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Almost all of us know someone like Mercutio: witty, sarcastic, always the center of attention at parties, always ready with a put-down or a racy joke.
In some ways, he's like Juliet's Nurse: he also sees love as primarily sexual. He's Romeo's friend and confidant, as the Nurse is Juliet's; he, too, underestimates the depth of Romeo's love and passion.
In other ways, he's the opposite of the Nurse. He's upper-class, and a relative of the Prince. He's also very intelligent When he meets the Nurse and they match wits, Mercutio makes her look like a fool.
He is clever, intelligent, and well-educated. He is a master of words; he can make a pun or weave a spell with ease.
He has an infectious wit. He has an enormous amount of energy, and can make everyone laugh, including Romeo.
He is fiery and excitable. He whips himself into a frenzy with the Queen Mab speech, and he's already worked himself into a fighting mood by the time he meets up with Tybalt in Act III.
He's also quick to condemn others for faults he shares. He gives his Queen Mab speech to Romeo to chide him for being "beside himself," and he is beside himself by the end of the speech. He accuses Benvolio of being hot-tempered; and finally curses the Montagues and Capulets for a fight he brought on himself.
On the one hand, he's a loyal friend to Romeo. Even when he thinks Romeo is acting crazy, he's always trying to find him and "cure" him. It's interesting to watch how much cynical Mercutio is attracted by idealistic Romeo.
On the other hand, he doesn't understand Romeo's feelings, and he doesn't try to. He is taunting and sarcastic to Romeo, to the Nurse, and finally to Tybalt.
Still, for all his faults, we can't help liking him as much as Romeo does. We, too, feel a sense of outrage when he's killed and understand why Romeo avenges his death. Mercutio is one of Shakespeare's most talked-about characters.
Some readers feel that Mercutio is the most interesting character in the play, and that Shakespeare had to kill him off so that he wouldn't eclipse Romeo. Others point out that Mercutio acts as a satellite to Romeo. He's never on stage unless he's with Romeo, or trying to find him.
Also, some readers feel that Mercutio's sense of honor forces him to fight Tybalt in Romeo's place; others feel that his own temper and hot-headedness do him in. Readers have disagreed over how much he understands about life. Some argue that his Queen Mab speech shows that he's thought a lot and understands other's feelings; others feel that he isn't capable of understanding Romeo's feelings at all.