Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
Of the many tragic heroes of Shakespeare, Romeo continues to exercise a peculiar fascination over the minds of young men and women. He stands out as the emblem of youthful love, its disappointment, and its possibility for tragedy.
Romeo is the only son of Lord Montague, the head of a reputed and rich family of Verona that is plagued by its long-standing feud with the Capulet family. In the first scenes, Romeo appears indifferent to his family's feud. His only concern is his love for Rosaline, a love, which is overwhelming, but artificial. Romeo is really in love with the idea of love. When he does not receive love in return, he grows melancholy and brooding. Even his friend Benvolio cannot distract him.
At the Capulet dance, Romeo meets the beautiful Juliet. Rosaline is quickly forgotten, and Romeo is transformed from a brooding youth that talks about love to a young man who is capable of quick, decisive action. In truth, "the gentle lamb" turns into a "passionate lover". Romeo's deep feelings for Juliet, who ironically and tragically is a Capulet, are very different from the shallow love he has felt for other woman, including Rosaline. This genuine love makes him bold, and he is prepared to take any risk for Juliet. He bravely goes into her garden after the party, even though he chances being caught and punished. His risk is repaid when he hears Juliet express her love for him as well. They pledge themselves to one another and make plans to marry the next day. Friar Lawrence performs the marriage ceremony for the couple, hoping in so doing to unite their two families.
Romeo's love for Juliet softens him towards all Capulets. In fact, when Tybalt insults him, Romeo keeps his cool and does not respond. Instead, Mercutio is provoked to fight Tybalt and is killed. Romeo feels he has no choice; his friend must be avenged. He fights Tybalt, kills him, and flees to take refuge in the cell of Friar Lawrence. There he learns he has been banished from Verona and must leave Juliet. The thought of being separated from his bride drives Romeo into such depression that he tries to take his own life. Friar Lawrence counsels Romeo he must learn patience. Unfortunately, he never does.
Romeo is, indeed, young, inexperienced, hasty, and impatient. Upon first sight, he immediately falls in love with Juliet, but it is a much deeper and more genuine love than he has ever known. In haste, he also arranges his marriage to her, the very same night he meets her; the marriage is planned for the next day. In the same manner, when he hears of Juliet's death from Balthazar, he purchases a powerful poison and kills himself without a second thought. Had Romeo only acted with a little more caution and deliberation, his tragic ending could have been prevented. Because of this incredible love for Juliet and desire to be with her for eternity, Romeo has been identified as one of the world's greatest lovers.
Shakespeare is said to have created a masterpiece in the development of the character of Juliet. Her exquisite beauty and personal charms are amongst the finest in literature. In describing Juliet, Romeo captures the depth of her loveliness. "Juliet is the sun and the brightness of her cheek would shame the stars."
Juliet, who is almost fourteen years old, is the only child of the Capulets. She is blissfully ignorant of the ways of the world, and at the beginning of the play turns to her Nurse for guidance and advice. As the play develops and Juliet becomes the wife of Romeo, she quickly matures into a new person who can think for herself and stand on her own. She openly defies the Nurse and her parents. She screams at the Nurse, "Go Counselor," and boldly resists her parents' decision for her to marry Paris. Love has truly transformed her.
Juliet is an innocent who has never even been in love until she meets Romeo. When she falls in love with Romeo, a Montague, she cannot begin to fathom the consequences of her action. She can only totally surrender to the man who worships her. On the balcony, she almost swoons before him. Later, she feels embarrassed that she has been so immodest in revealing the depths of her sentiments to Romeo. Once she is convinced of his sincerity, however, she regains control and begins to show practicality and decisiveness. Once they are pledged to each other, she instructs Romeo to make arrangements with the Friar for marrying them. The misfortunes that follow the wedding truly test her youthful capabilities, but she rises to each occasion. After Romeo is exiled, she plans how Romeo can come into her chamber to consummate the marriage. At the Friar's advice, she successfully pretends to her parents that she will marry Paris. She is so well able to disguise her feelings that she not only outwits her parents but also the Nurse. In spite of her fears about being in a tomb, she drinks the potion that will make her appear dead. When she awakes from her trance and sees her dead husband at her side, she decisively picks up his dagger and kills herself. The power of love transformed her from a submissive child to the height of womanhood.
Mercutio, whose name suggests his mercurial character, is a relative of the Prince and a man of rank. He mixes with people from both enemy houses and is an adult friend of Romeo. He serves as a foil to Romeo as well. His sarcasm, scorn of love, and interest in dueling are exactly the opposite of the sincerity, passion, and pacifism of Romeo. Mercutio also possesses a deep wit; although he is disposed to laugh away the woes of others, he is still interested in people in a congenial way.
