Before I delve into my views, I’ll explain that Mercutio is a character in a play (Romeo and Juliet if you didn’t already know), therefore his character is down to the discussions of the actor and director and the way they wish to portray him in the performance. There have been many iterations of him in the past even female versions, therefore there is no right or wrong answer to who Mercutio is, we just know he’s important to the plot and important to Romeo.
Secondly I’d like to explain that in my recent reading of Mercutios character I was deliberately looking for homosexual traits, things that identify with the LGBT world and with the character of Mercutio, many of the links are weak at best, but could go some way to queering one of the Bards most outrageous characters. Because hey, aren’t all queens outrageous?
So what do we know about Mercutio? Does he have a partner, is he single? We simply do not know for sure. There is some support in the text that could connect Mercutio and Benvolio as an item.
“Mercutio and his brother Valentine”
On first reading you may well say, ‘Yes, Mercutio has a brother and he is called Valentine’, and why not think that? Valentine is a very real name, especially in Italy, where we lay our scene. But remembering Shakespeare is a cunning linguist, and somewhat of a wordsmith when it comes to Roman gods and saints, perhaps there’s more to it than what first meets the eye.
Valentine, as I’m sure you’re aware from the faithful day in February, is a saint of love. [side note, Mercutio is named after Mercury, a Roman god. The Roman god who guides souls to the underworld…Those pesky sinners] And Brother, though its literal meaning means my fathers son, could it not mean a ‘close’ friend? So could that line not be translated to “Mercutio and his male lover”. This line is from a letter read by Romeo about guests to a party; in which Benvolio attends with Mercutio. However, there is no mention of Benvolio in Romeo’s speech; which for me solidifies an intention, ‘r Willy wrote everything for a reason!
When you look at how Mercutio refers to women compared to his use of adjectives for Romeo, there is clearly an affection to this young boy, and a repulsion to women and the notion of expected ‘love’. This could be a rebellious teenager, sure. This could be the words of a reluctant virgin, jealous of his friend, granted. Or it could be the words of someone who wants a romantic connection with Romeo and wishes him to spurn women for his own romantic gain…
“Gentle Romeo”, “Rose Cheeked Romeo”, “Poor Romeo”
“Pale hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline”, “Hide her face; for her fan’s the fairer face”
There’s a clear correlation here, that his adoration and cute words for Romeo are far opposed by his harsh language for the females. Again my text to support come from Mercutio explaining that if he wasn’t so blinded by Rosalines beauty, he wouldn’t love her. Furthered by his strange remarks about a type of fruit that maids laugh at… Well the fruit of the Medlar tree, when dried, is the perfect representation of a bumhole. Yes, bumhole. Now why would Mercutio want Romeo interested in sitting underneath such a tree? And why would Shakespeare go on to ponder Rosaline being an ‘Open Arse’? Before Mercutio explains he’s going to bed, and invites Romeo along?
"If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under the medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open arse, thou a poperin pear!
Romeo, good night: I’ll to my trucke-deb;
This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep:
Come, shall we go?”
Right? So Mercutio is gay because he doesn’t like Rosaline and says Romeo would be better off with an Open arse that looks like the fruit of a Medlar Tree… Is that it?
Would that it were. Let’s delve a little into the history of the time now. The Buggery Act of 1533 would have been in place at this time, making public displays of 2 men having sex illegal and punishable. However, most accounts of this go on to say it was used more to frame people than to actually persecute anyone who was into that, do it at home in private and one will never be bothered. In fact it wasn’t until they 1800’s that being Gay was specifically made illegal and punishable, even inside your own 4 walls. So, times and attitudes to being gay weren’t actually that bad at the time. All of that is somewhat redundant when we remember the play isn’t set in England, it’s set in Italy, where their laws on man on man action was still very ‘Roman’. There’s a whole heap of history for the Roman and Greek men and how they liked younger boys. I’ll let you delve in your own time. But in summery, Italy in the 1500’s, it was okay if not encouraged to have yourself a wife, and a boy on the side for a bit of fun. In fact the Ancient Greeks called it Pederasty, ‘Boy love’.
So yes, Mercutio, who’s age is never disclosed, could be an older man, looking out for Romeo a Eromenos (young boy) as his Erastes (older man). He’s looking out for him because of his sexual desires towards him. As an Italian man it is fine, and as an English audience it’s fine, out of sight. (And it is out of site, there’s nothing explicit happening in the streets of Verona)
Then there is the obvious, Mercutio is obsessed with penises, arses and erections!
“To raise a spirit” - Getting it up “letting it stand there till she had laid it” - goodness me… “Thou rarest me to stop in my tale” - he means penis. “Dial is now upon the prick of noon” - Prick… could have been any other word.
Now that’s just a choice few from Mercutios first few scenes. There are many to be found, the man is pure filth, and gets away with it time and time again… In my experience straight men who constantly talk about willies are either not straight men, or they’re not being so light and jolly with these terms. You imagine a butch builder relating everything to a penis… Gary the foreman would be questioning his intentions for sure!
These are by no means the end of what I have sourced, however these are some points I have been dwelling on and wanted to share with you, on the off chance you find yourself questioning the sexuality of a b-story character in a Shakespeare play in the dead of night.