REVIEW

McArthur, Herbert. "Romeo's Loquacious Friend."
Shakespeare Quarterly 10 (1959): 35-44.

Thesis: Romeo's "loquacious friend" is, naturally, Mercutio. McArthur reviews the commentary on Mercutio from Dryden (English poet, essayist, and dramatist, 1631-1700) forward. In McArthur's opinion the modern (as of 1959) view is the most persuasive, and he sums it up in a sentence: "The common idea of these remarks is that Mercutio is part of that sordid, trivial, but complacent world out of which Romeo and Juliet must rise to another sphere of values" (43).

Umm . . . : As his contribution to the view he favors, McArthur discusses the effect of Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech on Romeo:

     It is the evening of that sweltering day on which the play opens. Mercutio, Benvolio, and Romeo are on their way, with torches, to Capulet's ball. Romeo has had a bad dream; his mopish behavior stimulates Mercutio to try to dislodge this tedious gravity: as he begins to weave his bewitching spell of fantasy the hot day and the brawls are forgotten. "Queen Mab" is no down-stage cadenza but a background of contrast for the melancholy Romeo. There is a sudden, sharper note of disquiet in Romeo's voice when he interrupts:
     Peace, peace! Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk'st of nothing.
There is a pause, and the troubled face of Mercutio reappears in the light of the torches. His attempt to dispel all sobriety has reacted the other way. A cold wind from the north has shaken the torch light. He tries to shake the spell, but his voice has changed; it is slower and deeper in tone:
              True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
And, being anger'd puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.
Benvolio calls on them both to proceed, but Romeo pauses; in that troubled moment he has had a prophetic glimpse of the future, and for the first time in the play the real Romeo speaks:
                       . . . my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But He, that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail! On, lusty gentlemen.
Up to this moment, when the extravagance of Mercutio breaks through Romeo's artificial demeanor, Romeo has not spoken one line in his own character. He has been only the artificially fashionable "lover" of Rosaline. Shakespeare turns the lyric flight of fancy of the Queen Mab speech into the setting of Romeo's first intimation of approaching tragedy. The speech itself helps us to grasp that fatal dualism of fantasy and reality in the soul of Romeo. And Romeo's ultimate destruction is prefigured in the vulgarization and death of his friend, Mercutio.     (44)
So why is it that Mercutio's "attempt to dispel all sobriety has reacted the other way"? And why do Mercutio's words suddenly become "slower and deeper in tone"? And why can't an infatuated Romeo be as "real" as a "prophetic" Romeo?

Bottom Line: Clear and interesting review of the commentary on Mercutio.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 2 April 2002