Last Updated on November 5, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653
Extended Character Analysis
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Romeo is one of the titular characters in Shakespeare’s famed romantic tragedy and Juliet’s young lover. He is the only son of Lord and Lady Montague, nobles of Verona. Although intelligent, he is also immature, impetuous, and reckless. His one focus throughout the play is love, though not necessarily the women to whom he alleges his love. Simply put, he is enamored with the idea of love. Although he tends to be more serious than his friends, he enjoys joking with them, especially Mercutio, in bawdy sexually-laced double entendres, and he acts recklessly in order to live out his romantic fantasies.
At the start of the play, Romeo’s friends notice that he is not acting like himself. They soon realize that Romeo is lovesick. He is madly in love with Rosaline, a character never seen on stage. However, their courtship is doomed to fail, because Rosaline has vowed never to marry. Romeo’s language throughout the early portion of the play demonstrates that he is less enamored with Rosaline than he is with the idea of falling in love. He tries to encapsulate his feelings in romantic sonnets, but his words come out choppy and disingenuous. In an effort to lift Romeo's spirits, Benvolio tells him his feelings are just infatuation brought on by lack of experience with women. Romeo’s friends then encourage him to attend the Capulet's party to get out of his lovesick slump.
At the Capulet's party, Romeo sees Juliet and falls in love with her immediately. Many readers and audiences interpret Romeo’s falling out of love with Rosaline as a sign of his reckless and overly emotional behavior. However, others view his change of heart as a transformation of character. In many ways, Romeo’s attitude towards love evolves from that of a naive, love-sick teenager to that of an adult. During their brief courtship, Juliet recognizes that Romeo’s language follows romantic tropes, overly sentimental cliches, and fantastical metaphors. When Romeo comes to Juliet’s balcony at night and tells her, “Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear, / That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops—”, Juliet interjects, “O, swear not by the moon… do not swear at all.” Romeo idolizes Juliet, speaking of her in overly romanticized language and imagining her as an ethereal, magnificent being. He believes she is unattainable and thus otherworldly. Juliet, who is more levelheaded than her rash counterpart, tells him to love her on his own accord and not according to the poetry he has read. When Juliet criticizes him for kissing by “th’ book,” he quickly transforms into a more genuine lover. Romeo’s relationship with Juliet allows—and encourages—him to grow up. His verbose language, once awkward, matures into some of Shakespeare’s most eloquent and passionate poetry.
While Romeo’s idea of love evolves throughout the play, he is still a teenager who makes several tragic mistakes, calling into question the extent to which he develops over the play. Despite showing a measure of self control in his refusal of Tybalt's challenge, Romeo loses his self restraint after Mercutio is stabbed and slays Tybalt, failing to consider how his actions affect his relationship with Juliet. When he cries "O, I am fortune's fool" (III.i.136), he may be realizing the consequences of his actions—a realization that comes too late.
Romeo is then banished for killing Tybalt, separating him from his beloved Juliet. When Friar Laurence tells Romeo that his banishment is better than death, Romeo replies that it is better to die than to be without Juliet. His emotional reaction to Friar Laurence's statement can be interpreted as a demonstration of his passionate commitment to Juliet. Romeo’s capacity for love cements the tragedy at the end of the play: upon seeing Juliet’s body, he immediately drinks his poison and dies beside Juliet, vowing to be with her forever.