[3.1] Enter MERCUTIO [and his PAGE], BENVOLIO, and MEN.
BENVOLIO I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire:
The day is hot, the Capels are abroad,
And if we meet we shall not scape a brawl,
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.
MERCUTIO Thou art like one of these fellows that, when he enters the confines of a tavern, claps me his sword on the table, and says, ‘God send me no need of thee!’; and by the operation of the second cup draws him on the drawer, when indeed there is no need.
BENVOLIO Am I like such a fellow? (3.1.1-9)
Shakespeare didn’t do intervals. Some productions put an interval after the wedding, but that does have the effect of slowing the pace: this scene, in time-scheme terms, follows the (unseen) marriage immediately, or even overlaps with it. It’s the afternoon – still only the day after the Capulet party – Mercutio and Benvolio have presumably dined, as they said they were going to – and Mercutio is now looking for a diversion… Benvolio is not; he’s been here before and he knows what Mercutio’s like when he’s in this mood. The heat is important – that repetition of hot twice in four lines – it’s the hottest part of the day – mid-afternoon? – and it’s mid-July, apparently, and Italy, so it’s properly hot. Whereas the earlier scene with these two was reasonably laidback, morning after the night before, there’s now an edge of danger. It sounds as if Benvolio has been trying to persuade Mercutio for some time, and he’s now listing all the reasons why they need to be somewhere else, anywhere but a public space in the heat of the day. And, if this does follow immediately on from the wedding scene, then there’s a stark contrast between, first, the Friar’s final words, incorporate two in one and the slightly on-edge, not quite an argument between friends banter here, and – of course – the explicit reminder of the feud (the names, again). The Friar’s invocation of union and unity has lasted only as long as it takes for the scene to change, which is to say, no time at all.
The two hot days and the mad blood suggest that blood too is hot, choleric, volatile; the emotional intensity and passion of the previous scene has been transmuted into different, not unrelated energies: tension, anticipation, a desire for actions rather than words. Where Benvolio speaks in verse, Mercutio switches into prose; it could seem more laidback, but it’s not. Without other targets, he’s winding Benvolio up; it’s plausible to play Benvolio’s response with laughing incredulity, am I like such a fellow, with the emphasis on I, because Mercutio is describing himself. It’s a true-to-life evocation of a quarrelsome gallant, who goes into a pub, draws attention to himself by both taking off and displaying his weapon, and has picked a fight with the barman – draws him on the drawer– by the time he’s finished his second pint. So Mercutio has a bit of self-awareness here, but he also can’t resist an argument, even with his friend. This does not bode well.