ROMEO Courage, man, the hurt cannot be much.
MERCUTIO 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, I warrant, for this world. A plague a’both your houses! ’Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death! a braggart, a rogue, a villain, that fights by the book of arithmetic. Why the dev’l came you between us? I was hurt under your arm.
ROMEO I thought all for the best. (3.1.87-95)
Romeo would still like to think it’s not serious; is it really necessary to send for a surgeon? surely it’s only a scratch; it happened so fast, seemed so inconsequential. And Romeo is disconcerted by Mercutio’s reaction in ways he can’t quite explain: if – as is surely the case, surely, surely – it’s not serious, why is streetwise, tough, brilliant Mercutio talking in such an odd way? Is this some kind of extended joke, Mercutio pretending that something’s really wrong, or that he’s a wimp, that he’s actually afraid, hahaha, fooled you all? Mercutio’s response delays, just a little longer, the full force of revelation, the recognition that this is deadly serious. So Mercutio rallies, in the only way he knows: with jokes, dark and bitter. The wound need not be very deep, nor very wide, in order to serve, to be enough. (That anything is, finally, enough in this play where excess has been so characteristic of the lovers’ language is itself striking, not that we notice.) But what Mercutio says is also, in the first instance, strangely true: the mortal wound has no depth or breadth, because it does not exist; as is the case with all stage wounds, there is no wound. (There may not even be any blood.) He makes his own death-wound in words, endowing it with breadth and width in the moment that he denies that it has much of either. And then the lame, awful pun on grave, not worthy of Mercutio. Something is dreadfully wrong: it’s there in the jokes, in the short, disjointed sentences, each the length of a laboured breath (they will get shorter still). He’s angry, at Tybalt, at Benvolio and, especially, Romeo, at the world; it’s desperate to die at the hands of someone so despised, an animal (cat, yes, but also dog, rat, mouse), who has been despised above all for his pretensions, his preciseness, his skill, all technique and no style of his own. In some ways, Mercutio seems to be most dismayed by having been mortally wounded by someone so uncool, which is in itself an interesting note for Tybalt. Then he turns on Romeo in fury and pain: what on earth do you think you were doing? You stupid bastard, you made it worse, this is all your fault. He curses them all, again. And Romeo can only reply, aghast, perhaps finally believing that something terrible has really happened: I thought all for the best. I thought I was doing the right thing, in the heat of this terrible moment and in what I’ve just been doing, trying to stop the fight, trying to end the feud – by using different words, putting my body, my honour, my name on the line, trying to break the cycle. Because I thought all for the best in marrying Juliet, too, and these things are inevitably and inextricably connected now. Oh, Romeo…