In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, how does Romeo's behaviour in the scene in which he learns of his banishment evoke both sympathy and scorn?

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romeo is a pathetic and pitiable figure in Act III, scene iii of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when he learns that the Prince has banished him for killing Tybalt. 

He is a pathetic figure because he is not happy just to be alive, since the penalty for his crime should have been death. He is sitting on the floor and wailing like a little child who did not get his way and now wants to cry about it. He committed a crime and, instead of being thankful to be given a second chance at life, he cannot get beyond the idea of being separated from Juliet--never even thinking that she would be able to find a way to join him. The audience is justified in scorning this ridiculously dramatic behavior. 

The Friar tells Romeo the world is much bigger than Verona and everything will be fine, but Romeo is again overdramatic:

There is no world without Verona walls,
But purgatory, torture, hell itself.
Hence-banished is banish'd from the world,
And world's exile is death: then banished,
Is death mis-term'd: calling death banishment,
Thou cutt'st my head off with a golden axe,
And smilest upon the stroke that murders me.

He goes on to exaggerate his loss, saying even flies that eat dead flesh may touch Juliet's hand, but he cannot; every mean creature, such as a mouse, can look at Juliet, but he cannot. When the Friar tries to talk reasonably with him about the positive things about being banished, Romeo retorts with the immature response that the Friar could not possibly understand anything and would want to die, like Romeo if he did.

Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel:
Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy love,
An hour but married, Tybalt murdered,
Doting like me and like me banished,
Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair,
And fall upon the ground, as I do now,
Taking the measure of an unmade grave.

This response--tearing at his hair and falling to the ground, wanting to die--is melodramatic and pathetic, indicating his immaturity and emotionalism; however, we should not be surprised, as we saw this same kind of response in the beginning of the play (only a day or two ago) when Romeo was mourning the loss of his "true love" Rosaline.

On the other hand, it is a terrible thing for Romeo to learn that he has been banished and, without some kind of trickery, will never see Juliet again. His love is new and wonderful, and the idea of losing it would, of course, be distressing. 

The two adults, the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, are both rather disgusted with his immaturity, and they are right to feel that way (despite the fact that both of them consistently demonstrate bad judgment regarding these two young people and their illicit relationship). While the audience is justified in feeling some sympathy for Romeo's plight, they are able to look at the situation more objectively than he is and find his reaction overdramatic and even ridiculous. 

Read the study guide:
Romeo and Juliet

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