Yesterday, I cut my finger with a knife. My daughter asked me, “Is it bad, Mom?” I thought of the street fight scene from “Romeo and Juliet” when Mercutio gets wounded. Romeo says to Mercutio, “Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much.”
Read today’s post to discover Mercutio’s famous response.
“Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare, 1595
Our story so far: Sixteen-year-old Romeo Montague and his friends – in disguise – boldly crash a masquerade party at the home of Romeo’s father’s enemies, the Capulets. There Romeo meets and falls in love with an enchanting young lady. We know that it is Juliet, the 13-year-old daughter of Lord Capulet.
Romeo, watching Juliet dance, asks a servant her name:
“Who is that lady who gives richness to the hand of that knight by simply holding it?”
Unbeknownst to Romeo, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, hears Romeo’s voice and recognizes it as the son of his sworn enemy, Lord Montague. He swears revenge, although the ruler of the city has forbidden any more bloodshed between the two rival families.
Romeo approaches Juliet and they kiss. Romeo does not know that he was seen by Tybalt. Here is that scene from the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli version of “Romeo and Juliet.”
Several scenes later, the two lovers secretly wed.
Act III, Scene I. A public place…
Meanwhile, Romeo’s two best friends, Benvolio, a good-natured guy, and Mercutio, a sassy, hot-headed fellow, are bored, out walking the streets with nothing to do and missing their lovesick friend, Romeo.
Benvolio urges Mercutio to go inside. He senses that the Capulets also might be out, idly about, and up to no good. Neither Benvolio nor Mercutio know that Tybalt saw Romeo at the Capulet ball and has sworn to kill him but the street fighting between the two families has been a long-standing problem. Benvolio pleads with Mercutio:
“I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire. The day is hot, the Capulets abroad, and if we meet, we shall not [e]scape a brawl, for now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”
An arrogant Mercutio laughs at Benvolio’s suggestion that he is a quarrelsome fellow and foolishly ignores his friend’s warning that trouble lies ahead….
Enter Tybalt and others.
Ben: By my head, here come the Capulets.
Mer: By my heel, I care not.
Tyb: [To his men] Follow me close, for I will speak to them. [To Mercutio and Benvolio] Gentlemen, good den. A word with one of you.
Mer: And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something; make it a word and a blow [a slash of your sword].
Tyb: You shall find me apt enough to that, sir, and you will give me occasion [good reason].
Mer: Could you not take some occasion without giving? [I'm sure you could find a reason without having it given to you].
Tyb: Mercutio, thou consortest [play around] with Romeo.
Mer: Consort? What, dost thou make us minstrels [silly musicians]? And thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but discords [angry sounds]. Here’s my fiddlestick [sword]; here’s that shall make you dance. Zounds, consort! [By God's wounds, Benvolio, do you hear these insults?]
Ben: We talk here in the public haunt of men. Either withdraw unto some private place and reason coldly of your grievances, or else depart. Here all eyes gaze on us.
Mer: Men’s eyes were made to look, and let them gaze. I will not budge for no man’s pleasure, I.
Enter Romeo who has just married Juliet. No one knows yet. He is now married to a Capulet and thus, unknown to Tybalt, his cousin by marriage.
Tyb: Well, peace be with you, sir. Here comes my man [meaning Romeo].
Mer: But I’ll be hanged, sir, if he wear your livery [uniform]. Marry, [Indeed], go before to field [leave town to fight], he’ll be your follower! Your worship in that sense may call him man.
Tyb: Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford no better term than this: thou art a villain. [villain is the nicest name I can call you, I hate you so.]
Rom: [not wanting to fight] Tybalt,the reason that I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting. Villain am I none. Therefore farewell. I see thou knowst me not. [as your cousin; you haven't heard the news.]
Tyb: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries that thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
Rom: I do protest I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise till thou shalt know the reason of my love; And so, good Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as mine own, be satisfied.
Mercutio is incensed that Romeo returns Tybalt’s insults with loving words, so draws his own sword to defend Romeo.
Mer: O calm, dishonorable, vile submission! Alla stoccata [At the thrust] carries it away. Tybalt, you ratcatcher, will you walk?
Tyb: What wouldst thou have with me?
Mer: Good King of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives….
Tyb: I am for you. [Draws.]
Rom: Gentle Mercutio, put thy rapier up.
Mer: Come, sir, your passado! [a forward thrust of the sword as the foot steps forward]
Rom: Draw, Benvolio; beat down their weapons. Gentleman, for shame! Forbear this outrage! Tybalt, Mercutio, the Prince expressly hath forbid this bandying in Verona streets. Hold, Tybalt! Good Mercutio!
Romeo steps between them. Tybalt, under Romeo’s arm, stabs Mercutio. Tybalt runs away.
Mer: I am hurt. A plague o’ both your houses! [Curse the Capulets and Montagues.] I am sped [done for]! Is he gone and hath nothing?
Ben: What, art thou hurt?
Mer: Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch. Marry, ’tis enough. Where is my page? Go, villain, fetch a surgeon.
The page exits.
Rom: Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much.
Mer: No, ’tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered [mortally wounded], I warrant, for this world. A plague o’ both your houses! …Why the devil came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.
Rom: I thought all for the best.
Mer: Help me into some house, Benvolio, or I shall faint. A plague o’ both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me. I have it, and soundly, too. Your houses!
Exit, supported by Benvolio. Mercutio dies.
Here is the fight scene from Zeffirelli’s 1968 film, “Romeo and Juliet.” The clip opens with a wet-haired Mercutio challenging Tybalt to a duel. Tybalt wears a red cap and orange vestments.
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