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To what extent is Romeo a tragic hero?

The first tragedy plays were written and performed by the Athenians in Greece. During that time, gods and religion were very important in Athenians’ lives and so the plays usually revolved around stories about Gods and people of high status such as kings. In the play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the story revolves around Romeo and Juliet who are of high status as Romeo is the son of “Montague” and Juliet is the daughter of “Capulets” who are “both alike in dignity.” This makes Romeo more of a tragic hero as the play is a tragedy. But his fall in life does not involve the fate of the whole nation as in many tragic plays so this could lessen Romeo being a tragic character as the play is lacking this feature of a tragic play.

The language in tragedy plays is often dramatic and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ often has characters speaking the dramatic language. Romeo’s language at the end of the play is very dramatic and he uses metaphors and makes death a “lean abhorrhero? hero and monster” that keeps Juliet “in the dark to be his paramour.” He makes death seem like a selfish thing, which takes Juliet’s life away from Romeo so that she can be its lover. This is a very dramatic and cruel metaphor for death that Romeo has used. Romeo says that the metaphorical death monster “hath sucked the honey” of Juliet’s “breath.” Romeo describes death as a “bitter conduct” for him, the use of the sense of taste makes Juliet seem ‘sweet’ and innocent if her breath was like honey. This would also make him a tragic character.

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Another feature of a tragic play is the increasing speed of events leading to the end of the play. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ do show this feature because Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, Mercutio’s death, Tybalt’s death and the death of Romeo and Juliet all happen in a short space of time; a couple of days. This supports the view of Romeo being a tragic character.

In many tragic plays, the main character or hero suffers from fate, Romeo does suffer from fate and you could say that fate may have led him to his death. There are many examples of fate that Romeo encounters, for example, he meets Capulet’s servant who gets Romeo to read the list of names of the invitation of the feast because he can’t read – “Pray, sir, can you read?” If the servant had not asked Romeo to read the list of people who were invited then he would not have known that Rosaline or Mercutio was to attend the feast. Romeo hints on his own ill fate, which is the ability to be able to read, “Mine own fortune in my misery.” This would probably make him want to go to the feast as well to see Rosaline or to accompany Mercutio and thus increase the chance of him meeting Juliet.

It is also fate that Mercutio persuades Romeo to go to the feast. ” If love is rough with you, be rough with love,” Mercutio tells him to forget about his lovesickness and go to have fun. Again, Romeo can sense that the attendance at the feast will lead to his fate “I fear too early, for my mind misgives/ Some consequence yet hanging in the stars/ Shall bitterly begin his fearful date.”

I would also consider it fate when Capulet does not let Tybalt throw him out of the feast otherwise Romeo would not have known Juliet that well and may not fall in love with her. “I would not for the wealth of all this town / Here in my house do him disparagement”. Capulet has heard that Romeo is “a virtuous and well-governed youth.” and also uses that reason to discourage Tybalt from fighting Romeo. You could say that this makes Romeo more of a hero as other characters admire him. The feature of fate in this play makes it more tragic and Romeo more of a tragic character too.

But Lady Capulet contradicts her husband’s compliment of Romeo by saying “he speaks not true” and that he and his men are poor fighters against Tybalt-“All those twenty could but kill one life.” These negative comments about Romeo make him seem unheroic and perhaps make Tybalt the heroic one because he fought so many men alone.

But we have to remember that Lady Capulet made this comment about her nephew when he was just killed by Romeo, so it may be biased against Romeo because she does not like Montague and also that he just killed Tybalt.

I have analysed Tybalt’s behaviour in general and I can see that Lady Capulet is being biased against Romeo. Tybalt’s attitude towards Montague is very unmerciful, he seizes every chance to fight with Romeo hoping to kill him; he does not even forgive Romeo because he went to the Capulet’s party without an invitation “It fits when such villain is a guest: / I’ll not endure him.” Tybalt has also contributed to the tragedy of the play because he was the one who started the fight with Romeo and his death had banished Romeo, who in the end kills himself because he is apart from his wife. You could say that this unforgiving nature of Tybalt makes him seem like a villain of the play and Romeo the hero or peacemaker.

