Is Romeo a romantic, self-centered boy who doesn't care about the consequences of his actions?

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Noelle Matteson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Whether Romeo is a careless and selfish young man depends entirely on an individual’s interpretation. His youth is perhaps the only certainty here, and it does seem to lead to impetuosity. Like many teenagers, Romeo can be self-absorbed. He is lost in thought and self-pity over his unrequited love for Rosalind, but it is a fairly normal response to an unreciprocated crush. He quickly transfers his affection to Juliet, declaring, “Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.” This shift suggests that Romeo’s emotions might be based more on his fantasies than actual substance. He cannot wait to marry Juliet, whatever the consequences, indicating that he does not have much foresight. He also blames Juliet for his not succumbing more quickly to macho violence: “O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper soften'd valour's steel!” One of Romeo’s most violent acts is killing Paris, Juliet’s fiance, while trying to enter Juliet’s tomb.

However, Romeo exhibits more than mere recklessness. He demonstrates compassion and conscientiousness. He acknowledges that sneaking into the Capulet party is foolish, even if they do not have bad intentions: “And we mean well in going to this mask; / But 'tis no wit to go.” Even Lord Capulet praises him and his reputation: “He bears him like a portly gentleman; / And, to say truth, Verona brags of him / To be a virtuous and well-govern'd youth.” Romeo also refuses to give into Tybalt’s taunts, attempting to stop Tybalt and Mercutio from killing one another: “Gentlemen, for shame, forbear this outrage! / ... the prince expressly hath Forbidden bandying in Verona streets.” Especially in comparison to his crude friend Mercutio, Romeo also treats Juliet’s nurse with politeness.

In conclusion, Romeo certainly expresses self-centered and romantic flights of fancy, but the text indicates that this would be an overly simplistic reading of a character who possesses both good and bad qualities.