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Romeo and Juliet: Characters
Read our detailed character analysis to find out each characters role and purpose in Romeo and Juliet, and then get essay inspiration from the essays.
Although Romeo is Montague’s only son, he shows little interest in the feud with the Capulets. Arriving after the opening brawl he comments: “O me! What fray was here? Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.” He is obsessed with love for Rosaline, though it’s not clear if he’s ever spoken to her! Seeing Juliet at the party totally transforms him and his attitude towards love. He talks to her as if she’s a religious shrine- but one that he kisses passionately! Juliet overwhelms everything for Romeo: “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” In the Balcony Scene that follows Romeo repeats romantic pledges endlessly, but Juliet makes him face the fact they must marry. The feud means nothing to either of them, but Romeo becomes fatally tangled in it when, in Act 3, he kills Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, and feels responsible for the death of his friend, Mercutio. Crying “I am fortune’s fool!” he descends into self-pity, relying on the Friar to formulate a plan. Neither he nor Juliet look to the future- they are too intensely involved with the present. Romeo cannot be blamed for the violence of the feud which drives him unknowingly to kill the innocent Paris, before entering Juliet’s tomb to kill himself... not realising, in the final twist, that she is still alive.
Rarely is a character transformed before our eyes in the way that Juliet is. At first she is quite happy to obey her parents and enter into an arranged marriage with Paris. Within hours she has met Romeo and her words match his line for line, a level of sophistication which is unimagined for a girl that is so young and protected. In the Balcony Scene she gives away her private thoughts, not knowing that Romeo is listening and by then it’s too late to take them back. Juliet shows herself to be more hard-headed than her “lover”, telling him “O swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon,/That monthly changes in her circled orb,” and insisting that they must marry as soon as possible. As a girl, she has far less freedom than a young man like Romeo, relying on the Nurse to make arrangements. she shows even more level-headedness when the Nurse turns against her, and she has to pretend to her father that she is willing to marry Paris after all. Her deception works, and she has the privacy and the courage to swallow the Friar’s drug. Her final death, by her own hand, is not a glamorisation of suicide, but the inevitable consequence of a world in which it is impossible to love freely and naturally.
Mercutio’s name (which comes from the word mercurial, meaning unpredictable) suggests a volatile, excitable temperament. The long Queen Mab speech in Act 1 shows this perfectly. He likes to talk- and he talks brilliantly, but he mocks Romeo’s romanticism: “Why, is not this better now than groaning for love?” - referring to Romeo’s obsession as “drivelling”. He is much more at home with course sexual comments: “...for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon.” Yet it is Mercutio who has one of the most memorable lines in the play, declaring in his dying moments: “A plague o’ both your houses!” He goaded Tybalt, who over-reacted and killed him, although he is neither Capulet nor Montague. His curse on the feuding parties, who “have made worms’ meat of me”, stands for all innocent victims of other people’s quarrels and prejudices. The irony of Mercutio’s death is underlined by the fact that he is related to the Prince, friend to the Montagues, but also invited to the Capulets’ feast. He has a freedom denied to others- but it only leads to his death.
When we first see Friar Lawrence he is gathering herbs to make medicines and potions- he is a healer. It’s clear that Romeo has confided in him, since he knows about the infatuation with Rosaline. On hearing of Romeo’s headstrong wish to marry Juliet “today” he is astonished, and doubtful – “Young men’s love then lies/Not truly in their hearts but in their eyes.” Although warns against haste, “they stumble that run fast,” he agrees because he sees this as a way to end the feud. Marrying them secretly is a risk he is willing to take. When Tybalt’s death threatens this scheme, he asserts himself by ridiculing Romeo’s self-pity, and devises another plan so that Romeo and Juliet can consummate their marriage. He still plans “To blaze [make public] your marriage, reconcile your friends/ [and] beg pardon of the Prince.” He even has an answer when the wedding to Paris is moved forward; he gives Juliet the drug which will produce “a borrowed likeness of shrunk death.” Fate plays a hand when his message to Romeo is delayed. The Friar hurries to the tomb in his last attempt to prevent catastrophe, but he’s too late to save Romeo, and, losing his nerve at a crucial moment, leaves Juliet to her fate. Unlike the lovers, as an older, more experienced man, he could see beyond the moment, envisaging a time when the lovers’ marriage would be a fait accompli (an accomplished fact), forcing the two families together. Only their death brings this about.
The Nurse is much closer to Juliet than Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother. When Lady Capulet comes to tell Juliet about the marriage to Paris that has been arranged for her, the Nurse does nearly all the talking, which suits Lady Capulet, a woman who barely knows her own daughter. The Nurse has even breast-fed Juliet, and knows all the details of her childhood. It’s not surprising that it’s the Nurse who becomes the go-between for Juliet with Romeo. She enjoys the excitement, although her own approach to male/female relations is more crude than romantic. “Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,” she coarsely remarks, hinting to a bride’s loss of virginity. She even stands up to Juliet’s father when he orders Juliet to marry Paris: “You are to blame, my lord, to rate [scold] her so.” In the end she changes her mind- She tells Juliet: “I think it best you marry with the County [Paris.]/O, he’s a lovely gentleman! Romeo’s a dishclout to him.” Her behaviour is shocking as she is aware that Juliet is already married. At once she becomes Juliet’s enemy who has betrayed her. Juliet then plays for time, no longer confiding in the Nurse, but tricking her, along with the other Capulets. The Nurse’s final act is to find what she thinks is Juliet’s dead body.