In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet,  how is Romeo a tragic hero or not?

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

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Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero is that it is a character of high social status, such as a king or other high figure, who is a good person, but is also not a perfect person. The tragic hero will also be partially responsible for his/her own demise. The downfall will be brought on by a bad decision or a character flaw, rather than being brought on just by fate.

In that Romeo is a nobleman who is generally a good person, but makes bad decisions that lead to his demise, Romeo is a perfect example of a tragic hero. We know that Romeo is a nobleman because his mother is called Lady Montague, indicating that his father is a Lord. We are also told in the Prologue that both families are "alike in dignity," meaning honor and respect. We also know that Romeo is generally considered a good person, because at the feast Lord Capulet tells Tybalt to leave him alone, saying that, "Verona brags of him / To be a virtuous and well-govern'd youth" (I.v).
 
However, Romeo has several character flaws that lead to his demise. One character flaw is that he is prone to ungoverned emotions. He allows himself to pine in agony over Rosaline night after night. As his father phrases it,

Many morning hath he there been seen,
With tears augmenting the fresh morning dew.
Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs. (I.i)

Obviously, allowing oneself to fall into such profound emotions continuously is not healthy. A second character flaw is that he refuses to listen to reason and be counseled by his friends. Benvolio, seeing that Romeo's state of mind is not healthy, advises him, "Be ruled by me, forget to think of her" (I.i). It is this same unchecked emotion and inability to listen to reason that leads him to kill Tybalt. Romeo kills Tybalt as a result of his fury. However, by law, since Tybalt has just killed Mercutio, Tybalt would have soon been killed anyway. If he had only checked his emotions and turned and ran before Tybalt returned to the scene, everything would have gone much better for Romeo. It is Romeo's choice to kill Tybalt that ultimately leads to his own death and Juliet's. Therefore, Romeo is an excellent example of a tragic hero.

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