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During the course of the play, Romeo matures from adolescence to adulthood as a result of his love for Juliet and his unfortunate involvement in the feud, marking his development from a comic character to a tragic figure. Romeo is the son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. A young man of about sixteen, Romeo is handsome, intelligent, and sensitive. Though impulsive and immature, his idealism and passion make him an extremely likable character. He lives in the middle of a violent feud between his family and the Capulets, but he is not at all interested in violence. His only interest is love. Romeo's role first as a melancholy lover in the opening scenes of the play and then as Juliet's secret love is significant. Romeo belongs in a world defined by love rather than a world fractured by feud. At the beginning of the play, he is madly in love with a woman named Rosaline. Romeo is initially presented as a Petrarchan lover, a man whose feelings of love aren't reciprocated by the lady he admires and who uses the poetic language of sonnets to express his emotions about his situation. Romeo's exaggerated language in his early speeches characterizes him as a young and inexperienced lover who is more in love with the concept of being in love than with the woman herself. The play's emphasis on the characters' eyes and the act of looking accords with Romeo's role as a blind lover who doesn't believe that there could be another lady fairer than his Rosaline. However, the instant he lays eyes on Juliet, he falls in love with her and realizes the artificiality of his love for Rosaline. Shakespeare gives us every reason to question how real Romeo’s new love is, but Romeo goes to extremes to prove the seriousness of his feelings. As the play progresses, Romeo's increasing maturity as a lover is marked by the change in his language. He begins to speak in blank verse as well as rhyme, which allows his language to sound less artificial and more like everyday language. He secretly marries Juliet, the daughter of his father’s worst enemy; he happily takes abuse from Tybalt, and he would rather die than live without his beloved. In one ill-fated moment, he placed his love of Juliet over his concern for Mercutio, and Mercutio was killed. When Tybalt kills Mercutio, however, Romeo (out of loyalty to his friend and anger at Tybalt's arrogance) kills Tybalt, thus avenging his friend's death. Romeo's immaturity is again manifest later when he learns of his banishment. He lies on the floor of the Friar's cell, wailing and crying over his fate. When the Nurse arrives, he clumsily attempts suicide. The Friar reminds him to consider Juliet and chides him for not thinking through the consequences of his actions for his wife. This play surrounds Romeo and his instant infatuation for Juliet to rule him, foreboding the tragic ending in the play.
At the beginning of the play, Romeo pines for Rosaline, proclaiming her the paragon of women and despairing at her indifference toward him. Taken together, Romeo’s Rosaline-induced histrionics seem rather juvenile. Romeo is a great reader of love poetry, and the portrayal of his love for Rosaline suggests he is trying to re-create the feelings that he has read about. After first kissing Juliet, she tells him “you kiss by th’ book,” meaning that he kisses according to the rules, and implying that while proficient, his kissing lacks originality (1.5.107). In reference to Rosaline, it seems, Romeo loves by the book. Rosaline, of course, slips from Romeo’s mind at first sight of Juliet. But Juliet is no mere replacement. The love she shares with Romeo is far deeper, more authentic and unique than the clichéd puppy love Romeo felt for Rosaline. Romeo’s love matures over the course of the play from the shallow desire to be in love to a profound and intense passion. One must ascribe Romeo’s development at least in part to Juliet. Her level-headed observations, such as the one about Romeo’s kissing, seem just the thing to snap Romeo from his superficial idea of love and to inspire him to begin to speak some of the most beautiful and intense love poetry ever written. Yet Romeo’s deep capacity for love is merely a part of his larger capacity for intense feeling of all kinds. Put another way, it is possible to describe Romeo as lacking the capacity for moderation. Love compels him to sneak into the garden of his enemy’s daughter, risking death simply to catch a glimpse of her. Anger compels him to kill his wife’s cousin in a reckless duel to avenge the death of his friend. Despair compels him to suicide upon hearing of Juliet’s death. Such extreme behavior dominates Romeo’s character throughout the play and contributes to the ultimate tragedy that befalls the lovers. Had Romeo restrained himself from killing Tybalt, or waited even one day before killing himself after hearing the news of Juliet’s death, matters might have ended happily. Of course, though, had Romeo not had such depths of feeling, the love he shared with Juliet would never have existed in the first place. Among his friends, especially while bantering with Mercutio, Romeo shows glimpses of his social persona. He is intelligent, quick-witted, fond of verbal jousting (particularly about sex), loyal, and unafraid of danger.
The presentation of Romeo varies throughout the course of the play. I will pick out 3 key ways he is presented with some analysis of a key quotation. Early on in the play, Romeo is presented as perhaps immature and inherently fickle. His love for Rosaline is quickly forgotten when he meets Juliet, but his love for Rosaline offers him many problems. In act one, scene one, whilst lamenting his love, he exclaims “O brawling love, O loving hate”. Here, we can sense Romeo’s complex view of love, and Shakespeare uses oxymorons to present how Romeo can not understand the contrasts love offers him. This undoubtedly also foreshadows his relationship with Juliet, where his “ancient grudge” will soon merge with the love he finds for Juliet, which results in deep love but also, ultimately, death. When Romeo first sees Juliet his response presents him as someone who can fall in love quickly, but also someone who can love deeply. He states “Juliet is the sun”. This metaphor highlights his appreciation of Juliet; the sun makes the world go round, and this is his view of Juliet. The sun also brings light, and his association of Juliet with light becomes a recurring motif, when he earlier defines her as a “snowy dove trooping with crows” when he first sees her. Thus, Romeo associates Juliet with light and purity- perhaps Shakespeare is playing with irony here, as their love will only end in death and darkness (and we are told this as early as the prologue). Finally, Romeo seems to grow up as the play progresses. When Tybalt tries to fight him he refuses as he now recognises how his marriage to Juliet makes Tybalt his “kinsman”. Following his banishment in act 3 scene 5 Romeo seems to recognise the consequences of his actions, as he tells Juliet “I must be gone and live or stay and die”. Juliet’s immaturity is evident as she tries to persuade Romeo to stay, but he recognises the danger of remaining in Verona, with the modal verb “must” exaggerating the severity of the situation. The juxtapositions between “gone” and “stay” with “live” and “die” highlight the two options Romeo has : Juliet or death. His intelligence is hinted through his accurate reading of his current problem; Shakespeare however wants us to know he hasn’t fully grown up yet. The fact he is in the Capulet house after killing Tybalt and being banished obviously establishes his desperate love for Juliet, but it also reveals his youthful naivety - he is putting himself in danger. Undeniably though his recognition that he must leave does show a progression from the lovesick child he appears to be at the start of the play. Hope that was useful!
Asked by Reon
How is Romeo presented throughout Romeo and Juliet?
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