Mercutio is a very curious character in Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet”. I found that the way Mercutio was portrayed and “used” within the play to be very interesting. The deeper I investigated and the more I thought about Mercutio the more interesting he got. I remember something mentioned in class the other day about Mercutio being so interesting that in order for the play to not be drawn to him he had to be killed. So without further ado here are the fruits of my labour.
Why was Mercutio built up throughout the play and then killed off?
From what I gathered from various sources Shakespeare wanted Mercutio to be a character foil for Romeo. However, I would say that Mercutio is more than just a foil for Romeo, I would say that Mercutio is a main character himself. His prolonged monologues give a clear image of him and some scenes are dedicated to his wit and jokes.
Mercutio really makes an impact in the parts of the story that would not usually be considered important, therefore I think he is a kind of filler. I use the word filler loosely, I’m not implying that Mercutio is a throw-about character in the play. It’s just the fact that in certain scenes, like when Mercutio gives his famous Queen Mab speech, he seems to be filling and colouring in some needed detail and depth into the world of Romeo and Juliet.
Mercutio, being such a flamboyant and interesting character, would naturally draw some of the attention from the raging households and star crossed love story; It’s as if he is almost like comic relief from what happens.
When it came time for the action in the main story to pick up, the interesting side show had to go. The problem was that simply not putting Mercutio into any of the later scenes wouldn’t do; the people watching the play would still think about him because of the lasting impression he makes on viewers. No, Shakespeare had to give him an exit that forwarded the story and did not distract the audience from what happens later. The only plausible solution was for Mercutio to die. However, Shakespeare couldn’t just have him fall off a building, that wouldn’t help the plot develop. By having Tybalt kill Mercutio it gave Romeo a reason to kill Tybalt. This resulted in Romeo’s banishment and marks the start of a series of unfortunate events. By using Mercutio as a trigger, Shakespeare kills two birds with one stone. He removes Mercutio from the scene while at the same time forwarding the plot.
So overall, Mercutio was built up from the beginning of the play to add some colour and depth to Verona, while also acting as a character foil for Romeo. The reason for his death is because he was simply so interesting that it would detract from the events that followed, therefore his death was necessary. Another reason why Mercutio’s death was beneficial to the plot was because Mercutio was always a sort of ray of humour and light, with his death it foreshadows the grave events to follow.
Why did Shakespeare introduce Mercutio in the first place if he was only going to distract the audience from the main story?
Since the speed of development of the main story is deliberately slow in the beginning of the play until Mercutio’s death, Shakespeare can afford to introduce some colour and depth. Mercutio is in himself a little side story like in many modern day sitcoms where there are multiple story lines running. Shakespeare put Mercutio in to provide some humour and another side of Verona. However, Mercutio’s story eventually overlaps with Romeo’s. To prevent Romeo’s story from losing any of it’s lustre to Mercutio’s he had to die. On the Mercutio’s death Romeo and Juliet really picks up in pace.
I would have more questions but…..
I think I hit a lot of information with the first question. Any other questions would merely be paraphrasing what was said in the first. If there are any other things you want to know about Mercutio I would be more than happy with answering any questions you leave in the comments.
Why this topic demanded my attention
When we were going over some parts of Romeo and Juliet in class and the phrase “Mercutio almost had to die because he’s so much more interesting than Romeo” caught my attention. I was very curious as to why exactly Mercutio couldn’t live. At first I thought it was an accident that Mercutio was so interesting, but after some thinking I came to the conclusion that Shakespeare would not have made such silly mistakes. And thus began my investigation.