Romeo from “Romeo and Juliet” by Shakespeare

The character of Romeo is the main and the most complex one in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. The love between Romeo and Juliet brings about the reconciliation of the feuding families, the Capulets, and the Montagues, as the Friar wished though not in the way he wished it. After hearing the Friar’s account of events leading up to and including the lovers’ deaths, Prince Escalus confirms the narrative with Romeo’s letter.

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The pivotal action of the entire play is that of the sword fights that occur first between Mercutio and Tybalt and then between Tybalt and Romeo. Tybalt has not forgotten his promise to wreak vengeance for the slight he feels Romeo has given the Capulets by crashing their party the night before. For his blood lust, he pays with his life. The duels themselves may be more or less vigorous, depending upon. Thesis Romeo is a controversial character who inherent both positive and genitive features but reflects universal themes of love and hate, envy and revenge.

Readers make their opinion about Romeo through descriptions and characterization made by other characters. When Romeo enters, Friar Lawrence shows his sympathetic understanding of the young man and does so with engaging humor. He immediately perceives that although it is now early morning, Romeo has not yet been to bed. When he teases Romeo about Rosaline, Romeo informs his confessor that he no longer thinks of her but has fallen in love with Juliet.

The Friar is surprised at this news and twits Romeo about his fickleness. He is soon able to put his humor and his remonstrations aside as he glimpses a possible positive outcome of an alliance between the two young lovers (Williamson 129). For this reason, although he cautions that “they stumble that run fast” (Shakespeare 1. 94), he is willing–perhaps too quickly willing–to accept as fact the reciprocal love between the two young people.

In this, as in some of his other actions–for example, the solution he proposes to Juliet in act 4–he appears to some critics as given to acting precipitously. The Nurse shows her true colors when Juliet appeals to her for aid and counsel after her parents demand that she marry Paris. Unlike the elder Capulets, the Nurse knows the situation and has indeed abetted Juliet in marrying Romeo and consummating the marriage soon afterward (Andrews 59).

Benvolio sympathizes with Romeo, whom he saw also walking alone in the hours before dawn, and agrees to help find out what troubles him. In the ensuing dialogue, he quickly learns that a lover’s melancholy afflicts Romeo, who pours out to him complaints of Rosaline’s behavior. Although he rejects Benvolio’s advice to “Examine other beauties” (Shakespeare 1.1.219) and forget her, and he later scoffs at the idea when his friend again urges the remedy, this is of course precisely what happens as soon as Romeo sees Juliet. For better or worse–worse, unfortunately, as events unfold–Benvolio is right.

When Romeo intervenes during their duel, he calls upon Benvolio to help beat down their weapons. What happens at that point until Mercutio falls wounded is unclear. Presumably, as Benvolio is drawing his weapon to assist Romeo, Tybalt strikes the fatal blow and then runs away. When he returns and Romeo confronts him, Benvolio is silent, for like Romeo he realizes-or so we may assume–that retribution for Mercutio’s death must follow. When it is over and Tybalt is dead, it is he who explains to the Prince the “unlucky manage of this fatal brawl” (Shakespeare 3.1.134). After this scene, we never see Benvolio again. Tybalt is the exact opposite of Benvolio.

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Fiery is tempered and impulsive, he takes very seriously the vendetta that exists between the Houses of Montague and Capulet; he is even willing to disrupt the festivities of the Capulets’party to deal with gate-crashing Romeo. Only his uncle’s stern admonishment restrains him. Nothing restrains him later from inciting Romeo to fight after he has sent him a challenge by letter. By this time, of course, Mercutio’s taunts have already roused him–not that his blood, which seems always up, needs much arousing. When Romeo refuses to fight, offering only cryptic excuses, Mercutio becomes incensed and meets the challenge for him (Andrews 55).

Just how Tybalt wounds Mercutio is a question that has caused some controversy. All readers learn from the text is that Mercutio was hurt under Romeo’s arm.

