Why is Romeo a tragic hero, as seen in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Aristotle has given us the most commonly accepted definition of a tragic hero in his book Poetics. Aristotle defines a tragic hero as one who is of high social standing. In other words, a tragic hero is not just a peasant or a common man because seeing a ruler or leader fall is for more tragic than just the common man. A tragic hero must also be a generally noble, or "good and decent" person ("Aristotle & the Elements of Tragedy"). The tragic hero won't also be a villain; instead, he is someone the reader or audience will feel did not deserve his fate because of his general goodness. However, the tragic hero must also have what is considered to be a "fatal flaw" ("Aristotle"). In other words, while the tragic hero is a good person, he is not a perfect person. He has some character flaw or "moral blindness" or makes an "error" that leads to his downfall ("Aristotle"). So in order to see how Romeo fits the definition of a tragic hero, all you have to do is consider those three things. As we are limited in space, below are a couple of ideas to help get you started.

Romeo certainly is a character with high social standing. We know he has high social standing because his father is a Lord, which is a noble title. In fact, Shakespeare makes a point in his opening prologue of describing the two feuding families as being "[t]wo households, both alike in dignity," and the word dignity can be translated as "rank" or "station" (Prologue.1; Random House Dictionary"). While a Lord, or the only son of a Lord who will inherit the title, is not the highest social position, like a prince or king, a Lord is certainly a leader of society. Therefore, Romeo's standing as the only son of a Lord certainly does give him a high enough social position to fit the definition of a tragic hero.

The second and most important reason why Romeo fits the definition of a tragic hero is because he has a fatal flaw. His fatal flaw is easily seen as being that he allows himself to be governed by his rash, passionate emotions rather than by his rational mind. We first learn about how he allows himself to be guided by rash, passionate emotions when we see his reaction to having been rejected by Rosaline in the very first scene. He's seen staying out all night long and crying each morning. In fact, his father is so worried about his behavior that he fears Romeo may harm himself if no one councils him. Benvolio tries, but Romeo's only reaction to Benvolio's plea that he forget about Rosaline is, "O, teach me how I should forget to think!" (I.i.228). It's this same emotionalism and lack of rationalism that leads him to make other rash decisions, such as allowing himself to be persuaded to crash the Capulet ball, even though he knew through a dream he considered to be prophetic that the "night's revels" would cost him an "untimely death" (I.iv.116-18). Had he not allowed himself to be persuaded into crashing the ball, he never would have angered Tybalt, and his life never would have been put in jeopardy. His second emotionally driven, rash decision was avenging himself on Tybalt, even though rationally he knew that Tybalt would have been justly killed by the law. This rash decision led to his banishment, as well as to his own death and Juliet's as well.

angalikapoor | Student

1) The tragic hero is a character of noble stature and has greatness and Romeo was born in a rich family.

2)Though the tragic hero is pre-eminently great, he/she is not perfect. In anger he killed his wife's cousin.

3)The hero's downfall, therefore, is partially her/his own fault, the result of free choice. Romeo was foolish marrying so early, and then killing himself without knowing the truth


I am not sure if it is correct.

Hope it helps