You could also say that Romeo is a peacemaker because he is a friend of Benvolio who has a very peaceful nature. Benvolio always tries to stop the fights between the two families ” Either withdraw unto some private place.” and it was he, who Romeo commanded to stop Mercutio and Tybalt from fighting “Draw, Benvolio, beat down their weapons.”

Towards the end of the play, Romeo suffers a reversal of fortune like many tragic heroes. He is really happy “if the measure of thy joy be heaped like mine” when he marries Juliet “Holy Church incorporate two in one.”

But then his fortune reverses when Mercutio dies from” A scratch” “but ’tis enough, ’twill serve.” And when his anger makes him kill Tybalt “Tybalt, here slain, whom Romeo’s hand did slay,” which then results in him being banished from Verona ” we do exile him hence” by the prince. You could say that Romeo is unheroic because he murdered Tybalt because he wanted revenge over his best friend’s death, whilst most heroes rise above that. But you could also say that Romeo is a hero because he killed a supposed villain.

Like most tragedies, the main character’s fate accumulates and for Romeo, his bad luck turns to its worst when Juliet ‘dies’ and makes him so sad that he wants to kill himself to join her. “I will lie with thee tonight” The sequence of misfortunes that happen to Romeo is typical in a tragedy and so makes Romeo more of a tragic character and you could also argue that he is a hero in a romantic way because he sacrificed his life to be with the one he loved. In more realistic circumstances you could also argue that Romeo is idiotic in committing suicide.

Romeo has done many things, which makes him more of a tragic hero. You could say he shows courage, a quality most heroes have when he tried to protect Mercutio from Tybalt’s sword and tries to prevent the fight between them. “Draw, Benvolio beat down their weapons.”

You could also say he is a hero as he had the courage to stand up to Tybalt and not fight him however much he hates him “Good Capulet, which name I tender / As dearly as mine own, be satisfied.”

Even though it does not seem like bravery through physical action, it takes mental courage to stand up to peer pressure. Romeo demonstrates this type of bravery when he stands up to Mercutio who wants him to fight Tybalt when he refuses to fight. This makes Romeo more of a tragic hero as he shows fearless behaviour even towards his best friend.

However, as many tragic heroes, Romeo has weaknesses in his personality and attitude to life that aid to his death. One obvious weakness he has is in his personality; it is that he lets his emotions get the better of him and does not think about the consequences of the actions he takes because his emotions blind him to that. He stays in a miserable and lovesick mood “black and portentous must this humour prove” when Rosaline does not return his love and gets confused with the effects of love; he shows his bewilderment towards love by describing it with oxymorons “O brawling love.” Love also makes him anti-social, Capulet tells the audience that he “shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out, and makes himself an artificial night.” Because heroes are often associated with saving or being popular the public, you could say that the antisocial behaviour Romeo is showing makes him less of a hero.

It is not just love, which affects Romeo’s attitude to life but emotional anger makes his personality change extremely as it makes him want to get revenge. For example, when Tybalt killed Mercutio he gets so angry “fire-eyed fury be my conduct now!” that he wants to kill Tybalt “Now, Tybalt, take the ‘villain’ back again.” and eventually does. He does not think about the consequences of what will happen to him if he kills Tybalt.

Romeo also exemplifies his unpleasant nature towards Balthasar when he enters the tomb of Juliet. He tells Balthasar to leave him otherwise he would kill him, “Upon thy life, I charge thee, / What e’er thou hearest or seest.” This may imply to the audience that Romeo is very fierce and careless in what he says to other people and as a result, may lessen his heroism. You could say that people would disrespect a hero more if he had a bad temper, which would make Romeo less of a hero.

You could also say that Balthasar contributed to the tragic ending of the play because he was the one who told Romeo Juliet was dead when she was just in a deep sleep from the Friar’s potion. This had driven Romeo to kill himself with poison.

However, some people may see this type of attitude to other people as heroism. They may think that it proves that he wants to defeat his problems alone without support making him seem brave. But because Romeo has shown an ill-tempered manner in many events of the play, you could say that this reason supporting his heroism is not very convincing.