Early in the play, Mercutio ridicules Romeo's love for Rosaline, to the point of coarseness. He speaks with irony in referring to Romeo's other loves and makes light of premonitions, dreams, and sentimentality, especially Romeo's. He derides sham and pretension, yet he delights in puns and twisting the meaning of words. His Queen Mab speech is delightful, although somewhat out of character.
Mercutio is a skillful duelist. When Romeo refuses to fight Tybalt after being insulted by him, Mercutio decides to fight with Tybalt himself, which sets the pattern of tragedy in motion for the rest of the play. Because Romeo tries to stop the duel and gets in the way, Mercutio is mortally wounded in the duel. Even as he is dying, Mercutio is witty and makes light of his wounds even though he knows they are fatal. As a result, Romeo must defend the honor of his dead friend and slays Tybalt. Mercutio, therefore, serves as comic relief and as a catalyst to the action of the entire play.
Benvolio is Romeo's cousin and close friend and Lord Montague`s nephew. His name, Benvolio, means well wishing, which is reflective of his character throughout the play. In the very first scene, Benvolio establishes himself as a peacemaker as he tries to stop the fight between Abraham and Samson. He also means well by Romeo and tries to prod him out of his romantic dreams about Rosaline through gentle reproof. He encourages Romeo to go to the Capulet party, for it will be an opportunity for him to see Verona beauties other than osaline. At the party, Romeo does spy another beauty that makes him forget Rosaline, just as Benvolio had hoped; unfortunately, it will be a tragic love affair between Romeo and Juliet. Although not directly, Benvolio does much to propel the action forward in the play.
Benvolio is again pictured as the peacemaker after the Capulet party. Before Romeo joins them, he urges Mercutio to withdraw from the street before the Capulets find them. When Tybalt arrives and draws his sword to fight Romeo, he begs them to settle the quarrel with a quiet talk. He stands helpless when Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo kills Tybalt. At that moment, he advises Romeo to seek safety in hiding. When the Prince asks for an explanation of the fighting, Benvolio tells him how Romeo had done his utmost to prevent the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio and how he himself had tried to stop Romeo and Tybalt from fighting. He disappears from the play after these failures, for fate has now taken over and he can serve no purpose against it.
Friar Lawrence is a likable old gentleman. As a monk of the Franciscan order, he is devoted to preaching, caring for the sick, and doing missionary work. As the high priest of the parish, he serves as the father confessor of all in the play, both Montagues and Capulets. A peace loving man, Friar Lawrence is greatly concerned about the rivalry between the two families and seeks a way to bring peace between them. Because of this desire, he consents to secretly marry Romeo and Juliet, hoping that their union will be able to reconcile the warring factions.
Perhaps Friar Lawrence is too kind and willing to assist all that come to him for advice or help. When Romeo comes to him about a marriage ceremony, he agrees to perform it quickly and in secret, even though he reproves Romeo for fickleness and impetuousness. When Romeo hides in the Friar's cell after slaying Tybalt, the Friar approves of Romeo staying with him until night, when he will go to Juliet and consummate the marriage. He also promises to send news of Verona to Romeo during his exile in Mantua; in fact, he tells Romeo he will try to devise a plan to reunite the two lovers. After Juliet is forced by her father into a betrothal to Paris, she goes to Friar Lawrence to seek his advice. The good Friar is now in too deep to turn back. Knowing plants and poisons, he suggests that Juliet take a potion to make her appear dead and actually gives it to her to take back to her bedchamber to drink. By drinking the potion, fair Juliet can prevent her marriage to Paris.
Friar Lawrence's well-laid plan is to save Juliet from the vault and reconcile her with her husband Romeo. Unfortunately, the Friar's letter to Romeo does not reach him and he must go to rescue Juliet from the vault. Friar Lawrence arrives at the tomb after Paris, Romeo, and Juliet are dead. Since he is present when the authorities arrive, they suspect him of murder and arrest him. Because he has written a letter that proves his innocence, he is soon exonerated.
As a man of religion, he is extremely sympathetic to the problems of others, especially of Romeo and Juliet. He tries to do his utmost for them. The preposterous nature of the means he adopts to help the lovers only points out his humane approach to their problems. If Friar Lawrence has a flaw, it is caring too deeply and too much.
Tybalt is the nephew of Lady Capulet. As a young man, he seems to represent what Capulet must have been in his young days; but he has none of the redeeming features of his uncle and is more like his aunt. With his quarrelsome nature, Tybalt is like a fireball, ready to explode at any moment. When he hears Romeo's voice at the party, he calls for his sword and is ready to kill his enemy on the spot, completely unmindful of place and time. He persistently rejects his uncle's remonstrance to stay calm at the dance. He discourteously leaves only when he is threatened with disinheritance, and even as he does so, he vows vengeance on Romeo in the future.
