Summary and Analysis
Act II: Scene 4
Now, the morning after the Capulet feast, Mercutio and Benvolio search for Romeo. Mercutio blames Romeo's absence on his love for the "pale, hard-hearted wench," Rosaline. Benvolio has discovered that Tybalt has sent Romeo a challenge to duel, and Mercutio is amused at the thought of an encounter between Romeo, the romantic, and Tybalt, the fashionable "Prince of Cats." Romeo then arrives and engages in a long series of linked puns and quibbles with Mercutio.
The Nurse arrives with her servant, Peter, looking for Romeo. Mercutio exasperates her with his quick, sharp mockery. Mercutio leaves with Benvolio, and Romeo tells the Nurse that Juliet should meet him at Friar Laurence's cell at 2 p.m. that afternoon to be married. The Nurse is to collect a rope ladder from Romeo so that he can climb to Juliet's window to celebrate their wedding night.
Once melancholy and depressed by his passions, Romeo is now rejuvenated, buoyed by a renewed romantic energy after seeing Juliet at her balcony. Thoughts of his impending marriage have enlivened him to meet all of Mercutio's barbed, verbal challenges with equally gilded retorts. An air of excited anticipation energizes the atmosphere. Mercutio continues to ridicule Romeo as a Petrarchan lover for employing the popular love poetry of the sonnets. However, his speech is ironic because he still believes that Romeo is in love with Rosaline, and he never discovers Romeo's love for Juliet. These rapid, highly energized exchanges between the two friends reflect Romeo's own feelings of anticipation at his forthcoming wedding.
Mercutio, who has little patience for the emotional aspects of romantic pursuit, is delighted that Romeo has gotten over his lovesickness. Mercutio impishly engages in lewd wordplay and is preoccupied with the physical aspects of love. When Benvolio declares a truce in the talk between the two friends, Mercutio turns his verbal rapier on the Nurse, flustering her to distraction.
This mischievous repartee contrasts with the darkly ominous threats of Tybalt's challenge to duel Romeo. As in other parts of the play, vastly contrasting ideas coexist — love and hate; euphoria and despair; good and evil; levity and danger.
The news of Tybalt's challenge threatens to embroil Romeo in the violence of the family feud. While Romeo is well-liked in the community and has a peaceable reputation, Tybalt is a proud and vengeful foe. He is determined to confront Romeo despite Lord Capulet's opposition to continuing the feud. Although Capulet has forbidden any further violence, he remains the figurehead of the old conflict. "Fiery" Tybalt is Capulet's heir-apparent in carrying on the hostility since both men are quick-tempered and ready for a battle at a moment's notice. In contrast, Romeo is elated by his love for Juliet. His romantic idealism lightens his steps and carries him above these dark concerns.
The motive for Tybalt's quarrel with Romeo arguably stems from Tybalt's own masculine aggression rather than a sense of honor, thus emphasizing the trivial nature of the feud and Tybalt's isolation in maintaining the grudge.
The antagonism between Mercutio and Tybalt is intensely portrayed in this scene because both men are adversarial and quick-tempered. Mercutio scorns Tybalt's challenge and mocks him as someone more concerned with fashion than substance — a man who employs foreign styles of fencing and their terminology, which Mercutio regards as effeminate: "Ah, the immortal passado, the punto reverso, the hay!"
The sense of anticipation increases in this scene through repeated references to time. The Nurse's delay in finding Romeo amplifies an already intense sense of urgency. News that the wedding ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. illustrates the speed with which Romeo and Juliet meet and are to be married — in less than 24 hours.
answer it accept it.
captain of compliments in dueling, one who has mastered all the rules and moves.
immortal punning on the moves as both famous and fatal.
passado a forward thrust.
the punto reverso a backhanded thrust.
the hay! term used to indicate that your opponent has been hit.
roe fish eggs.
bow in the hams make a bow.
I'll cry a match I'll claim the victory.
natural fool; idiot.
bauble a jester's baton with an ornament at the end.
here's goodly gear a large clothes horse, refers to the appearance of the Nurse, who is also described in this scene as a sail. Romeo also continues Mercutio's series of bawdy puns in this scene, as gear refers to the reproductive organs.
flirt-gills loose women.
skains-mates cutthroat companions.
tackled stair rope ladder.
quit reward you for.
lay knife aboard lay claim to.
clout any piece of cloth, esp. one for cleaning.