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Foils in literature often show the reader a sharp but important contrast between characters. These differences are often central to both character and plot development. In Romeo and Juliet, the protagonistRomeo is shown in contrast to Mercutio in several ways:

Approach to Women

Mercutio is pretty bold in...


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Foils in literature often show the reader a sharp but important contrast between characters. These differences are often central to both character and plot development. In Romeo and Juliet, the protagonist Romeo is shown in contrast to Mercutio in several ways:

Approach to Women

Mercutio is pretty bold in his assessment of women. Consider these lines from act 2, scene 1:

I conjure thee by Rosaline"s bright eyes,By her high forehead and her scarlet lip, By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh,And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,That in thy likeness thou appear to us!

Later, when Romeo breaks into the Capulet"s garden to catch a glimpse of his beloved Juliet, Mercutio says, "O Romeo, that she were, O, that she were / An open-arse, thou a poperin pear!" (act 2, scene 1). Mercutio is using language to suggest that the nature of Romeo"s attraction is sexual, not romantic.

By contrast, Romeo is actually full of romantic dreams. From "It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night / As a rich jewel in an Ethiope"s ear" (act 1, scene 5) to "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun" (act 2, scene 2), the audience is swept away by Romeo"s imagery, similes, and dreamy views of love. This is a sharp contrast to Mercutio"s bawdy views of women.

Attitude Towards Love

Romeo falls deeply and passionately in love—and fairly quickly. When the play opens, Romeo is pining for Rosaline. His father laments that he spends all his days sobbing alone. Luckily, an opportunity for a ball presents itself, and Romeo is basically druged there by his friends. Once he sees Juliet, he is instantly and completely in love; he is over Rosaline and utterly devoted to Juliet.

In contrast, Mercutio comments, "If love be rough with you, be rough with love. / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down." He certainly isn"t the romantic that Romeo is and tends to use phrases that equate love to sex.

Personalities and Characterization

Mercutio is full of quick wit and is often regarded as one of the most entertaining actors in the play. He is rowdy, bawdy, and is forever making sexual jokes. As it turns out, he also has a quick temper, and this proves to be his downfall when Tybalt provokes Romeo. Even as he recognizes that he has been fatally wounded, Mercutio provides witty lines: "No "tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but "tis enough, "twill serve (act 3, scene 1).

Romeo lacks this sense of humor; he is brooding over Rosaline when we first meet him and is suicidal at the play"s end.

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Mercutio"s humor keeps the audience entertained throughout the play, and his character serves as a reminder of Romeo"s personality traits (which will ultimately lead him to his end).