Romeo and Juliet is a tale of two star-crossed lovers who in their love for each other were willing to sacrifice their lives. Romeo is a very temperamental person; his character develops considerably throughout the play in various ways. In this essay, I shall be looking closely at Romeo’s character, his intentions & abilities and his relationship with other characters in the play. In the conversation between Benvolio and Montague in act 1 scene 1, we learn that Romeo is behaving strangely and avoiding his friends, “Towards him I made, but he was ware of me And stole into the covert of the woods.” In this sentence, Benvolio is explaining to Lady Montague that when he walked towards Romeo, Romeo was aware of him and hid in the woods. We know now that he was consumed by his grief about being rejected by Rosaline, he would not confide in his friends or family, as we learn from his father’s words “But he, his own affections councillors, is to himself”.
His father also mentions that Romeo stays in his room all day with the curtains drawn grieving alone in his darkened room “Away from light steals my heavy son, And private in his chamber pens himself, shut up his windows, locks fair daylight out, and makes himself an artificial night”. These two sentences given by his father offer a physical and mental portrait of Romeo penning himself away because he did not get what he wanted. Benvolio tries again to talk to Romeo. He succeeds and asks Romeo why he looked distressed. At first, Romeo shied away from giving a straight answer and talks in riddles and double meaning but then with more promptings, he unburdens his misery. We learn that he loves a lady who has sworn to remain a virgin. “She’ll not be hit with cupids arrow, she hath Dian’s wits”. Meaning that she does not love him and she has Dian’s wit.
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Dian is the goddess of hunting and chastity, she avoids Cupid’s arrows; from this, we learn that Rosaline has no intention of loving him or any other man. This is further proven when Romeo confirms Benvolio’s question that she has sworn to remain a virgin. Romeo goes on to say that his love is misplaced because Rosaline has rejected him. Romeo compares his love to Rosaline as a devote religion. His words seem mature which belies his actions, which is often irresponsible and immature. Even when his love has been rejected, Romeo still feels heavy with the burden of love. His friends didn’t take his love seriously, they thought it was humorous, silly and later on exasperating. Romeo is hurt by Rosaline’s rejections and perhaps by his friends’ indifference towards his love. We learn this when he quotes “… love pricks like thorn…”.
But Mercutio does not feel melancholy about love. He views love in a physical sense more than emotional, he advises rather crudely ” If love is rough with you, be rough with love”. Romeo’s actions and words in act 1 scene 5 make us doubt if he has been in love at all or just thinking of pretending to be in love. He himself doubts it “did my heart love till now? Foreswear it, sight for Ine, er saw true beauty till this night.” By his words, we gather that He cannot believe his eyes that a lady as beautiful as this exists. But on a closer analysis let’s pick out the keywords, “…for Ine, er saw true beauty till this night…” we can pick up an underlying message Juliet is more beautiful than Rosaline which completely opposes what he said in act 1 scene 2.
“When the devout religion of mine eye maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires; and these who, often drowned, could never die, Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars…” saying that if he did see someone more beautiful than Rosaline, his eyes would burn out because they were liars, unfaithful to the true belief: Rosaline’s beauty. (Romeo’s lines seem to be inspired by the practice of burning heretics at the stake) this shows how quickly he changes his mind and forgets about Rosaline. Romeo describes his lips as ‘the tools of love’ and compares this to a prayer being the tools of Religion, before he kisses he say’s “thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.”
