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In Shakespeare's poignant tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is at first impulsively infatuated with Juliet, then he becomes passionately in love, and, finally, he is unselfishly in love with Juliet.
After being rejected by Rosaline in the beginning of Act I because she is entering a nunnery, Romeo begs his friend Benvolio to teach him how to forget. He is melodramatic in his grief:
She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow
Do I live dead, that live to tell it now. (1.1.214-215)
After a servant of the Capulets passes by and invites them to the Capulets' party because he cannot read the invitation and has no idea what it says, Benvolio encourages Romeo to attend because there he will see other beauties who will help Romeo to forget Rosaline. Romeo complies, and wearing masks, Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio arrive at the house of Capulet. In Scene 5, Romeo first sees Juliet, and asks a servingman who she is. "I know not," he replies.
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear--
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (1.5.42-45)
In love "at first sight," Romeo rushes to meet Juliet; he approaches her boldly using the metaphor of being a pilgrim and Juliet as a saint--"this holy shrine." When Romeo learns that Juliet is Lord Capulet's daughter, he exclaims, "My life is my foe's debt" (1.5.119) because he continues to pursue Juliet by scaling the walls of the Capulet orchard so that he can sight of her again.
When Juliet discovers him underneath her balcony, she tells Romeo that he would have been killed if one of the guards had seen him, but he mitigates this danger by telling her "there lies more peril in thine eye" if she should refuse him.
As Romeo converses with Juliet, who is worried that he be discovered by the Capulet guards, Romeo tells her that he is better off being killed by them than have death prolonged by the lack of her love.
My life were better ended by their hate
Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love. (2.2.77-79)
He becomes impassioned, swearing his love for her,
Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops-- (2.2.107-108)
and when Juliet would return to her chamber, he asks her how she can leave him unsatisfied. So, she asks Romeo what satisfaction he wants, and he replies that he desires her "love's faithful vow for his" (2.2.127); that is, he asks Juliet to marry him.
After this promise, Romeo rushes to Friar Lawrence to have him perform the marriage ceremony. The priest recognizes the "violent delight" of Romeo's passion and urges him to be more prudent. However, he agrees to perform the ceremony as the marriage between Romeo and Juliet may stop the "rancor" between the two families. Nevertheless, he cautions Romeo to be less passionate and impetuous: "These violent delight have violent ends" (2.6.9).
Romeo's passion for Juliet does, indeed, lead to violent ends when he encounters Tybalt, who antagonizes Mercutio. When Romeo attempts to be reasonable with Tybalt, he tells him he loves him because he is now part of the Capulet family, the fiery Tybalt believes Romeo insults him. As a consequence of this misunderstanding, Tybalt's violent nature causes him to slay Mercutio. Then, Romeo becomes violent and slays Tybalt. He is then banished from Verona and must stay in Mantua.
3. Unselfish love
Although Romeo's love for Juliet and for Mercutio is passionate, it is also unselfish because he risks his life to intervene and try to bring peace between the Capulets and the Montagues.
While he is banished, Romeo stays in contact with Friar Lawrence through Friar John. However, there is a plague and Mantua is quarantined. In the meantime, Juliet goes through her crisis of mourning for both Tybalt and Romeo; shortly thereafter, she is ordered by Lord Capulet to marry Paris. Because she is already secretly married and loves Romeo, Friar Lawrence devises a plan that will buy some time for Juliet and for him to try to ameliorate the conflicts: He has Juliet drink a potion that makes her seem dead for a time. When she awakens in the tomb, Friar Lawrence can be there to rescue her.
Unfortunately, Romeo learns nothing of these happenings since Friar John is prohibited from entering Mantua. When Balthasar, Romeo's servant, comes to Mantua, he tells Romeo that Juliet has been buried. Distraught by this news and in despair, Romeo purchases poison and rushes to the Capulet tomb. There he discovers Juliet in her "death sleep," but believing her to be dead, he kills himself because he loves her so much that his own life is worth nothing without her.
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