Critics admit that “Q1’s stage direction, “Tibalt under Romeo’s arm thrusts Mercutio, in and flyes,” missing in Q2, complicates matters somewhat, especially if the punctuation is correct” (Seward 55). Does Tybalt take unfair advantage of Romeo’s interference to thrust at Mercutio, whom until then he has been unable to hit? Is he, as Mercutio describes him, merely “a braggart… that fights by the book of arithmetic” (Shakespeare 3.1.92-93), that is, a textbook fencer? Or is the thrust that kills Mercutio an accident, as Franco Zeffirelli staged it in his film? If Tybalt is the gentleman he is supposed to be, living by a strict code of honor, he could not be guilty of so cowardly an action as some attribute to him.

Furthermore, if he is a coward, why does he return to the scene not long afterward? According to Jerzy Limon, he comes back precisely because he realizes that running away was wrong, a reflex action engendered by his horror at what was actually an accident, not an intentional maneuver. Although Romeo describes his return as an attempt to gloat “in triumph, and Mercutio was slain” (Shakespeare 3.1.113), nothing else in the text justifies that interpretation. Tybalt scornfully answers Romeo’s challenge; they fight, and Tybalt falls. From that moment on, the world is no longer the same for Romeo–or Juliet.

As the Nurse offers an earthy perspective on Juliet’s romantic love for Romeo, so Mercutio provides a similar perspective on Romeo’s. The principal iron, or ironist, in the play, actively deflates or tries to deflate, his friend’s effusions. What he does not know–and dies not knowing–is that Romeo’s love for Rosaline, which he mercilessly mocks, has been superseded by a much more profound, and reciprocated, love for Juliet (Williamson 129).

If Mercutio’s taunts are justified his cynical remarks, no matter how amusing, are misdirected, and his irony doubles back on itself. That is precisely what happens, of course, despite Romeo’s initial skepticism and the reassertion of his devotion to Rosaline. As soon as he sees Juliet, he is captivated by her: “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” (Shakespeare 1.5.43). Not only does his imagery become more concrete and fresh, but he experiences a revolution in his emotion: “Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” (Shakespeare 1.5.51-52).

Shakespeare is here using the convention of love at first sight, true enough; moreover, Romeo and Juliet begin speaking with each other in sonnets! But this is merely the preamble to the deeper love, conveyed in the more direct and unstudied language they use in their soliloquies and in their dialogue in Act 2 scene 2.

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That is the issue, also, for the other subplot involving the County Paris. A sincere suitor, he wants to marry Juliet, not simply lie with her, and he presses his suit, quite properly, to her father–even before approaching the object of his love. That is a further contrast with the main plot. Although Capulet at first advises Paris to win his daughter’s affection, he later decides to make the match even before consulting Julie (Andrews 64).

Romeo is not presented in a negative way. His parents worry about him and Benvolio’s description of his solitary wanderings invokes our sympathy, and when we meet him, his anguish–artificial as it must seem–is real enough to him. He is the typical Renaissance romantic lover, bemoaning his Cruel Mistress, uttering copybook oxymora, and exhibiting all the airs appropriate to his condition. That he is not as far gone as he pretends reveals itself in his question to Benvolio after his first wail: “Dost thou not laugh?” (Shakespeare 1. 174).

He has at least this much perspective on his condition and his state of mind, which shows a healthy psyche underneath the pose of a love-struck young puppy. Further evidence of his essential good health comes during his dialogue with Mercutio and Benvolio before entering the Capulets’ball. Insisting at first that he will not dance–“I am not for this ambling; / Being but heavy, I will bear the light” (Shakespeare 1.4.11-12)–his wit breaks out, willy-nilly. Before long he is trading quips with that wit (Watts 32).

Mercutio, for whom he is more than merely a straight man. When his friend seems to get carried away in his discourse on Queen Mab–powerfully portrayed by John McEnery as an extreme neurotic in the Zeffirelli film–Romeo shows his care and compassion, stopping him before he goes over the edge. If Romeo’s forebodings as they enter the hall still sound the note of the dejected lover anticipating an “untimely death” for his “despised life” (Shakespeare 11. 110-11), his allusion to “Some consequence yet hanging in the stars” echoes the “star-crossed lovers” sounded in the Prologue, but he is nonetheless willing to put his fate in the hands of a higher power (“He that hath the steerage of my course” [Shakespeare 1. 112]).

