Friday, April 29, 2011

Romeo and Juliet - Mercutio

Romeo. Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
Mercutio. No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a
church-door; but 'tis enough,'twill serve: ask for
me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I
am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague o'
both your houses!...

 A plague o' both your houses!
They have made worms' meat of me: I have it,
And soundly too: your houses!

Romeo. This gentleman, the prince's near ally,
My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt
In my behalf....

Mercutio, Romeo's friend, stands outside the families that clash in the Capulet-Montague feud. He, related to the Prince, perhaps represents the rest of Verona; he has connections to both of the fighting families - a friend to Romeo, yet invited to the Capulet's party. However, despite his situation as an outsider to the conflict...

...he ends up stabbed to death, collateral damage in the violence springing from the "ancient grudge."

Mercutio is a lively, dazzling character. Restless, poetic, always talking, his personality ranges in expression from the imaginative imagery of the Queen Mab speech, to crude puns and teasing directed at Romeo, to his willingness to engage in violence. His name seems to help define him, as his volatility and sudden decisions seem quite "mercurial" - but I also think of Mercutio, in his final moments, as related to Mercury, the messenger god of Roman mythology.

Mercutio has a message for Romeo - a very bitter last pronouncement to his friend:  A plague o' both your houses! Just as Romeo's dreams and premonitions of death come true, so does Mercutio's doom come upon both the Capulets and Montagues, who both lose their children: as Mercutio's kinsman the Prince says, "all are punish'd" (5.3.3270). Mercutio's fate reminds me of the sad words that end Love's Labour's Lost: "The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo" (5.2. 2876). Though I'm not sure exactly what that phrase means, I read it as a return to reality: messages come in from the world, tearing us away from the poetry represented by Apollo. This literally fits Mercutio, who lives in a world of dazzling poetry, yet finishes his life taking on the harsh role of a messenger delivering an unwelcome and unmusical word: A plague o' both your houses!

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