What does Romeo's question to Capulet's servant in lines 42-44 of Act 1, Scene 5 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet tell us about Romeo's concept of love and his character?
Romeo: To a Servingman.
What lady's that, which doth
enrich the hand
Of yonder knight? (44)
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In this scene, when Romeo first sees Juliet, she is dancing with a knight at her father's feast. Since she is dancing, she is holding the hand of her partner. When Romeo asks a servant who Juliet is, referring to her as "enrich[ing] the hand" of a knight, he is seeing Juliet hold hands with the knight and thinking of how blessed the knight is to be being touched by Juliet. Hence, the phrase "enrich the hand" tells us that Romeo thinks she is beautiful, but it also tells us that Romeo thinks of love in purely physical terms. For Romeo, love is physical beauty and the emotions that physical touch elicits.
This passage can also be seen as being used by Shakespeare as characterization because it tells us that Romeo is no different from any other man, but it also helps to begin to point out just exactly how young Romeo is. All men put a great deal of value on physical appearance, however, younger men have an even greater tendency to do so. The fact that Romeo equates love with the physical touch of Juliet's hand shows us how inexperienced Romeo is with both physical touch and love. Had he been older and more experienced, he may have commented on her looks without focusing on the fact that she is touching the knight.
When Romeo asks the Servingman, "What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand of yonder knight," it suggests that Romeo's concept of love is that the female is a treasure which adds riches to a man's life. In a way, he perceives the woman to be an accessory, such a jewel worn to adorn oneself.
Because Romeo views beauty as a sign of love, that he loves what he sees beautiful, it shows him to be a vain man. In the same act that he asks this question, he also says, "Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night," which suggests that love and beauty go hand in hand.
Romeo views women to be a sort of expensive and beautiful property which enrich their "owner" which in this case is a knight. Romeo's concept of love shows that he prefers to be the dominant partner in a relationship and that women are only useful for adornment.
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