Romantic love and passion are two feelings that characterized Romeo as a romantic and sympathetic person. Romeo is struck by Juliet’s beauty and in a stately, almost reverent, fashion woos her in sonnets. A very willing accomplice, Juliet returns his words and his feelings with those of her own. When each one separately discovers the identity of the other, they experience a moment’s dismay–in Juliet’s case, perhaps even horror–but are nothing daunted (Andrews 71).

Their mutual maturity has begun, and there is no turning back, as they plight their vows in the exquisite balcony scene that follows in act 2. If all this makes Romeo sound like an impulsive young lover, that is just what he is (Watts 32).

It is love that propels him, not affectation or infatuation, and that makes all the difference, as Shakespeare is at pains to demonstrate by contrasting Romeo’s feelings for Juliet with those he had for Rosaline. His love for Juliet, bound by wedlock but not yet consummated, is also what makes him act as he does when Tybalt finds him in act 3 and tries to force him into a duel. Since his marriage is a secret, no one understands why he behaves as he does–not Tybalt, and not Mercutio, who takes up Tybalt’s challenge instead to save his friend’s honor. When Mercutio dies, as a result, Romeo at once sees the situation for what it is and what he must do to restore not only his honor but his manliness and valor, which Juliet’s beauty, he feels, has too much softened (Watts 32).

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His immediate reaction to killing Tybalt, as he stands over his body, “stern, fated and passive to the next Capulet sword that offers,” is: “O, 1 am fortune’s fool” (Shakespeare 3.1.127). Benvolio finally gets him to flee, and where else should he go but to Friar Lawrence’s cell? There he exhibits a kind of reversion to immaturity and despair, ready to kill himself until the Nurse snatches his dagger away.

Friar Lawrence at length calls him down by appealing not only to his manliness, but also to his love for Juliet and hers for him, and to the other positive aspects of his situation. When the Nurse gives him the ring Juliet has sent him, Romeo at last relents, and they plan for his surreptitious visit to her chamber that night. It is a bittersweet consummation for the lovers; nevertheless, neither of them is willing to relinquish it (Andrews 77).

Romeo is the first to recognize the need for him to depart, but when, like any good lover, he yields to Juliet’s persuasions to stay, she in her turn, fearful of the danger to him, urges him to leave. It is the last time they will ever have a chance to speak with each other, and Shakespeare endows the scene with some of his most enchanting verses. As in their first balcony scene, they are interrupted by the Nurse, representative of the other world, the materialist and practical one, warning of Lady Capulet’s approach (Black, 245). The impingement of her world brings the threat of disaster to all that the lovers have moments before experienced and hope to experience again.

Romeo is absent all during act 4, which is devoted entirely to Juliet and the predicament her parents place her in by forcing her to marry Paris. Usually, when Shakespeare removes a protagonist from the stage for any prolonged period of time, he means to signal a change in that character’s attitude or disposition, he seems quieter, more meditative than he has been before, contemplating as he does the strange dream that has unaccountably lifted his spirits.

His joy, however, is short-lived, for Balthasar soon enters with news of Juliet’s burial in “Capels’monument” (Shakespeare 1. 18). Romeo at once reverts to his impulsive, passionate self. “Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!” (Shakespeare 1. 24). With no more than a moment’s reflection, he determines to leave that very night to join Juliet in the tomb. His swift thinking recalls the Apothecary from whom he can get the poison for his suicide, and his imagination bodies forth in precise detail both the Apothecary and the exotic contents of his shop. Far different now is Romeo’s attitude toward himself and his fate: gone is any remnant of self-pity, and if he recognizes himself as a desperate man, he no longer wails in his despair as he did earlier (Bond, 22).

When Romeo approaches the tomb, he takes care (like any dutiful son) to send a letter to his father through Balthasar and orders his man to leave, giving him false excuses for opening Juliet’s grave and threatening to tear the lad apart if he returns to pry into what is happening (Cribb, 93). This is not quite the tone used earlier in his rage against Tybalt; it is again harsher and direr in its threat. His tone changes when Paris tries to apprehend him, but when the Count refuses to desist, he returns to the hateful attitude he had adopted moments before–only to change again when he sees who it is he has killed (Seward 33).

