Romeo Character Analysis
Being the tragic protagonist in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is handsome, brave and gentle. He is trained in all manly accomplishments. Yet he is without a sufficient purpose in life. He is the slave of emotion. His soul quests for love. His character undergoes development. Romeo changes more than Juliet. He changes from love-sick callowness to steady maturity. There are three stages in which his character develops. In the beginning Romeo moons over Rosaline. In the second stage Romeo falls in love with Juliet, marries her, kills Tybalt and is exiled. In the final stage Romeo kills himself when he receives the false news of the death of Juliet.
Romeo’s First Stage
In the first few scenes Romeo is the Petrarchan lover in the Petrarchan situation. He creates poetical and pitiful phrases in honour of chaste and cold Rosaline. He thinks he loves irresponsive Rosaline. He appears to be in love with Rosaline, but in truth he is in love only with his own idea. He is really like the Duke is Twelfth Night, who sighs for Olivia. He speaks feelingly of love.
“Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs,
Being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lovers eyes,
Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers fears ;
What is it else? a madness most discreet,
A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.”
Romeo: A Very Favourite Character
But even in his first stage Romeo is something more than a vain, melancholy lover. He is noble, generous, virtuous and well-governed. He inspires the affection of his friends — Mercutio, Friar Laurence and Benvolio. He is everybody’s favourite with the single exception of fire-eating Tybalt. His friends and parents are devoted to him. Even Capulet, his enemy, speaks well of him and will not allow him to be molested.
“A bears him like a portly gentleman.
And to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-governed youth.
I would not for the wealth of all this town
Here in my house do him disparagement,”
Romeo’s Second Stage
Romeo’s passion for Rosaline was a faint shadow of reality. His real emotion of love comes to him when he sees Juliet. The sight of Juliet obliterates Rosaline from his mind. His love is now real, permanent, and complete. He no longer mopes and moons but chooses the course of action. He comes face to face with realities that demand exercise of will, contempt of danger and action. In Juliet’s company he is earnest without losing his gaiety and lightness.
Romeo is a naturally gay and loves pun and fun. Once he is freed from the melancholy of mooning for unresponsive, coldly chaste Rosaline, he becomes witty, as he really is. Once his ardent quest for love is consummated in Juliet, he finds his own. Then he becomes normal, and natural. There is now no rhapsodizing, no sighing. He can now quip merrily and shoot the arrows of wit. He reveals himself Mercutio’s equal in wit and quibbling. Romeo’s skill in verbal dueling is emphasized by comparison with the stodgy contributions made by loyal Benvolio. Mercutio speaks of Romeo, thinking him to be under the baneful influence of Rosaline.
“Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead –stabbed with a white Wench’s black eye; run through the car with a love song ; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bowboy’s butt-shaft. And is he a man to encounter Tybalt?”
But when Romeo, now that his love is realized, proves his worth in the sallies of wit, Mercutio admires him:
“Why is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable. Now art thou Romeo. Now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature.”
He is now a transformed Romeo. He is in high spirits because he is accepted by his new un-Laura-like love.
Romeo’s Strength and Generosity
Romeo’s youthfulness is now turning to manliness. His refusal to fight when Tybalt challenges him is a sign of strength, not of weakness. To suffer calmly the hateful strutting of Tybalt, and to risk the contempt of Mercutio and Benvolio requires moral courage. It is, in fact, Romeo’s love that makes him refuse to fight Tybalt until Tybalt has killed Mercutio. Shakespeare, as Peter Alexander has pointed out, shows Romeo behaving with exemplary composure and forbearance, though insulted by a quarrelsome bully in the presence of his friends. Mercutio’s death affords Romeo the opportunity to reveal that he is no milk-and-water hero. He kills Tybalt, the expert duelist.
Romeo’s progress to the status of tragic hero is questioned when, after the sentence of banishment, he weeps bitterly. But this lasts only for a short while and later on Romeo rises to the occasion.
Romeo’s Third Stage
In the second stage he is transformed from youth to manhood by love and situations. But his transformation is not complete. Now after his banishment he achieves his full strength. When he is informed of the false death of Juliet, he shows greatest restraint and strength of character. He does not weep.
He speaks to Apothecary with authority “There is thy gold; worse poison to men’s’ souls.” At Juliet’s tomb he calls Paris ‘youth’. The feeling that he is now going to die gives him a maturity beyond his years. Romeo dies the master of his fate.
Romeo’s Rashness and Maturity
It has been pointed out that Romeo is rash in taking the poison. But his rashness is diminished when we compare him with other characters. T.J.B. Spencer says,
“Our impression of his rashness is to some extent diminished by contrast both with Tybalt and with Mercutio, neither of whom shows any restraint in the murderous pursuit of his ‘honour’.”
Moreover, though his impetuosity remains, there are many small indications of Romeo’s maturing in the fifth Act. Notably he has new concern for others. He feels for the Apothecary as a human being “Buy food and get thy self in flesh.” He arranges for a letter to his parents. He takes thought for his servant Balthasar: “Live, and be prosperous and farewell.” He feels for the plight of young Paris, one writ with him in the misfortune’s book. He begs pardon of Tybalt.
Inexpressible beautiful and moving is this gentleness of Romeo in his death hour. His yearning to be at peace with his foe, his beseeching pardon of him and calling him kinsman in taken of final atonement, his forbearance and even magnanimity towards Paris, his words of closing consideration and kindly farewell to his faithful Balthasar, all combine to crown Romeo as the prince of youthful gentleman and lovers.
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