In Act I, scene 5 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, what does Romeo's immediate reaction to Juliet suggest about his character?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I, scene 5 of his play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare presents Romeo’s reactions upon first seeing Juliet.  These reactions suggest some of the following aspects of his character:

  • Romeo’s first comment about Juliet “enrich[ing] the hand” of a “knight” suggests that he is immediately struck by her appearance, thereby suggesting the importance of physical beauty in his scheme of values.
  • Romeo’s immediate fixation on Juliet (when he is supposedly already in love with another lady) implies that his passions can be fickle and perhaps even shallow.
  • The beautiful language with which Romeo describes Juliet’s beauty suggests that he is articulate, creative, and sensitive.
  • The fact that Romeo immediately wants to touch Juliet’s hand after she is done dancing suggests already his physical interest in her.
  • When Romeo first speaks to Juliet, he praises her in language shot through with religious metaphors – a fact that many people might interpret as ironic, inappropriate, and even idolatrous. On the other hand, such language might be interpreted by others as an indication of Romeo’s “mannerly” respect for Juliet (a word Juliet herself uses).
  • The fact that Romeo already wants to kiss Juliet when he is only four lines into his first address to her might imply his haste and impulsiveness.
  • The whole tone of Romeo’s opening words to Juliet make him sound like a typical Petrarchan lover – a lover of the sort described by the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca in his Rime sparse collection of poems. Petrarch’s influence on English poetry had been enormous by the time Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, and in this scene (and earlier) Shakespeare describes Romeo in ways that make him resemble the impassioned, despairing, obsessive lovers whom Petrarchan poets described.
  • The fact that Romeo kisses Juliet despite her attempts to dissuade him suggests that he is the kind of young man who will have his way:

ROMEO. Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take.

Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged. [Kissing her]

  • Once more, the fact that Romeo kisses Juliet twice within minutes of meeting her suggests (if we judge simply by this scene) that his interest in her is mainly physical, although not crudely so.
  • The fact that Romeo immediately seems to forget about his former lady and to assume that his love is now entirely focused on Juliet can again make him seem impulsive and passionate – traits that would have troubled many Elizabethans. (Juliet’s subsequent reaction to Romeo in this scene seems, if anything, even more extreme than his reaction to her.)