But you could also say that Romeo may be kind in general towards his servant, Balthasar, otherwise, he would not have come to Romeo through danger to tell him about the death of Juliet.

Being brave as a hero also means that the person stands up to their fears to do what is right. We often associate heroes to be manly, however, Romeo shows the opposite behaviour when he is told that he is banished from Verona. He shows this by keeping moaning about being banished “the damned use that word in hell” and thinks that the only solution to his situation is to commit suicide “hadst thou no poison mixed, no sharp-ground knife.” It shows that Romeo is cowardly and who “fall upon the floor” unlike most heroes that arise to their challenge.

You could say that Romeo is behaving like a child as he says to Friar Lawrence that he does not know how he feels, “thou canst not speak of that thou dost no feel.” Rebellious teenagers often use that as an excuse when arguing with their parents. You could say that this makes Romeo less of a man and a hero because he cannot deal with his problems in a mature manner.

Friar Lawrence uses rhetorical questions to give reasons for why Romeo should appreciate exile. He thinks that Romeo “pouts upon” his “fortunes” and “his love.” He explains that Romeo should be happy because he killed Tybalt when “Tybalt would kill” him, “Juliet is alive”, and “the law that threatened death becomes” his “friend, / And turns it into exile.” The rhetorical ending of “art thou happy” at the end of each reasoning makes Romeo think that he should appreciate exile.

In a way, you could also say that even though Friar Lawrence has tried to help Romeo be content with his life, he has also made the play ending more tragic and Romeo a more tragic hero. Friar Lawrence had married them young even though it was not a very good idea because it meant they were even harder to separate and he had set up a failed plan for Juliet and Romeo to be together when Romeo was banished. He had given Juliet a potion so that everyone would think her dead once she had taken it. During the time Juliet is in a deep sleep from the potion Friar Lawrence would send a letter to Romeo about the plan so he could come to be with Juliet and together they would escape. But the plan fails when Friar John who is trusted to send the letter does not and Balthasar reaches Romeo before the letter does about his ‘dead wife’. Romeo then decides his life has ended when his wife is dead and so visits the apothecary to buy poison for his death.

This well set out plan makes the ending more tragic when it fails and makes it emotionally powerful to the audience. Ruth Padel had said that “tragedy is about public feeling” and the ending does make the play very tragic as the deaths came upon the lovers unnecessarily. The audience gets a feeling of waste of life at the end because Romeo and Juliet should not have died and could have lived on without one another. But Shakespeare perhaps wanted his audience to see what love can do to all of us; take their own life away.

Love for Juliet also makes him hasty and also blinds him to consequences. He rushes to be married to her and never thinks about what would happen if Capulet finds out about this news-he might get killed.

Friar Lawrence warns him about this much disagreed early marriage and tells him to slow down or think about what he is doing “wisely and slow they stumble that run fast” but Romeo ignores this important advice. His ignorance therefore may have led to his death as he married without the consent and happiness of other people such as family and friends. If he had tried to discuss the situation with Capulet then things may have ended happily.

Even though he lets his emotions take over him, he also keeps them and his news to himself and doesn’t even tell his best friend Mercutio. For example, that when he falls in love with Juliet and out of love for Rosaline and Mercutio teases him about his love for Rosaline “poor Romeo, he is already dead, stabbed with a white wench’s black eye, run through the ear with a love-song.” Romeo still does not update his friend with the news of his new love.

In fact, he only confides with Friar Lawrence, which shows their close relationship. But if maybe he had told more people then people could help resolve this problem of the love between him and Juliet.

Other characters also observe Romeo’s unheroic behaviour towards his problem of banishment. The Nurse tells him “to be a man” and “stand up” from bawling on the floor. This is why the Nurse perhaps betrayed Juliet at the end of the play when she needs her most because she has seen Romeo be childish and “think it best” Juliet “married with the county.” She says that “Romeo’s a dishcloth to” Paris. You could say that the Nurse made the play more of a tragedy and Romeo a tragic character because her ultimate betrayal to Juliet when she is in the hardest situation of her life ends her long years of a close relationship with Juliet. Even Juliet is shocked when the Nurse tells her to forget Romeo- ” all the world to nothing/ that he dares ne’er come back to challenge you.” Juliet asks if you were telling the truth, “Speak’st thou from thy heart?” and curses her when the Nurse confirms her opinion-“Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!” Maybe if the Nurse had tried to help the pair of lovers escape using the Friar’s plan it may have worked, and so she contributes to the tragic ending of the play by not helping the plan.

