In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, what is the role of male friendship in Romeo and Juliet, and how does it affect the play?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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One of Shakespeare's most central themes in Romeo and Juliet shows the duality between passion and reason, arguing that reason should come above passionate feelings, even if they are feelings of love rather than hatred. Both passionate feelings are treated alike respectively. The male friendships in the play serve to portray both this contrast and this theme. The male friends are portrayed as inseparable friends who both paradoxically feed each others' tendencies towards passionate feelings and violence, but also try and counsel each other out of such feelings and incidents as well. It is also very important that none of the male friends actually listen to each others' advice.

We see the male friends portray this paradox between peaceful reasoning and passionate, violent tendencies in the early scenes of the play. In the first scene, we see Benviolio, portrayed as the peace lover, try to stop the fight between the two families' servants, beating "down their swords" with his own, saying, "Part, fools! / Put up your swords. you know not what you do" (I.i.59-60). However, paradoxically, Benvolio decides to invite trouble by crashing the Capulet's feast. It may have even been primarily his idea because the last thing he says to Romeo in the first scene is, "I'll pay that doctrine, or else die in debt," meaning that he intends to prove Romeo wrong for thinking that Benvolio cannot teach him to stop thinking of Rosaline and think of other women instead (241). Also, Benvolio is the first speaker in Act 1, Scene 4 to lay out the plan: they intend to show up to the masquerade in masks, "measure them a measure, and be gone," meaning have a dance and then leave (10-11). Benvolio should have known that crashing the Capulet's masquerade feast would only invite more violence. Hence, Benvolio is portraying a paradoxical contrast between his peace loving attitude and his mischievous side. Not only that, persuading Romeo to join eventually leads to both his friends' deaths, Romeo's and Mercutio's.

We also see the male friends refuse to listen to each others' advice, further showing a paradoxical contrast between a longing for peace and a persistence in violent emotions. Romeo refuses to listen to Benvolio's advice to forget about Rosaline in the first scene. In another instance, Mercutio refuses to listen to Benvolio's advice to get off the street for fear that another brawl between the Capulets would be started, as we see in his lines:

The day is hot, the Capulets abroad,
And, if we meet, we shall not scape a brawl. (2-3)

In addition, Friar Laurence advises Romeo that he is being far too hasty in deciding to marry Juliet so suddenly and in secret, as we see from his line, "Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast," meaning, you are being far too hasty (II.iii.97). Hence, even though Friar Laurence thought the marriage was unwise, Romeo refuses to listen to his advice, and instead, Friar Laurence gives in to Romeo's desires, which ultimately leads to many deaths.

Hence, the paradox that Shakespeare paints between the male friends both counseling each other out of passionate and violent emotions, but also helping each other get into scrapes, helps portray Shakespeare's theme of reason vs. passion.


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