/mərˈkjuːʃi/ mər-KEW-shee-oh,[1] Italian: Mercuzio) is a fictional character in William Shakespeare's 1597 tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. He is a close friend to Romeo and a blood relative to Prince Escalus and Count Paris. As such, Mercutio is one of the named characters in the play with the ability to mingle around those of both houses. The invitation to Lord 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 humour can at times be facetious or even coarse, much to his friends' annoyance. He is also moody and given to sudden outbursts of temper, one of which sets a key plot development in motion.

Role in the play[edit]

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 masquerade ball at Lord Capulet's estate, through use of his Queen Mab speech. There, Mercutio and his friends become the life of the party, but Romeo is drawn to Capulet's daughter, Juliet. He finds himself in love, and immediately forgets about 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, all the while making bawdy jokes at the expense of Juliet's Nurse.

After Romeo receives a death threat from Juliet's cousin Tybalt, Mercutio expects Romeo to engage Tybalt in a duel. However, Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt, because Romeo now considers Tybalt to be kin due to his secret marriage to Juliet. Mercutio is incensed at his friend's "calm, dishonorable, vile submission", and decides to fight Tybalt himself, referring to his own sword as his "fiddlestick." Romeo attempts to intervene. By stepping between the dueling men, however, he inadvertently hinders Mercutio, allowing Tybalt to inflict a fatal blow. 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.".[2] A grief-stricken and enraged Romeo kills Tybalt, resulting in his banishment from Verona and beginning the tragic turn of events that make up the rest of the play.

Name origins[edit]

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.[3] 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.[4][5]

Mercutio's death[edit]

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 pacifist 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 murder him in the third Act, to being killed by him."[6]

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.[7] Mercutio's death is sudden and makes death a dark reality for several characters, causing a domino effect that leads ultimately to the tragic climax.


A number of famous actors have played the role of Mercutio. A small sampling follows.


Orson Welles performed the role of Mercutio in repertory during the 36-week US tour of the Katharine Cornell company (1933–34)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.)
  2. ^ "No Fear Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet: Act 3 Scene 1". SparkNotes. Retrieved 6 December 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ Draper, John W. (1939). "Shakespeare's 'Star-Crossed Lovers'". The Review of English Studies. 15 (57): 16–34. doi:10.1093/res/os-XV.57.16. JSTOR 509718.
  4. ^ Shakespeare, William (2005) [1597]. "Romeo and Juliet". In Bloom, Harold (ed.). New York City: Chelsea House Publishers. p. 15. ISBN 9781438114767. {{cite book}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Bullough, Geoffrey (1957). Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare: Early Comedies, Poems, Romeo and Juliet. New York City: Columbia University Press. p. 270. ISBN 9780231088916.
  6. ^ Scott, Mark W.; Schoenbaum, S. (1987). Shakespearean Criticism. Vol. 5. Detroit: Gale Research Inc. p. 415. ISBN 0-8103-6129-9.
  7. ^ Maxwell, Jennifer. The Catalytic Function of Mercutio. Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine (doc)

External links[edit]