Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and several of their house’s men enter wearing party masks and carrying torches. They are planning on sneaking into the Capulets’ feast, and Romeo is worried about how to do so. Benvolio insists getting in won’t be a problem and reminds Romeo that they aren’t intending to stay that long after all. Romeo says he doesn’t want to go in at all—he’s too sad. Mercutio, his friend, urges him to dance and be merry by “borrow[ing] Cupid’s wings” and soaring to new heights. Romeo says he’s “too sore enpiercèd with [Cupid’s] shaft to soar with his light feathers.” He is sunk, he says, under love’s heavy burden—love is a rough, rude thing. Mercutio tells Romeo that if love is rough with him, he should “be rough with love.”
As Romeo’s friends try to get him to go into the party, Mercutio uses sexually charged wordplay to entice Romeo into looking at love less seriously. Mercutio is a wildcard, a fun-loving rogue whose free-wheeling personality stands in direct contrast to Romeo’s melancholy, brooding disposition. Mercutio wants to help his friend lighten up a little bit and enjoy his youth.
Benvolio says it’s time to go inside. Romeo is still dragging his feet and Mercutio taunts him for being such a stick in the mud and accuses him of wasting the light from their friends’ torches—as big a shame as wasting the light of day. Romeo says he’s not just sad about going to the party, but actually frightened because he had a portentous dream last night.
Mercutio says he had a dream the night before, too—he and Romeo have both been visited by “Queen Mab.” Benvolio asks who Queen Mab is, and Mercutio, in a lengthy speech, spins a fanciful tale about the “fairies’ midwife” who comes to people while they sleep on her hazelnut chariot to make them dream of sweet things and to play little pranks on those who make her jealous or cross. As Mercutio’s speech goes on and on and grows bawdier and bawdier, Romeo and Benvolio urge him to stop. Mercutio warns them, though, not to discount their dreams. Benvolio says it’s time to go inside. Romeo admits that he has had a premonition that the “consequence” of attending the feast will be his own “untimely death.” He pushes his fears aside, though, surrendering the course of the evening to the control of his “lusty” friends.
Mercutio’s role as the bawdy jokester of his friend group means that he tries to take any bad feelings or sad moments and turn them around—he wants to make light of Romeo’s fears about his portentous dream by spinning a grand tale that moves from the fanciful to the ridiculous to the risqué. Mercutio’s wheels are constantly spinning—and though he surely tires of being the one to always smooth everything over for his friends, he keeps at it.