An Analysis of the Characters of Tybalt and Mercutio in William Shakespeare’s Play, Romeo and Juliet

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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A boy is forbidden to love his one true love, and they endure hardships to be together.

Doesn’t that sound like almost every love story? Romeo and Juliet can be seen as the foundation of all modern love stories. When people hear Romeo and Juliet, undoubtedly, they think of star-crossed lovers, tragic death, and of course, the two main characters, Romeo and Juliet. However, not many people consider two very crucial supporting characters: Tybalt and Mercutio.

Tybalt and Mercutio are deemed as supporting characters, especially since both of them tragically die in the third act of a five-act play.

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Readers do not typically contemplate the significance of these characters while reading, or even afterward, because they are fully engrossed in the misfortunes of Romeo and Juliet. Nevertheless, the ostensibly insignificant characters of Tybalt and Mercutio are crucial to the plot progression of the play; their deaths significantly impact the continuation of the story.

Tybalt is the cousin of Juliet, thereby making him a Capulet. The Capulets are mortal enemies of the Montagues, the family Romeo hails from. Tybalt, who can be interpreted as a foil (the opposite of another character) of Mercutio, is characterized as aggressive and solemn, contrasting with Mercutio’s laid-back and charming demeanor. Tybalt’s purpose in the play is to instigate Mercutio’s and his own death, thereby causing Lord Capulet to expedite Juliet’s marriage to Paris in an effort to bring her joy following the loss of Tybalt. His death undeniably raises the emotional turmoil within the Capulet family. In times of duress, sorrow, and depression, people seldom think clearly, their judgments becoming obscured by the grief and negativity that consumes them. The phrase, “Look you, she loved her kinsman Tybalt dearly” (III.iv.3) implies that Lord Capulet is aware of Juliet’s affliction over her loss, which he mistakenly believes to be Tybalt. However, he is oblivious to the fact Juliet is married to Romeo. As a parent, Lord Capulet naturally desires to make Juliet happy. Hoping that the prospect of marrying and a subsequent wedding ceremony will uplift Juliet, he organizes her marriage to Paris, completely unaware of Romeo’s banishment. The line, “O’ Thursday, tell her, she shall be married to this noble earl” (III.iv.21-22) is testament to Lord Capulet’s belief that the wedding will bring joy to everyone, especially Juliet. Contrary to his assumption, the audience is aware that Juliet does not find the idea of marrying Paris a happy one, so much so that it ultimately kills her. Clearly, Tybalt’s death results in Lord Capulet’s impaired judgment – a bereavement and impending wedding is hardly a well-conceived plan.

Tybalt’s death serves to further the plot by compelling Lord Capulet to hasten Juliet’s marriage to Paris in a bid to make her happy. Consequently, this leads to Juliet consuming the sleeping potion, causing Romeo to mistake her as dead, thus leading him to end his own life, and in turn, prompting Juliet to do the same. Essentially, Tybalt’s demise sets off a chain of events culminating in the tragic end of both Romeo and Juliet.

Mercutio is a relative of the Prince of Verona and also Romeo’s close friend. He is introduced and shown throughout the play as witty, charming, and impulsive. Mercutio is arguably the most positively bizarre character in all of Shakespeare’s plays, and undoubtedly a fan favorite. As a literary device, Mercutio is a source of comic relief. For example, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio and the Nurse meet each other for the first time. Mercutio sets a lasting impression when the Nurse asks her servant for her fan, and Mercutio replies “Good, Peter, to hide her face, for her fan’s the fairer face” (II.iv.92). This is just one of the many examples of Mercutio’s humor, and a perfect example of comic relief. However, comic relief is not really the main focus of a tragedy. Therefore, when the actual tragic part of Romeo and Juliet comes, Mercutio’s job is done. Mercutio died because comic relief is not needed for the dreadful and fateful ending. Even though Mercutio is such a unique and extraordinary character, his main purpose in the play is to die a painful death which causes Romeo to kill Tybalt. By killing Tybalt, Romeo sets off the chain reaction resulting in Juliet’s and his own death.

Some may argue that Tybalt and Mercutio are not important characters because Romeo and Juliet would die anyway due to the inevitability of fate. Some may argue that Tybalt and Mercutio, as characters, are unnecessary because the stars unfortunately aligned to have Romeo and Juliet die an early, tragic death with or without Tybalt and Mercutio’s death as said in the Prologue, “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life” (Prologue.i.5).

It may be true that fate has already chosen Romeo and Juliet to become star-crossed lovers and to die tragically, but without the help of Mercutio, Romeo would never have fallen in love with Juliet at the masquerade. And, without Tybalt to start the fight in Act 3, Scene 1, ending with both Tybalt and Mercutio’s death, the wedding would never have been made sooner. Paris would still have to earn Juliet’s love which she would never give him. And that’s if Romeo and Juliet even meet in the first place.

Tybalt and Mercutio are just as important, if not more so, than Romeo and Juliet, the main characters of Shakespeare’s classic and notorious tragedy. Mercutio is one of the characters to provide comedic relief, and his death causes Tybalt’s death. Tybalt’s death causes Lord Capulet to feel the need to raise the spirits of his kin, especially Juliet’s, in such a time of despair. Tybalt’s death blinds Lord Capulet’s judgement by causing him to hasten Paris and Juliet’s wedding. Juliet cannot and does not want to marry Paris because she is married to and in love with Romeo. As a result, she fakes her death which causes Romeo to kill himself. Juliet eventually wakes up to find that Romeo has died. Consequently, Juliet kills herself too.

As a final point, Tybalt and Mercutio’s importance to the plot of the story is that their deaths set off a complex, sequential domino effect, or chain reaction, that ends with Romeo and Juliet’s demise.

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An Analysis of the Characters of Tybalt and Mercutio in William Shakespeare's Play, Romeo and Juliet. (2023, Feb 07). Retrieved from