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How is Romeo presented in Romeo and Juliet?

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Laura Webb

Passionate tutor and undergraduate at Loughborough University

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!

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