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Of the 2 central characters in Romeo and Juliet, with whom does the audience most sympathise? How does Shakespeare shape this response?

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Introduction

Of the 2 central characters, with whom does the audience most sympathise? How does Shakespeare shape this response? In William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a play in which two "star-cross'd lovers take their life," one would expect both central characters to claim similar, if not equal amounts of our sympathy. However, it is often the case that our sympathy is directed far more at Juliet than Romeo. The prologue, which informs the audience that Romeo and Juliet will die, encourages sympathy for both characters from the beginning, as it gives the events of the play an air of being fated to happen, since we know at the beginning of the play what will happen. When we first meet Romeo in Act I Sc. I, we feel very little sympathy for him. He uses overly-elaborate language and dramatic oxymorons such as "heavy lightness!" and "cold fire", and laments over his dilemma - that the girl he is in love with has rejected him. However, the audience can see that Romeo is really not in love with Rosaline at all; he simply enjoys playing the part of the rejected lover. He speaks constantly about love, and of the dreadful suffering it involves. Even when he sees evidence of a fight, and asks what happened, he works the conversation back to his favourite topic - "here's much to do with hate, but more with love". This makes him seem quite ridiculous, and at this point in the play we can neither admire nor pity him. ...read more.

Middle

We feel sympathy for her at this point, as she has such a great wish for tidings and yet there is nothing she can do but sit and wait. When the Nurse arrives but will not give Juliet the news she longs for ("I am a-weary, give me leave awhile") we feel acutely Juliet's frustration, and are ourselves frustrated with the Nurse and thus we sympathise with Juliet even more. After Romeo and Juliet's wedding, we meet again with Benvolio and Mercutio in Act III Sc. I. When Romeo arrives and finds Tybalt wanting to fight him, we feel a great deal of sympathy for him, as fighting Tybalt would mean upsetting Juliet, yet Tybalt seems intent upon violence, insisting that Romeo "turn and draw". However, when Romeo begins with "Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee Doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting," we can see that he has not thought about the consequences of his words. Tybalt is enraged by what he sees as Romeo mocking him, and Mercutio is similarly displeased by what he sees as a "vile submission". Inflamed, they fight, and Mercutio dies. With his best friend dead, our sympathy for Romeo climaxes. What Romeo does next, however, whilst being passionate and indeed provoked, is nonetheless very unwise, and so we feel less sympathy for him when he has killed Tybalt. We start to see the dangers of this type of intense love - it makes Romeo impetuous and irrational and ultimately seems incompatible with the world of Verona. ...read more.

Conclusion

and so we feel that he almost deserves to die for disturbing Romeo at such a time. When Romeo eventually drinks the poison, our sympathy for him is very high, as we now know that he does indeed love Juliet enough to die for her. When Juliet wakes with the friar, she is initially full of hope, asking after Romeo. We feel great sympathy for her when friar Laurence hastily explains everything with very little regard for her emotions, telling her that he will "dispose of her among a sisterhood of holy nuns," which is not what anyone would wish to be told upon finding that their husband is lying dead beside them. Unsurprisingly, Juliet refuses to move, and our sympathy for her peaks as she becomes alone in the tomb with her dead husband. Like Romeo before her, Juliet decides to kill herself very quickly, and does so with Romeo's dagger, saying "This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die". We feel some degree of sympathy for Juliet throughout the play, and though our sympathy for Romeo is at the end very great, it is Juliet nonetheless who ultimately claims the majority of it. The reason we warm to her is ultimately because she seems to embody a balance between sensible thoughtfulness and impetuous passion. She is capable of intense love but remains a little more rational and practical than Romeo. The play suggests a need for such balance, as Romeo often seems too emotional and intense, yet the callous indifference of Lady Capulet seems almost inhumanly cold. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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