He is comparing Juliet to a saint, ‘my sin is purged’ Christians go to confessions to purge (cleanse) their sin, he is saying that by kissing her he is doing a holy act and purifying his soul. Romeo is now in love with Juliet, so when Mercutio makes fun of Rosaline in act 2 scene 1 to anger Romeo, Romeo dismisses it in one line (act 2 scene2) “he jests at scars that never felt a wound” just as someone who has never been wounded can jest about a soldier’s battle scars, so someone who has never been in love can find it easy to joke about the sufferings of a person deeply in love. This is very different from his ‘sufferings’ over Rosaline in act 1 scene 1. Romeo uses the sun, moon, stars and heaven to describe Juliet’s appearance. Here are some of the phrases he uses to say how beautiful Juliet is:
- “It is the east and Juliet is the sun…”
- “Two of the fairest star in all the heaven”
- “The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars”
- “O speak bright angel, for thou art…”
- “As is a winged messenger of heaven”
At a first glance, Romeo’s love for Rosaline and Juliet seems the same but on a deeper survey, we gather that it does differ. Romeo mainly feels bittersweet lost love for Rosaline and sulked a lot, but with Juliet, he is elated and full of energy, the cause for this difference is quite obvious, it simply is that Juliet returns his love but Rosaline does not. Romeo wants to get married as soon as possible even though Friar Lawrence has some misgiving about it and asks for him to think deeply before rushing into anything, but Romeo is adamant to have the marriage soon. Friar Lawrence chided Romeo for his fickleness in love “Young men’s love then lies Not truly in their hearts but in their eyes”, meaning Romeo only loves the outer beauty of the girl and changes his mind if a girl more beautiful than the last comes along, he will go after her.
Romeo pleads with the Friar, and he gave in, thinking if Romeo and Juliet married then the feud between the families might end. Romeo’s haste reveals his immaturity; he wants to marry quickly despite Friar Lawrence’s advice to go slowly. Romeo’s character is very mature at the start of act 3 scene 1, in contrast to his immaturity in act 2, scene 3, this may be because he has just married Juliet and feels that he should be responsible and grown-up, we see signs of his maturity when Tybalt challenges Romeo to a fight, Romeo refuses to accept Tybalt’s challenge, and tries to placate him. Mercutio is disgusted and angry at Romeo’s refusal to fight, so he challenges Tybalt. Romeo tries to make peace but his intervention is fatal to Mercutio, Tybalt stabs him (Mercutio) under Romeo’s arm.
Now let’s think about Romeo’s behaviour and words around the time of the fight. ” And so good Capulet, which name I tender As dearly as my own, be satisfied.” Romeo is married to Juliet, so Tybalt is his kinsman now. Romeo tries to make peace with Tybalt even though he had deeply insulted him. I think that if Romeo were not married to Juliet he would have fought with Tybalt, but as he is married to her he feels he should be more responsible and refuses to fight triggering off the events leading to Mercutio’s death. Romeo blames himself for Mercutio’s wound and is grief-stricken, and when Benvolio report’s his death he is livid with rage and vows to kill Tybalt. Tybalt returns and Romeo challenges him, they fight and Tybalt is slain. Romeo acts without thinking and he is immediately regretful and conscience-stricken “O, I am fortune’s fool”.
Juliet is distressed upon hearing that Romeo killed Tybalt she wonders if Romeo is really the person she thought he was “O, serpent’s heart, hid with a flowering face!” she says Romeo is deceitful and treacherous but when the nurse agrees with her she rebukes her by saying Romeo was her husband. Romeo is heartbroken upon hearing the news of his banishment, but I do not find this completely selfish because I would probably react the same, and he also was deeply concerned for Juliet’s welfare, this is evident when Romeo immediately asks the nurse when he sees her “Spakest thou of Juliet? How is it with her?” but he reveals a childish streak when he worries about what Juliet thinks of him “doth not she think me an old murderer”. When the nurse says how miserable Juliet is Romeo snatches a dagger and offers to kill himself.
Friar Lawrence rebukes Romeo for his suicide attempt, he tells him to pull himself together and that nothing has been lost “what rouse the man! Thy Juliet is alive…Tybalt would kill thee, But thou slewest Tybalt; there art thou happy.” meaning that you killed in defence because Tybalt was going to kill you, you both had an equal chance to kill each other. After this speech has had been soothed to some extent and was happy at the prospect of seeing Juliet, he seems to be easy to please. After their wedding night together, Romeo and Juliet part before he goes to Mantua in act 5 scene 1. Juliet at first tells him to stay which makes us think she must have still been sleepy and disorganized because it was almost certain death if Romeo stayed.
