Act 2 Scene 4 is a significant scene because it is the comic climax in the play where witty banter takes place, which is the first but also the last collision of the two humorous characters, Romeo and Mercutio, before the play descends into tragedy. Here Mercutio meets the climax of his bawdy style and low humour by using lots of sexual jokes, providing a continued counter-point to the elevated style and language of love of Romeo and Juliet in Act Two Scene Two. More importantly, Act Two Scene Four is a key scene which moves the plot forward.
By learning about Tybalt’s challenge, the audience will know that this will be the catalyst for the subsequent tragedy. Moreover, the scene is a reminder of the backdrop of the Capulet and Montague feud in case the audience had got carried away by the romance of the young Romeo and Juliet. I will be mainly investigating Act Two Scene Four in the play, Romeo and Juliet, to explore how Romeo and Mercutio are presented. I will be also looking at Lurhmann’s modern film version and Zeferelli’s old version, where Romeo and Mercutio are presented differently.
Romeo is a romantic person who takes love seriously. In Act 2 Scene 4, Shakespeare suggests that Romeo has been restored to his normal witty self, which is revealed by his bantering stichomythia with Mercutio, for example, as soon as Romeo mentions ‘a most courteous exposition’, Mercutio cuts in and says ‘Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy. ’ The speed of their bantering shows their close relati...
onship as if they understand each other’s thoughts well.
Regarding back to Act 1 Scene 4, Shakespeare characterises Romeo as suffering from ‘love melancholy’ when he mentioned ‘I have a soul of lead. This is an oxymoronic metaphor, suggesting he is divided between his sadness and the reality of daily life that he cannot escape from his love-sickness towards Rosaline. In comparison to Act 2 Scene 4, Romeo does not suffer from ‘love-sickness’ anymore and he is willing to join in with Mercutio’s bawdy humour, enjoying their repartee. The audience and, of course, Mercutio can obviously see that Romeo has become his former self, ‘Now art thou Romeo’.
There is also a dramatic irony in this scene as Mercutio does not know that Romeo has restored to his old self because of his love for Juliet, as revealed by him saying ‘Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptised. ’ In Act 2 Scene 2. This suggests that there is a certain distance between Romeo and Mercutio’s relationship. In addition, Shakespeare demonstrates that Romeo takes part in Mercutio’s sexual jokes and bawdy humour in Act 2 Scene 4, which is suggested when he says ‘Swits and spurs, swits and spurs, or I’ll cry a match. , challenging Mercutio to continue with the match of making jokes.
This is contrary to the romantic language he uses for Juliet in Act 2 Scene 2: ‘It is my lady, O it is my love: O that she knew she were! ’, suggesting he wishes Juliet knows that she is the one he loves. Moreover, Shakespeare
also characterises Romeo as more serious and courteous while discussing his love for Juliet with the nurse by switching from prose to blank verse.
Before the nurse comes, he is making jokes with Mercutio, for example ‘Here’s goodly gear’. After Mercutio leaves, Romeo replaces the use of prose with blank verse, saying to the nurse: ’Nurse, commend me to thy lady and mistress. I protest unto thee-‘Unlike what he says to Mercutio before, for example ‘a sail, sail’ which rudely insults the nurse, he speaks more politely and uses poetic language, as revealed when he says ‘And bring thee cords made like a tackl’d stair’, talking about his serious love for Juliet.
Shakespeare’s decorum of language shows obvious change from comedy to romance. Mercutio is a character foil to Romeo, who has a changeable personality and does not take love seriously, as foreshadowed by Shakespeare’s use of an aptonym ‘Mercutio’, meaning downfall and uncontrollable. In Act 2 scene 4, Shakespeare demonstrates Mercutio’s antipathy towards Tybalt, as revealed when he says ‘The pox of such antic, lisping, affecting phantasimes. The venom in Mercutio’s insults foreshadows his subsequent fatal battle with Tybalt and his humour here is directed towards Tybalt, describing that Tybalt is effeminate.
Shakespeare clearly suggests Mercutio’s hatred towards Tybalt in this scene as a foreshadowing of Mercutio’s fight with Tybalt in Act 3 Scene 1. In addition, Shakespeare also continues presenting Mercutio as bawdy and quick-witted in his humour through puns: ’thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits, than I am sure I have in my whole five. Here he makes a pun on the two meanings of ‘goose’ as ‘prostitute’ and ‘fool’, which is similar to his other bawdy humour in other scenes, for example, his Queen Mab speech in Act 1 Scene 4: ‘ O then I see Queen Mab hath been with you’ Remarkably, Mercutio meets his comic climax in Act 2 Scene4, which is very important because it is the last scene of comedy and a serious tragedy happens in the next scene, evolving pathos for his character. Furthermore, Mercutio obviously enjoys Romeo’s return to his former witty self in this scene, as revealed when he mentions ‘Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo.
Mercutio and Romeo are making jokes together in this scene, as evidenced by the use of stichomythia when Mercutio says ‘Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy’ as soon as Romeo finishes saying ‘A most courteous exposition’, as though they understand each other’s thoughts, suggesting their relationship is very close. Contrary to what Mercutio says in Act 1 Scene 4: ‘Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover! ’, which suggests that there is a certain distance between Romeo and Mercutio’s relationships as he makes fun of Romeo’s ‘love melancholy’ ;their friendship is at its peak in Act 2 Scene 4, as revealed by the bantering stichomythia.
This is important for developing the audience’s sense of their close relationship and providing a catalyst for subsequent tragedy. In Act 2 Scene 4, Shakespeare uses Benvolio to introduce a note of caution, which is revealed when he says ‘Stop there, stop there. ’ to
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