Episode 9: Mercutio


In this activity students will listen to "Mercutio" from Prokofiev's ballet score for Romeo and Juliet and experiment with creating musical themes for different characters. They will also listen for themes from a movie soundtrack - modern "program music"!

Grade Level

9-12 (may be adapted for different levels)

National Music Standards

3 Improvising melodies, variations, and accompaniments, 6 Listening to, analyzing, and describing music, 8 Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts, 9 Understanding music in relation to history and culture;

Language Arts Standard

3 Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluation and appreciate texts


Claire Yeo Claire Yeo plays Prokofiev's Mercutio at Carnegie Hall

Movie scores are a great example of modern program music. For example, in the sound track for the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" there are specific themes associated with major characters like Captain Jack Sparrow; you can use the track-by-track review in "Find Out More!" below to introduce these themes in class. Musically these are called "leitmotifs" and are frequently found in program music.


Computer with media player; projector and speakers if needed; copy of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare; soundtrack or DVD of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest"

Activity Instructions

Note: If students are reading Romeo and Juliet in language arts class, this is a great activity to coordinate with their language arts teacher.

  1. Discuss what students know about the story of Romeo and Juliet and the character of Mercutio. His name comes from the word that means "mercury". Our word "mercurial" comes from the same root; it means "quick, changeable, flighty," and is associated with the planet Mercury and the metal with the same name. What other words describe Mercutio's character?
  2. Like Mercutio and others in Prokofiev's ballet score, the characters in "Pirates" are associated with short musical themes. Play some of these in class, and ask students what the characters are like and how the music expresses their qualities. In the next step, they will do the same thing with "Mercutio".
  3. Have students watch Claire play the Prokofiev and write down words that describe the music. Do those words fit Mercutio? Why do they think Prokofiev made the choices he did?
  4. Have students experiment with writing short themes or leitmotifs that represent favorite characters - the more extreme the better, since that will loosen them up!

Find out more!

About Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet

Prokofiev's score for the ballet was not immediately popular and did not achieve widespread success until the 1960s. You can read more about its fascinating history at:

About Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Did you know that many of the characters in "Pirates" have unique musical themes? For a track-by-track analysis of the theme album (Walt Disney Records, 2006) with music composed by the award-winning Hans Zimmer, go to:

About West Side Story

Another great musical based on the story of Romeo and Juliet is West Side Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein. Just for fun, listen to the soundtrack or watch the classic 1961 movie!

About a modern movie version of the Shakespeare play

Mercutio and Romeo Mercutio and Romeo, from the 1996 film

Watch Romeo and Juliet (1996), directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo diCaprio as Romeo and Claire Danes as Juliet, with Harold Perrineau as Mercutio (rated PG-13).

From the Top The Bernard Osher Foundation Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Carnegie Hall Don Mischer Productions WGBH From the Top