Romeo has now fully matured and is able to recognize in Paris “One writ with me in sour misfortune’s book!” (Shakespeare 1. 82). If he dies before learning that Juliet is not really dead–that he is dreadfully mistaken in his action–never mind. His tribute to her is self-reflexive, testimony as much to his integrity as to her beauty. Similarly, in paying tribute to Tybalt, who lies near Juliet in the tomb, he acknowledges the favor he does him now by killing himself with the same hand that ended the other’s life (Marsh, 92).

Romeo uses conventional language, although his idiom changes as the object of his devotion changes. When Lady Capulet, for example, attempts to interest Juliet in the County Paris early in the play, she describes him in copybook terms:

Read o’er the volume of young Paris’ face,

And find delight writ there with beauty’s pen;

Examine every married lineament,

And see how one another lends content;

And what obscured in this fair volume lies,

Find written in the margent of his eyes. (Shakespeare 1.3.82-87)

When Romeo and Juliet meet, the sonnet form reappears, with its “extra” quatrain One commentator has described the studied formality as “a marvelous sublimation of the witty exchange of young people meeting and trying each other out” Another notices how the couple’s first words to each other, dividing a sonnet between them, presses “a powerful seal, as it were, upon their meeting, at once linking themselves together with an invisible bond.”

The language of “pilgrims” and “saints” is the language of contemporary sonneteers, minor poets whom Shakespeare elsewhere satirizedRomeo and Juliet speak the fashionable love language of their time, at least at first; if they are “playing like minor poets within the current model” they do so with purpose, fully conscious of what they are about. After all, this is only the beginning of their relationship; fuller and deeper expressions of love come later (Marsh, 82).

Shakespeare thought in images, and the patterns of imagery in his plays are often a key to the themes he develops (Marsh, 82). They are also a key to the way he perceived his characters and wanted his audience to see them. Caroline Spurgeon, a pioneer in the study of Shakespeare’s imagery, notes how Romeo and Juliet each thinks of the other as light, which becomes the dominating image in the play. Romeo conveys his “overpowering impression” when he first sees Juliet:

O she cloth teach the torches to burn bright!

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear–(Shakespeare 1.5.42-45)

Likewise, to Juliet, Romeo is “day in night, “who lies upon the night “Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back” (Shakespeare 3.2.17-19). Their passionate intensity informs even the most tired imagery with new energy, as in Romeo’s comparisons of Juliet’s eyes to stars or Juliet’s similar conceit. The imagery continues to the very end: Romeo sees Juliet’s tomb, not as a grave, but as a lantern, for her “beauty makes / This vault a feasting presence full of light” (Shakespeare 5.3.85-86).

Not only images of the sun and stars, but those of lightning, fire, meteors, and the flash of gunpowder brighten and enliven the dialogue. That may be, though we can never certainly know. Shakespeare used other images, more or less related to these dominant ones and more or less complex (Romeo and Juliet Characters Analysis 2008). Romeo’s depiction of Juliet in the balcony scene as a “bright angel” is new in the way it springs from the situation and the character who speaks:

O speak again, bright angel, for thou art

As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,

As is a winged messenger of heaven

Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes (Shakespeare 3.1.110)

Romeo persists, however, in believing that “black fate” has had a hand in subsequent events and will continue to have. He is “fortune’s fool” (Shakespeare 3.1.127), he laments, after killing Tybalt. Later, hearing of Juliet’s supposed death, he says, “Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!” (Shakespeare 5.1.24). On the other hand, at his first foreboding of disaster, he concludes: “But He that hath the steerage of my course / Direct my sail!” (Shakespeare 1.4.112-13)

Much of the humor in the play also derives from ambiguities, particularly bawdy jokes that depend upon a more or less veiled secondary or tertiary meaning. Sampson and Gregory’s puns) are too obvious to require comment, and some of Mercutio’s jokes are not much above their level. For example, when he fails to find Romeo after the ball scene, Mercutio expresses his frustration in a series of bawdy double entendres:

Now, will he sit under a medlar tree,

And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit

As maids call medlars when they laugh alone (Shakespeare 1.1.1-30

A comic hint of this fusion occurs in the garden scene when the lovers begin their good-nights and Romeo complains: “O wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?” Juliet replies, half in horror: “What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?” But Romeo reassures her that it is only the exchange of her “faithful vow” for his that he wants, and their colloquy briefly resumes or rather intensifies, with Juliet’s pledge of her “boundless” love (Romeo and Juliet Characters Analysis 2008).

