To what extent is Romeo a tragic hero?
“The fearful passage of their death-marked love” Even from the beginning of the play we know that the lovers are doomed to be struck by tragedy but to what extent is Romeo a tragic hero? Is he even one at all? In this essay I will explore the reasons why I do and why I do not think that Romeo is a complete tragic hero.
There are many things that make a tragic hero. He is an individual of some high rank or status. Romeo comes from a high status family, the Montagues who are at daggers drawn with a rival family the Capulets, the family that Juliet is from. The two families are both of equal status “Two households both alike in dignity”. We can tell that Romeo is from a high family because of a number of things. Firstly Romeo’s family have a number of servants, which suggests that they have money and power. You can also get clues from looking at Juliet’s family. Juliet is laid in the Capulet vault. A vault is something that only people of a high status would have to be the final resting place of the generations of the family. “The same ancient vault where all the kindred of the Capulets lie” It is therefore expected that Romeo’s family would have one too. Also Juliet has been raised by a nurse and it doesn’t seem like Lady Capulet has had much to do with it as she can’t cope with Juliet on her own “Nurse come back again”. Only people of high status could do this and as the two families are of equal status, Romeo must be an individual of high rank. He fits into this characteristic of a tragic hero. This makes him tragic, as it seemed that he could have anything, money, servants except a peaceful married life to Juliet. It is partly because of his status and family that it ends like it does. If he had been from another family would this have happened? It is his family name that helps cause the tragedy “Tis but thy name that is my enemy” You cannot help the family that you are born into and neither can Romeo alter the fact that he is a Montague but that name does not change who you are. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose would by any other word smell just as sweet.”
Romeo is still very young and so has not made a mark on Verona yet. This makes him more tragic because he has not had a chance to and will never get a chance to make his mark. His early death makes the audience feel more pity for Romeo. We can empathise with the characters because they are real people with good noble characteristics, but they are proved to be human as Romeo has a flaw in his character which is shown so many times in the play. For example he lets his emotions overcome him and does not think of the consequences. An example of this is when he kills Paris and Tybalt. Romeos’ flawed character and the tragedy in his life makes the audience feel sad for him, and feel his pain. It inspires us and we are moved by the hero’s plight as it feels like they can identify more with the characters pain. This is an example of catharsis, which is a characteristic of a tragic hero.
Throughout the play Romeo displays another trait of a tragic hero, he moves from happiness to disaster. The action moves towards catastrophe, all through the play we are given ominous signs that it will end in tragedy. The prologue tells you that the play will end with death “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their lives”. You also find out that the two families have been feuding for so many years, “from ancient grudge break new mutiny” that the love between the children of these families will find it hard to survive and it will end badly. This is tragic because even before the first page you know that the lovers are doomed and do not have a chance of it ending well. Everything is against them. Things seem to be going well as he has just married Juliet and is happy but then Tybalts death sparks off a chain of disasterous events.
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All throughout the play religious imagery is used especially when Romeo and Juliet speak to each other “this holy shrine the gentle sin is this”, “good pilgrim”, and “dear saint”, This religious imagery makes the two lovers seem innocent and also makes it much more serious and also is quite ominous as thinking about religion has a connotation with death. It is not a good sign that the language used throughout the play, particularly when they first meet, conjures images of death. Juliet also says “my grave is like to be my wedding bed”. This is ironic and tragic because she does die on her “ second wedding day” wearing her wedding dress. The imagery of death as her bridegroom keeps appearing throughout the play, “Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir, My daughter he hath wedded” this isn’t a good sign for them, as when the play was set marriage was for life, it was sealed and binding and once you were married that was it. So Juliet’s marriage to death makes it sound ominous because it sounds like there is no way that they can escape death. It is inevitable. There is lots of natural imagery of the universe and the elements “My bounty is as boundless as the sea” This shows that their love is very natural however Friar Lawrence uses a metaphor for the good and evil in the world which is ominous because he is saying that for everything good there is something evil to balance things out. The good of their love is set against the feud and out of the evil came good but out of their love there will be an evil to balance it out, as that is all part of nature. Because their love is so natural this makes you think that something bad will happen to it. There is also imagery of light and dark and good and evil. “So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows” and “what is her burying grave that is her tomb” Friar Lawrence is also referred to as “Ghostly sire” This is ominous as ghostly has a connotation with death. All of this language makes you feel everything is coming to this inevitable ending and that it is sealed so you can’t get away from it. Romeos’ fortune moves from good to disastrous the day after his wedding day. A fight starts between the two families Romeo tries to reach out the hand of peace to Tybalt, but Tybalt wants to keep fighting as he enjoys it. Tybalt kills Mecutio and Romeos kills Tybalt out of revenge. Romeo has now gone from the happiest day of his life, his wedding day, to being banished to Mantua, with lady Capulet wanting him dead. She is very vengeful and wants revenge for Tybalt’s death.