Romeo tells her that and she replies by saying it was not morning yet and he does not need to go, so Romeo’s will dissolves and he says he will stay and face capture and death for her, this shows how weak his resolve is Juliet then seems to realize what she just said and hurries him out and blames the lark (a species of bird)for singing a sweet song ant distracting her. Romeo leaves with lots of kisses and farewells. Romeo seems happy and optimistic that he will see Juliet again but Juliet voices her misgivings after he left ” methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb.” Juliet’s words seem uncomfortably like a premonition. Lots of things happen while Romeo is in Mantua here is a summary: Lady Capulet tells Juliet that she must marry Paris on Thursday. Juliet, appalled, refuses to do so. Capulet flies into a towering rage on hearing of Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris.
He threatens and insults her. The nurse’s defence of Juliet further enraged Capulet, he threatens to disown her if she will not obey him and marry Paris. Lady Capulet refuses to help her daughter. Juliet seeks comfort from the nurse who urges her to marry Paris. Feeling betrayed, Juliet sends the nurse away, vowing never to trust her again. Juliet resolves to seek Friar Lawrence’s help. Juliet goes to Friar Lawrence’s cell and she finds Paris there she does not wish to talk to him and replies to Paris’s questions with double meaning. After Paris leaves Juliet asks for Friar’s help, threatening to kill herself if she is forced to marry Paris. Friar Lawrence devised a plan to prevent her marriage to Paris and for her to leave with Romeo without anybody knows. He gives her a potion that makes her seem dead, and she will be placed in Capulet’s vault. Romeo will be with her when she awakens to take her to Mantua. Juliet takes the portion before the day she is to be married. The nurse finds her on the wedding day ‘Dead’. She is put in the vault.
Romeo is unaware of all this in Mantua, Friar Lawrence’s letter does not reach him. Balthasar (his servant) brings him news of Juliet’s ‘death’. Romeo reacts impulsively just like in act 3 scene 1 when Romeo killed Tybalt in rage, which landed him in this trouble. He decides swiftly that he does not want to live without Juliet and he would kill himself, Romeo does ask Balthasar if there was any news from Friar Lawrence but as he did not have it Romeo proceeded to his death in Verona. Romeo acts immature, he wants to kill himself and he does not think of the consequences. He buys poison from a poor apothecary. He treats the apothecary quite kindly; he knows that the apothecary is poor and would have to sell poison to him in order to survive.
Even when tragedy strikes him Romeo is considerate towards others, it seems to be his nature as everybody (even Capulet in act 1 scene 5 “Verona brags of him, to be a virtuous and well-governed youth.”) thinks kindly of him; he also treats his servant Balthasar kindly, unlike how others treated their servants. Romeo then goes to the capulet’s vault, but here he is met with a problem, Paris is there to pay respect to Juliet’s “dead” body and he thinks Romeo has come there to do some damage to Tybalt and Juliet’s bodies. Romeo does not want to talk to Paris and tells him to leave him alone but Paris would not let him go and challenges him, Romeo who is depressed and grieving for Juliet so gets angry quickly and kills Paris, Romeo then realized what he had done and is remorseful. this shows again how impulsive Romeo is. Romeo goes in sees Juliet and drinks the potion and dies. Juliet wakes up and sees Friar Lawrence who had come to check on her, he is nervous and want’s to leave as soon as possible because the alarm has been raised that Paris is dead, Juliet refuses to come with him and he flees, Juliet finds Romeo dead and kills herself with his dagger. Thus the story ends?
Conclusion. Romeo is a complex character; our views of him are often changed by the course of events in this play, at some times he seems impulsive and does not think of the consequences of his actions. But at other times Romeo is thoughtful, responsible and mature. For every immature deed he does, there always seems to be a cause, which makes us doubt if the deed was really immature. Romeo seems to have become responsible after his marriage to Juliet; he seems to feel that he should take care of Juliet and be civil to her kinsmen. This is arguable however because he committed suicide, which in my opinion is an easy way out but did he really have anything left to live for? Juliet was ‘dead’, he was banished and his mother was dead (he did not know that). So it must have seemed like his only option. Romeo’s character is very puzzling, was he a selfish and spoilt boy or a man who was too consumed with grief over losing his wife? I’ll leave you to figure that out.