Friar Lawrence also questions his manliness, “art thou a man” and tells him that his behaviour is “womanish”. He tells him that he is an “unseemly woman in a seeming man” and use metaphors to describe Romeo’s “noble shape is but a form of wax, / Digressing from the valour of a man.” If the nurse and Friar Lawrence are speaking of his character in this way, it may show that other characters think him hopeless as a man and therefore make him appear unheroic.

If Friar Lawrence is saying that women are generally weaker in trying to solve problems in their life, we could compare Romeo’s behaviour with Juliet’s behaviour to their similar terrible situation in life.

When Romeo is banished from Verona, he weeps and automatically thinks the solution is to kill himself. Whereas Juliet weeps but consults Friar Lawrence for advice before she decides death is her only solution to the separation of herself and Romeo. You could argue that this makes Romeo even weaker than a woman because his way out of problems is death and does not even think about other ways forward.

We can also see that Juliet is much more mature about death than Romeo because she still wants to be in peace with her family even though she has had a big argument with her father and is about to die. She shows by telling her father she would marry Paris and is sorry for not listening to him, “Pardon, I beseech you! / Henceforward I am ever ruled by you.” She even mentions that she will obey her father no matter what he tells her to do.

We can see that Romeo often lets his fears or emotions take over him and cries after. However, the audience can see that Juliet is unlike Romeo because she overcomes her fears no matter how frightened she is. She proves her bravery when she takes Friar Lawrence’s potion to make her fall into a deep sleep. We can tell that she is afraid because she questions what could go wrong in the future; she is scared of waking before Romeo came to her- “how if, when I am laid into the tomb, /I wake before the time that Romeo / Come to redeem me?” and is fearful of “loathsome smells, / And shrieks like mandrakes’ torn out of the earth” in the tomb. She gets so anxious that she also begins to question the loyalty of Friar Lawrence “what if it be a poison which the Friar / Subtly hath ministered to have me dead”.

The language she uses to describe her possible worst outcomes is the most hideous of all with the talk of “death” and “terror” and this shows the audience that she is very frightened and so when she says ” Here’s a drink-I drink to thee.” and takes the potion it proves to the audience that she is very brave. You could also say that she is extremely loyal to her love for Romeo because she even risks her life to see him.

This might imply that Romeo is even weaker at solving problems in life than a woman, which makes him even less of a hero, as he does not contain manly characteristics.

Here, we can see that Romeo has four main faults; ignorance, imprudence, he is uncontrollable with his emotions and confides in only himself most of the time. You could say that these weaknesses make Romeo less of a hero as he has imperfections while heroes normally have no faults and are much admired by other people.

People will be also admired by the way they talk; if they use language that sounds romantic or impressively heroic. Most tragedy plays are spoken in dramatic poetry and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ does support this feature of a tragedy. We can also see how dramatic and heroic Romeo is by analysing the language he uses. We could also see whether there will be circumstances where the audience or other characters admire him for the way he expresses himself through speech.

At the beginning of the play, Romeo is in love with Rosaline, who does not return his love, this makes Romeo talk about it in a negative way by saying it makes him confused. He achieves this by using oxymorons such as “brawling love, O loving hate.” You could say that the language is very dramatic and makes Romeo’s character seem more tragic but because he cannot cope with love and thinks it is confusing you could say it lessens his heroism as he cannot even cope with a feeling, let alone a big situation.

But we soon see a big change in Romeo’s language when he is in love with Juliet; it becomes very poetic. He compares Juliet to “heaven”, stars and beautiful inspirational things of the world such “as a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”.