During the play Romeo ends up killing innocents. A good example of this is when Romeo kills Paris. Again this shows clearly the flaw in his character and proves him to be human.This is demonstraited again when he kills Tybalt out of revenge and because his emotions have got the better of him. It is a crime of passion. Paris seems particularly innocent because he knows nothing about Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. He has just been caught up and led along by Capulet to marry Juliet. Romeo kills Paris out of anger. The tragic hero isn’t completely virtuous and Romeo proves here that he fits into this characteristic of a tragic hero.
Romeo is definitely a victim of fate. He almost gives himself up to it, “but he that hath the steerage of my course direct my sail”, and surrenders himself to it. Right from the start Romeo is a tragic hero because he knows something bad will happen, he has predicted the future. He had a dream, which told him that something would begin the night of the party, that will have a very bad effect after it, “some consequence yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin this fearful date”. Romeo has misgivings but decides to let fate do whatever it wants and in that way he makes himself a victim of fate, as it seems that fate had tried to warn him. He trusts in fate but also tempts it. In Act 2 scene 6 Romeo shows that he believes he can overcome fate with his love, but he is being very arrogant in doing so This is ominous and he is tempting fate to test his happiness, He claims that no one can take it away from him as he has seen Juliet. “Then love-devouring Death do what he dare It is enough that I may call her mine” He has tempted fate and by the ending it is almost as though fate has answered him, and Tested his happiness as he asked it to. Again he has made himself the victim of fate. “ O I am fortunes fool”
Tragic heroes are involved in the struggle with fate, and as tragedy calls nothing accident it’s as though it’s all planned to end this way. It’s a moral story. This is what will happen if you are in this situation. All this makes him a tragic hero because after all he is still only human with flaws and he is struggling against an almighty force, which he could have no chance of beating. Fate can be blamed for their deaths. All throughout the play there are references of this “the yoke of inauspicious” Even the prologue suggests this “star-crossed lovers. The language used all points to this being a major influence in their deaths. Fate is such a big part in the play that when Juliet tempted it you knew that it was not a good sign. When Lady Capulet thinks that Juliet is crying over Tybalts' death Juliet and wishes Romeo dead Juliet not only agrees with her but she also makes a point of how she wants him dead too. “Indeed I never shall be satisfied With Romeo until I behold him-dead”. This is tempting fate and is not a wise thing to do. Again it is almost by the ending as though she got her wish of seeing him dead.
In some ways I think that Romeo is quite courageous and this is a quality demonstraited by tragic Heroes. He knows that the families are feuding, but when Tybalt tries to start a fight he stretches out the hand of peace to him. Mercutio, Romeos’ best friend really wants to fight Tybalt, “draw Benvolio and bid down their weapons” and Romeo shows courage by standing up to peer pressure by refusing to fight, even thought Mercutio will be disgusted by it, “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission” this is a very hard thing to do. He also shows the sort of courage when he kills himself. It is a very scary thing to do, but he overcomes his fear and does it. However you may feel about this, courage is about overcoming fear and showing bravery, and that is exactly what Romeo did. Particularly as Romeos always talks about his feelings and never does anything about them. An example of this is when he was in love with Rosaline he was always talking about love and dragging everybody else down. Romeo thinks he loves Rosaline but he speaks insincerely, which makes us think that he isn’t really in love.
Tragic Heros have some tragic flaw in their character and Romeo lets his feelings rule him, and this is the tragic flaw that kills him. He lets his emotions overtake him, and therefore rushes into things without thinking about them. He reacts too quickly. A good example of this is in Mantua when Balthasar tells him Juliet is dead and in half a page he goes from being happy to determining to kill himself. If he had had not rushed into this things might have been different, and Friar Lawrence might have been able to get word to Romeo about their plan. Romeo rushes into marriage to Juliet as well. Friar Lawrence thinks that he is going to fast and warns him to slow down, “Wisely and slow they stumble that run fast”. