A match! (2.4.57-8)

MERCUTIO     Come between us, good Benvolio, my wits faints.

ROMEO           Swits and spurs, swits and spurs, or I’ll cry a match. (2.4.57-8)

I’m taking this very short exchange not because it’s particularly complicated, but because it’s reasonably self-contained, and the bit that follows is not. Mercutio is protesting as if he and Romeo are duelling, asking Benvolio to come between them – both to part the combatants, and as if Benvolio is his second in a duel. Help me out here, mate, I’m running out of gags. (Editors point out that faints is a Northern plural, that is, grammatically correct rather than a misprint. The plural could forgivably disappear in performance.) Swits and spurs is what you’d say to urge on a rider – use your whip (swits, switch) as well as your spurs to make your horse go faster – or Romeo will cry a match, declare himself the winner. Mercutio isn’t suffering by comparison, of course, but Romeo here is his equal, and underpinning the whole of this part of the scene – as will be seen a few lines later – is a real sense of shared delight, pleasure taken not just in their own wit, but in being witty together, sparking off each other, playing. The inference to be drawn is that Romeo has been both off his game and refusing to play at all – but he’s back, and Mercutio’s delighted.

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