He informs the audience about Juliet’s beauty by saying “She doth teach the torches to burn bright!” The audience can imagine Juliet’s beauty being overwhelming bright- so much brighter than torches that she teaches them to burn bright. Romeo has used a metaphor for the torches as no one can really teach the torches to burn bright. He says that her eyes are the “fairest stars in all the heaven” and “that birds would sing and think it were not night”. The metaphor used of making Juliet’s eyes as stars make the audience imagine Juliet’s eyes to look like sparkling stars. The description of Juliet made by Romeo was more significant in the Shakespearean times as female characters were played by men and the audience often could not see their face in detail, thus making it more important for Romeo to describe Juliet’s appearance.

It is interesting of how Romeo is saying that each part of Juliet is so bright and beautiful that it may make some of her features dull, for example in the previous quote he says that Juliet’s cheeks are so bright that they make her eyes that are compared to stars look less bright “the brightness of her cheek would shame the stars” like how “daylight doth a lamp” He also calls her a “bright angel” and a “wing�d messenger of heaven”.

Romeo and Juliet also describe themselves as falcons or owners of falcons. Falconry was a popular sport in the Elizabethan times and falcons were often associated as the bird of princes. Juliet wants Romeo to be her falcon so she can call him back whenever she wants, “Hist, Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice, / To lure this tassel-gentle back again.” She also compares herself to an untamed falcon and thinks that Romeo can calm her love for him by hooding her head-“Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks.”

The poetic and metaphorical use for Juliet makes Romeo supports the view of Romeo being a tragic character and also because the language used is so romantic, the audience may admire him.

He also uses powerful, dramatic metaphorical language to describe the tomb he enters to see Juliet. He personifies the tomb that he is about to enter as a “detestable maw, thou womb of death, gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth (Juliet)”, which makes him seem like a hero when he says “thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open, And in despite I’ll cram thee with more food.” You can say that he seems brave and reminds the audience of a soldier overcoming his fear of dying in war by opening the mouth of this ‘monster tomb’ and sacrificing himself as food to see Juliet.

On the contrary, you could say that he is foolish in describing the tomb as a monster and going into it to kill himself by Juliet.

There are many ways that Romeo may gain adoration from the audience by using dramatic or romantic language but the audience may also admire Romeo for his cleverness and well-educated repartee with Mercutio thus making him more of a hero for people not just for the characters in the play. Romeo likes to talk wittily with Mercutio and all the time they try to outwit each other with puns in their words. Many of the words are used in conjunction with a sexual meaning. We can tell that Romeo likes to share a sexual joke with Mercutio quite often. Mercutio says “thou desirest me to stop in my tale against the hair” meaning the “tale” part to be his penis and Romeo enjoys his ‘dirty-minded’ wittiness by replying ” here’s goodly gear!” Romeo may have used “gear” to represent sexual organs and contributed to the end sexual joke.

It is not just the audience who may care for the welfare of Romeo but also other characters within the play do too, which makes him seem a hero because people suffer emotions for him. We learn from Montague near the end of the play that Lady Montague died from grief of her son being in exile, “the grief of my son’s death hath stopped her breath.” Even though you could say it was a coincidence that Lady Montague died when Romeo was exiled.

But you know that Lady Montague did care for Romeo’s well being because she had said she was “Right glad” “he was not at” the “fray” at the beginning of the play. This proves to the audience that other characters admire Romeo.

To conclude, we can see that Romeo is a tragic character as he is in a very much of a tragic play but although he shows some aspects of a hero, he is not much of a hero because he lets his emotions ultimately take his life. I think a hero should not be inferior to his emotions and should overcome them otherwise he cannot overcome fear, a feeling that most heroes can overcome.

Even though Romeo sometimes shows the physical qualities of a hero they are not of major value, for example, he does not save a crowd of people in danger. Most of the time, Romeo acts immaturely; he shows this by getting married early and killing Tybalt without thinking about the consequences.

I think Romeo is more admired as a romantic hero rather than a hero who saves people from danger. He is a character that is liked by the way he speaks but in general, he does not take any physical actions that are impressively heroic. So, you cannot really call him a true hero. Romeo is in a tragic play and so is a tragic character but not so much of a hero.

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