He later sends a letter to Romeo challenging him to fight, merely because he has dared to enter the dance hall. He walks about the street seeking his enemy. When he finally meets Romeo, he insults him by calling him a villain. Romeo, because of his new found love, refuses to fight with him. When Mercutio interferes, Tybalt fights with Mercutio and kills him. He flees for the moment, but after some time returns to face Romeo again. Romeo fights and slays him. The death of Tybalt snowballs the crisis for Romeo and Juliet.
Tybalt does not possess any pleasing qualities, any superior mental ability, or any gentlemanliness. He is hot tempered, discourteous, defiant, and quarrelsome. His only claim to fame is as a duelist, and his only good points are his loyalty to the Capulets and his normally proper manners.
Lord Capulet, the head of his family and father to Juliet, is about sixty years of age but calls himself young. His evident wealth ranks him with the many merchant princes of his time, but his social status is lower than that of the Prince, Paris, and Mercutio. By personality, he is fiery, pugnacious, interfering, forgetful, and domineering; but at the same time, he can be courteous, hospitable, and generous, as he appears at his party. He delights in entertaining lavishly and personally welcomes and jests with his guests. When Tybalt tries to insult Romeo, one of the guests, while at the party, Capulet tries to pacify him and then threatens to disinherit if he does not behave under his roof.
Lord Capulet is much guiltier than Montague about continuing the rivalry between the two houses, and it is his faction that usually provokes the fighting. He is overly familiar with his servants, enduring their retorts and interfering in their work. He engages twenty cooks for an elaborate wedding feast when only twenty guests have been invited.
Capulet dearly loves his daughter Juliet, but likes to have his way with her. He is very considerate of her feelings when he first speaks to Paris about their marriage; he states that his consent to the marriage depends upon her wishes, and tells Paris that he needs to woo and win her. Later, when Juliet is grieving over Tybalt, he overrules any consideration of her feelings. When she refuses to marry Paris, he becomes angry and calls her vile names, threatening to turn her out on the street and to disinherit her. He fixes the day of the marriage for Thursday and suddenly advances it to Wednesday. He is highly insensitive to the feelings of Juliet when she defies him.
In his good moods, Capulet's language is smooth, genial, and courtly; in his passion, he becomes insulting and coarse; and in his grief he is simple and dignified.
Lady Capulet is still a young woman, many years younger than her sixty year-old
husband. She also has fewer redeeming qualities than he does. She ridicules
his age in the presence of others and endeavors to assert her authority over
him. Capulet completely ignores her on all occasions thus showing she has no
influence over him. She also has very little influence over her daughter; she
has had little part in her upbringing and still treats Juliet as a child.
The shock that Lady Capulet receives over Juliet's supposed death removes all superfluity from her, and the grief-stricken mother comes out. Her sorrow over the loss of her child is immense, which she clearly expresses with a string of adjectives. "Accurs't unhappy, wretched hateful day!", are genuinely from the heart. Lady Capulet is an unsympathetic, heartless, scheming woman, until she is overtaken by tragedy.
Lord Montague's social position in Verona is the same as that of the Lord Capulet, but he, his son Romeo, and his nephew Benvolio, are far from being eager to fight their enemies. Lord Montague is a foil to Lord Capulet. He is self-controlled, quiet, and dignified. He loves his son dearly and grieves over his strange behavior and his secretiveness. His first words spoken in the play, "The villain Capulet! Hold me not, let me go," are dramatically intended to inform the audience, at the outset, of the relations between the two houses. Even in this exclamation, the reader can see his mildness and self-control. He does not want to be involved in a fight with the Capulets.
Lord Montague's role in the play is limited. In the opening scene, he begs Benvolio to find out what is wrong with Romeo. In Act III, Scene 1, he pleads with the Prince to consider that Romeo, in killing Tybalt, has only done what the law otherwise would have done. In the closing scene, he announces that he was grieved over Romeo's exile; now he has to face his son's death. He accepts Capulet's hand but is too much overcome with grief to speak about forgetting the past enmity. He does, however, propose to raise a golden statue of Juliet for her everlasting remembrance.
Lady Montague's character is not much developed in the play. She speaks only once, stating her happiness that Romeo was not involved in the street fight in the opening scene. She is present with her husband in Act III, Scene 1, but says nothing, apparently overcome by the sentence of banishment of Romeo. In the closing scene, her husband reveals that she died in grief over Romeo's exile.
Lady Montague is cast in a more suave and womanly manner than Lady Capulet is. She says nothing but restrains her husband from fighting by throwing her arms around him. She loves him and does not want him to be hurt or to engage in a fray forbidden by the Prince. She is more interested in her son's welfare than in the cause of the fight. She is devoted to her husband and her son and in the end dies a sad death.
