Maier 1Prof.EnglishMay The True Hero: The Superior Character in Romeo and Juliet The play of Romeo and Juliet is different from William Shakespeare‟s other tragediesin that there is not a clear distinction of individual heroes. The two protagonists are morepassive than active; both are naïve and lacking understanding. The hero is often thought to bethe romantic, yet often hysterical, Romeo. But Romeo‟s immoral background, emotionaloutbursts, mishap murders, and foolish actions make him a poor candidate for a hero. Julietproves to be more innocent than Romeo because she possesses more rigorous moral ethics.Juliet is also more successful in overcoming the obstacles that she is faced with throughoutthe play. While both characters are not without faults, there is more understanding towardsJuliet‟s regrettable actions than that of Romeo‟s. Through these concepts, the character ofJuliet is seen to be the superior character and the true heroine in Romeo and Juliet. Before her first meeting with Romeo, Juliet is seen to be an innocent, young womanwho is in a sheltered state; she exists in the care of her parent‟s and nurse. When asked by hermother if she can love Paris, Juliet replies, “I‟ll look to like, if looking liking more; / But nomore deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make me fly”(1.3.98-100). It is surmised that there are few large decisions that she is able to make withoutthe consent of her parent‟s whom she desires to please. Juliet‟s innocence is furtherdemonstrated as thoughts of love and lust appear to be completely absent in Juliet‟s mind.
Maier 2Her innocence towards sexuality, being only thirteen years of age, is not uncommon;however, she is pronounced by her mother to be old enough for marriage: “Well, think ofmarriage now; younger than you, / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are made alreadymothers…” (1.4.70-72). Juliet says of marriage, “It is an honour that I dream not of” (1.4.67).Although her innocence goes hand in hand with her youth and ignorance, her lack ofknowledge seems to have fastened good values in her. This shows that in the beginning ofthe book Juliet is sexually inexperienced and obedient to her parents thus portraying herstrong moral ethics. Juliet‟s ingenuousness and sexual innocence are contrary to Romeo„s character.When Romeo first comes onto the scene, he proclaims that he is in love with a woman namedRosaline and says that “She is rich in beauty…” (1.1.214). Rosaline has sworn chastity andwants nothing to do with Romeo. But, this doesn‟t stop Romeo from attending a party to seeher, where his mind is quickly turned away from Rosaline as he sets his sites instead on theyoung Juliet. He speaks praises to Juliet‟s beauty before ever uttering a word to her saying,“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! / For ne‟er saw true beauty till this night”(1.5.55-56). Both of these attractions are deduced to be feelings of mere infatuation. Romeo‟s lusty desires and sexual experience are further portrayed by the personalitiesof Romeo‟s kinsmen. Romeo carouses with “lusty gallants” such as Mercutio and Benvolio,who stalk the streets at night speaking of woman as sport. However, whether the union ofRomeo and Juliet is formed from love or lust, the devotion that the one holds for the other isproven true throughout the course of the story. It is certain that Romeo is easily persuaded bylust in the beginning of the story, but once Juliet arrives on the scene, “the mutual attractionis so strong that any further of his fickleness is wasted” (Stauffer 29). Half way through the
Maier 3play, the friar rebukes Romeo, “for doting, not for loving…” (2.3.82). However, the friardoes approve of the love affair between Romeo and Juliet, which is evident when he marriesthem and attempts to help them to be together. The friar‟s ultimate goal is to put an end to thefeud between the Montagues and the Capulets by bringing the two families together throughRomeo and Juliet‟s love. Paul Jorgensen states, “Juliet has not had to improve; but Romeo, atfirst a whining lover of himself in the role of lover, passionate but not truly reaching out ofhimself, has much to learn” (33). Throughout the story, Juliet proves her ability to overcome obstacles as she begins totake control of her destiny and no longer lives in the shadows of her parents. Because of herlove for Romeo, she is deserted by her father, mother, and nurse. She is almost completelyalone when Romeo is exiled. But she refuses to turn back; she won‟t forget about Romeo andembrace Paris in marriage as her parents‟ desire. Romeo is faced with similar oppositions as Juliet. His family, being sworn enemies tothe Capulets, are kept in the dark about his romance with Juliet. Also, when the Capuletsbegin to perceive of the close relationship between Romeo and Juliet, it makes him a greatertarget to Capulet men such as Tybalt. There is no doubt as to Romeo‟s faithfulness towardsJuliet and his desire to do all that is needed in order to have her love, but because of his lackof experience in life, Romeo is not at all faultless. Perhaps the most notable act thatsabotaged his relationship with Juliet was his slaying of Tybalt. However honorable andnecessary it may have seemed to him at the time, Romeo‟s rashness once again rears its uglyhead after Mercutio foolishly brings about his own demise. Of course, Romeo immediatelyregrets his impetuous actions after the grave mistake had already been done as he does manytimes throughout the story.
