The Pivotal Pair
in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
When one thinks of Shakespeare's great works, Romeo and Juliet probably comes to mind. The characters of Romeo and Juliet, however, are one-dimensional. They have no real depth to their characters and do not actually carry the plot. I believe that the two characters who are really essential to the plotline are Tybalt and Mercutio, two conflicting characters whose argument sets the play and its characters to another level of urgency.
Though Mercutio and Tybalt share certain character traits, they are mostly opposites and can be juxtaposed to show the layers of contrast and complexity in each character. Though Mercutio and Benvolio are the classic "foils," I believe that this pair is the more critical comparison for the purpose of advancing the plot. Without these two, Romeo and Juliet could not progress.
Both Tybalt and Mercutio are young, full of energy and athletic.
Tybalt is accomplished with a blade:
[Tybalt] fights as
you sing prick-song: keeps time, distance, and
proportion. He rest his minim rests, one, two, and
the third in your bosom. The very butcher of a
silk button. A duellist, a duellist! A gentleman of
the very first house, of the first and second cause.
Ah, the immortal passado! The punto reverso! The
Mercutio is less of a duellist but enjoys dancing and drinking, and is forever speaking in puns and making fanciful, rambling speeches (Queen Mab speech, 1.4.53-95). The vitality of these two makes them quick to anger, and their bad tempers precipitate the play's tragedy.
Both are young and energetic, but Mercutio's energy is more potent, almost overwhelming. He is forever joking, an essentially happy character who can find humour in everything, including Romeo's misery:
Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover!
Appear thou in the likeness...