Prince Escalus is the absolute ruler of an independent Italian city-state. He is a type rather than a personality. He stands as a supreme power over the welfare of the city. He appears at the opening of the play as a director, in the middle as a watchful observer, and at the close as a judge. However much he may chide the heads of the two houses to keep peace in his city, a power still higher, Fate, takes control and brings about the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and subsequent peace that Escalus had demanded.
In Act III, Scene 1, the Prince appears when his night's sleep is disturbed by the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. When he learns how the deaths have occurred, he gives his judgment of exile for Romeo. The Capulets are punished in the death of their nephew and the Montagues lose their son Romeo to exile. The Prince's judgment is free from personal vengeance. Both houses are heavily fined for fostering enmity against his orders. He pays no attention to the ravings of Lady Capulet, yet listens to Montague's plea for Romeo.
In his third appearance in the closing scene, Escalus represents a higher power and feels partially responsible for the tragedy. He at once takes control of the situation, examines the witnesses patiently, and gives his decision immediately, suppressing all indication of his personal loss in the series of tragic events.
In speech, the Prince is formal and pompous. In action, he is quick and decisive. In judgment, he is fair in his examination of witnesses before pronouncing his verdict. He prides himself on not allowing the deaths of his two near relations to influence him in the investigation. He attempts to treat all his subjects alike, rich or lowly. Though he is the absolute ruler of Verona, he lacks insight into character and practical sense, for his instructions do not quell the feuding and violence in the city.
Count Paris is a close relative of the Prince and, therefore, is not involved in the enmity between the Capulets and Montagues. Very handsome himself, he is attracted to the beauty of Juliet and asks Lord Capulet for her hand in marriage. As always, he is formal and proper in making his request. Paris's first meeting with Juliet is at the Capulet dance, where he compares her to the other Verona beauties; he reassures Capulet that she is the girl he wants to marry. When he meets her at the Friar's cell, Paris is courteous and complimentary to Juliet, but is somewhat perplexed by her behavior. His feelings on seeing Juliet dead are deep and real, making him much more human than he has appeared before. He is shocked over the disruption of his plans and grieved over Juliet's death. He shows no desire to fight with Romeo at the tomb, but his self-respect compels him to arrest the man who, he thinks, is responsible for Juliet's sorrow and death. He draws his sword when Romeo refuses to be arrested; in the duel with Romeo Paris is killed.
Count Paris stands as a contrast to Romeo's character. He is purely conventional and unromantic about love and marriage, offering his rank in exchange for Juliet's beauty. He knows he is worthy of Juliet, for he is a man of good birth, culture, and uprightness in life.
The Nurse is a triumphant and complete achievement of comic personality. She stands four-square, and lives and breathes in her own right from the moment she appears in the play. The Capulet family has employed her since the birth of Juliet, and the young girl's upbringing has been left entirely in her hands. She is fondly attached to Juliet, whom she calls as her lamb and her ladybird. She also praises Juliet's beauty as "the prettiest babe that ever I loved." She is so faithful to Juliet that she follows her wishes even when she knows that they are not in the family's interest.
The Nurse displays the workings of an uneducated mind. The humor lies in the fact that she tries to affect the language and manners of educated people. In conversation, she rambles off from one thought to another. She does not know when to be silent and introduces matters that should not be revealed
The chief characteristic of the Nurse is her ignorance. This ignorance, combined with her pompous manners and self-importance, make her a really humorous character. She struts about the street followed by her page Peter. She orders him about whenever she meets strangers and puts on airs with her fan. Her talkativeness and love of gossip are found throughout the play and are usually filled with humor. In fact, the Nurse is the liveliest character in the play and one of Shakespeare's most memorable humorous characters.
In spite of her good points, the Nurse is weak of will. She is unable to decide who is the better husband for Juliet: Paris or Romeo. She calls Romeo, a most excellent young man, courteous, kind and handsome, virtuous and she will do everything in her power to bring about their marriage. When Romeo is exiled, she feels Paris is a better husband for Juliet. To Juliet she says, "Paris is a lovely gentleman! Romeo's a dis-clout to him!" She is vulgar and coarse, frequently displaying her lowly origin. Her dishonesty and disloyalty are found in her acceptance of a bribe from Romeo and deserting him in favor of Paris. For all her upbringing of Juliet, she is unable to understand her true feelings and fails to read her intentions when she apparently accepts Paris.
In spite of her shortcomings, the Nurse strives to be a good caretaker for Juliet. She believes that all that she does is in the best interests of her mistress. She carries out Juliet's plan faithfully for her marriage with Romeo. She is the most deeply grieved of all over Juliet's supposed death, losing her power of speech on the news. The Nurse, for all her vanity and pretentiousness, is trusty faithful and sincere at heart.
Copyright 1997-2000 PinkMonkey.com, Inc.
All Rights Reserved. Distribution without the written consent of PinkMonkey.com, Inc. is prohibited.