Maier 4 On several occasions, both Romeo and Juliet have the feeling that unknownconsequences are lurking over the horizon. But these premonitions do not cause them to slowdown. Even before his meeting with Juliet, Romeo says, For my mind misgives Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, Shall bitterly begin this fearful date With this night‟s revels, and expire the term Of a despised life closed in my breast, By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (1.4.106-11)Juliet later has similar notions of foreboding, saying of Romeo, O God, I have an ill-divining soul! Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb. Either my eyesight fails, or thou lookest pale. (3.5.54-57)If the either had heeded the warnings they perceived, there is a good chance that their liveswould have been spared. From the beginning, Romeo is shown to be a man of intense passion and hasemotional outbursts several times throughout the play. These moments of hysteria progressafter Romeo slays Tybalt and is banished from Verona. Romeo‟s melancholic behavior istaken to a new extreme when he threatens suicide after he is exiled. This is when the wisefriar shouts some practical words to Romeo: Hold thy desperate hand: Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art:
Maier 5 Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote The unreasonable fury of a beast. (3.3.108-11)Romeo‟s tantrums portray his ignorance in youth which distorts his mind from thinking moreclearly; this may have prevented his and Juliet‟s deaths altogether. In the end, “the dangerous fault of the two lovers is their extreme rashness” (Stauffer30). As Romeo and Juliet are drawn together with such great intensity, their irrational actionsare the primary cause leading up to their demise. Catherine Belsey states, “desire undoes thedualism common sense seems so often to take for granted” (47). They are both at fault fortheir premature deaths from nearly the very beginning of the story. Romeo‟s rashness is seenas he places his life in danger when he climbs over the wall to see Juliet on the first night oftheir meeting. Juliet‟s reckless behavior is recognized when she desires marriage on thatsame night. A lack of caution is also evident when Romeo kills Tybalt and when Juliet takesthe sleeping potion in an attempt to be with Romeo. Their impetuousness is perceivedseveral other times throughout the story as well. If Romeo and Juliet had taken a step back or listened to the friar‟s words of counselwhen he said, “Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast…” (2.3.94), perhaps thegrievous end would not have come. Instead, Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt and Paris‟ lives wouldhave been saved, and perhaps eventually a public union between Romeo and Juliet wouldhave been possible. Ralph Berry concludes, “the final events are essentially simple, and weshould react simply to them” (71). Perhaps that is what Shakespeare intended, yet the eventsthat unfolded were not unchangeable. Andrews says, “the lovers‟ deaths do bring about acessation of civic strife in Verona. But the price for this reconciliation has been veryhigh-and for the lovers inestimable” (564).
Maier 6 From Juliet„s first encounter with Romeo, she admits to the extreme suddenness ofthe two lover„s new romance: Although I do joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract to-night: It is too rash, too unadvis‟d, too sudden; Too much like the lightning, which doth cease to be Ere one can say it lightens. (2.2.116-20)But this is not enough to stop her from rushing forward into the relationship as she proclaimsa desire for marriage shortly after: If that thy bent of love be honorable, Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow, By one that I‟ll procure to come to thee, Where and what time, thou perform the rite; And all my fortunes at they foot I‟ll lay, And follow thee my lord throughout the world. (2.2.142-47)Gray remarks, “Juliet does remain practical and hard-headed enough to insist on marriagebefore consummation, but the contract of love between Romeo and Juliet cannot be faithfullyexecuted in a world of time, and recklessly they draw up a second contract” (61). The secondcontract that Gray is speaking of, is fulfilled as the two lovers rashly speed events forward.Ending with their premature deaths. Hallett sums up the final query: “The question most often remaining is who will takeresponsibility for the disaster?” (19). Although Juliet makes several rash decisions, Romeoproves to be the hastier of the two. In consequence to some of his actions, three people‟s
Maier 7lives are lost including his own. Arguably, Juliet‟s life is forfeited due to Romeo‟s actions aswell. Romeo is the older male character, so he is expected to be more mature and not asemotionally driven in his actions as Juliet, but this does not prove true. Though he is oftenproclaimed to be the hero of the story, the evidence suggests that his character is inferior tothat of Juliet‟s whose ill-fated actions can be better understood and invoke lesserconsequences than that of Romeo‟s. It is shown that Juliet possesses greater moral ethics andis more successful in overcoming the difficulties that she is faced with than Romeo. Thus,Juliet is the single most important character in the story and the true heroine.
Maier 8 WORKS CITEDAndrews, John. “Ethical and Theological Questions in Shakespeare‟s Dramatical Works.” William Shakespeare: His World, His Work, His Influence, Volume II: His Work. Ed. John Andrews. Vol. 2. New York: Scribner‟s, 1985. Print.Belsey, Catherine. “The Name of the Rose in Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare’s Tragedies. Ed. Susan Zimmerman. New York: St. Martin‟s, 1998. Print.Berry, Ralph. “Romeo and Juliet: The Sonnet World of Verona.” Tragic Instance: The Sequence of Shakespeare’s Tragedies. Ed. Ralph Berry. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999. Print.Gray, J.C. “Romeo and Juliet, and Some Renaissance Notions of Love, Time, and Death.” Dalhousie Review 48 (1968): 58-69. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 April 2009.Hallett, Bryce. “All the Passion with Humour and Heart,” Sydney Morning Herald 10 June 2006: 19. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 April 2009.Jorgensen, Paul. “Romeo and Juliet.” English Author Series - William Shakespeare: The Tragedies (English Authors Series). Ed. Paul Jorgensen. New York: Twayne, 1985. Print.Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. The Tragedies of William Shakespeare (Modern Library). New York: Modern Library, 1994. Print.Stauffer, David A. “The School of Love: Romeo and Juliet.” Shakespeare, The Tragedies. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Alfred Harbage. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-