Mercutio's Responsibility of Tragedy in "Romeo and Juliet"

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"A plague on both your houses. I am sped"(III.i.90). For as long as William Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet" has been studied, people have argued over who or what is responsible for the tragic conclusion. However, from his first appearance to his death, quoted above, evidence proves that Mercutio is the main cause. Although he curses both the "Romeo and Juliet">Montague and Capulet families at the time of his death, his curse does no real harm. On the other hand, his actions before he is killed have a profound effect on those close to him and those effects ripple out to those even further away. Mercutio is Romeo's best friend and not a member of either of the feuding families. An examination of Mercutio's hatred for the sacrament of marriage and his views of women, his over-active imagination, and his explosive nature will clearly prove he is responsible for the tragic demise of Romeo and Juliet.

Like many people in Verona, Mercutio has a distorted view of marriage, and to a greater extent, love. In fact, he says, "If love be rough with you, be rough with love: Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down"(I.iv.27-28). This shows how he feels about love; he hates it. He thinks women are merely objects of lust, and he proves this by teasing Romeo about wanting to marry Rosaline. Further proof of this can be seen in Act 2, Scene 2, when Mercutio and Benvolio tease Romeo, who is hidden on the other side of the wall, about falling in love so easily. His hatred for love and marriage can be summed up with this statement: "Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead! Stabbed with a white wench's black eye; run through the ear with a love-song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft. And is he a man to meet Tybalt?"(II.iv.13-17). He thinks love is a disease and something that will weaken any man. Romeo knows of Mercutio's feelings due to his constant teasing: "Nay, I'll conjure too. Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover!"(II.i.7-8). As a result of this teasing, Romeo keeps his marriage secret from his best friend. He has no other reason to do so, as Mercutio is neither a Montague nor a Capulet, so he should be able to act as an unbiased friend. Unfortunately, Romeo feels that he cannot even trust Mercutio with his secret, which ultimately will lead to no one being able to help him when help is needed.

On many occasions, Mercutio displays his over-active imagination. He is very open with his creativity among his friends, including Romeo. It is this unbounding creativity that causes Romeo to again keep secrets from him. Examples of his wit can be seen almost every time he opens his mouth. A prime example is the 'Queen Mab' speech, which he seemingly weaves out of thin air:

Her Chariot is an empty hazelnut Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub, Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers. Her waggon-spokes of long spinners' legs; The cover of the wings of grasshoppers; Her traces, of the smallest spider web; Her collars, of the moonshine's watery beams.(I.iv.59-65)

He also shows off his great story-telling skills when he is describing Tybalt as the "Prince of Cats"(II.iv.19). He spins a fabulous web of intrigue and mystique when telling these stories. One last example of his witty nature can be seen when Tybalt slays him. Despite the fact that he is about to die, he still shows off his esprit by declaring that his wound is just, "a scratch, a scratch"(III.i.92) and that if anyone "ask[s] for me will find me a grave man"(III.i.96-97). Mercutio's imagination and creativity cause Romeo not to confide in him because he is afraid his friend will create some elaborate tale, telling how Romeo is a lovesick puppy. This would embarrass Romeo, so he refuses to tell Mercutio of his matrimonial woes.

The first thing one notices about Mercutio is his explosive nature. This character trait is the one most responsible for Romeo and Juliet's death. His tendency to let his emotions burst forth can be seen throughout the course of the play. This is evident when his Queen Mab speech turns from humor to anger: "This is the hag, when maidens lie on their backs, That presses them, and learns them how to bear - Making them women of good carriage. This is she -"(I.iv.92-95). It appears again when he speaks of Tybalt and the challenge he made to Romeo. His speech about Tybalt's fighting skill is dripping with sarcastic remarks: "The very butcher of a silk button. A duellist, a duellist! A gentleman of the very first house, of the first and second cause"(II.iv.23-25). In both cases, he lets his emotions boil over as he gets carried away. However, the most obvious case of his fragile temper is when Tybalt insults him while looking for Romeo. This results in Mercutio being fully ready to fight a battle that is not his, simple because he is insulted. Mercutio's final act of rage occurs when Tybalt disrespects Romeo. He interferes to defend his friend's honour: "O calm, dishonorable, vile submission! Alla stocata carries it away. Tybalt, you rat-catcher, will you walk?"(III.i.72-74). His temper gets him into trouble. Due to his rash actions, Mercutio is killed by Tybalt. If he did not act so thoughtlessly, Romeo would not have reacted in revenge. The whole tragedy could have been avoided, as Romeo never would have gotten banished.

As one can clearly see, although not directly involved in the tragedy, due to his early death, Mercutio sets its foundation. Through his utter distaste for love and bursting creativity, he causes Romeo to resort to being deceitful about his marriage. As a result, Romeo has no one to turn to for help, which eventually causes him to commit suicide. Mercutio definitely causes Romeo and Juliet's tragic end by forcing Romeo into secrecy through his hatred for marriage and over-active imagination. Furthermore, the way his personality combusts on occasion leaves him murdered. This causes Romeo to commit acts he normally would not, leading to his banishment. His banishment leads directly to his suicide, and Juliet's coinciding death. So when Mercutio puts, "a plague on both...houses"(III.i.90), he actually does more than just insult them. He uses his last few words to set the tragedy of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in motion.