Love is not the only prominent passion in the play. Hate is also powerfully represented, particularly in the character of Tybalt. Romeo himself risks death but instead receives banishment, which he initially feels is a sentence worse than death. Nor does the hatred end there. Juliet’s mother vents her spleen against Romeo, ironically foreshadowing the end of the play when she promises to find someone to poison Romeo and when, shortly afterward, exasperated by Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris, she cries, “I would the fool were married to her grave” (Shakespeare 1. 140). Passion, then, lies at the heart of this tragedy and is its prime mover.

The dangers of passion were very much alive to Shakespeare’s contemporaries, who repeatedly counseled that reason should control emotion (Romeo and Juliet. 2008). Excessive passion, however, is not Romeo’s fault alone. Tybalt’s irascibility and Mercutio’s fiery temper also demonstrate the danger uncontrolled passion involves–to say nothing of the passions that are aroused among all the others in the first scene.

On the other hand, how far can we blame the passion that Romeo and Juliet feel for each other, that not only moves them to ignore the prohibitions that their families’ feud requires, to risk everything for each other, If the love they share is not the culprit, then it is the hasty actions they take, especially Romeo’s, that precipitate the tragedy? True, love motivates their actions, basically, but not wholly.

An impatience, and impetuosity, characteristic of youth, also propels them. Heedless of the Friar’s warnings and of Juliet’s own initial fear that everything is proceeding too quickly, the lovers nevertheless move swiftly to determine their own destiny, thus allowing themselves to be carried away by their passion (Romeo and Juliet. 2008). For Romeo banishment means death: “For exile hath more terror in his look, / Much more than death,” he wails in the Friar Lawrence’s cell; “banishèd / Is death mistermed” (Shakespeare 3.3.13-14, 20-21). It is all that the Friar and the Nurse can do to stop him from suicide then and there.

The opportunity to see Juliet once more and to consummate their marriage heartens him (Ryan, Kiernan 105). Romeo’s love for Rosaline smacks of the artificial, the conventional, not something deep and moving. It is to get his friend out of this melancholy, lovelorn state that Benvolio suggests in the next scene that they go to the Capulets’party, where Romeo will see Rosaline in the context of other beauties who will make this “swan” look like a “crow” by comparison (Andrews 53).

In sum, Romeo is portrayed as a hero and oppressor, the positive and negative character at the same time. For Romeo, destruction comes from inside, both inside himself and inside the assumptions of romantic love. Romeo develops a tragic view of love by looking more penetratingly at some of those strains and contradictions. The personalities and situations are such as to put maximum pressure on those areas of love and hate, revenge and friendship.

Works Cited

  1. Andrews, J. E (ed.). Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. New York: Garland, 1993.
  2. Black, James. “The Visual Artistry of Romeo and Juliet.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 15 ( 1975): 245-56.
  3. Bond, Ronald B. “Love and Lust in Romeo and Juliet.” Wascana Review 15 ( 1980): 22-31.
  4. Cribb, T. J. “The Unity of Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare Survey 34 ( 1981): 93-104.
  5. Marsh, Derick R. C. Passion Lends Them Power: A Study of Shakespeare’s Love Tragedies. Manchester: Manchester University Press: 1976.
  6. Romeo and Juliet. 2008. Web.
  7. Ryan, Kiernan. “Romeo and Juliet: the Language of Tragedy.” In The Taming of the Text: Explorations in Language, Literature and Culture, ed. Willie van Peer. London: Routledge, 1988, pp. 106-21.
  8. Seward, James H. Tragic Vision in Romeo and Juliet. Washington, D.C.: Consortium Press, 1973.
  9. Shakespeare, R. Romeo and Juliet. Washington Square Press, 1992.
  10. Watts, Cedric. Romeo and Juliet. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
  11. Williamson, Marilyn L. “Romeo and Death.” Shakespeare Studies 14 ( 1981): 129-37.
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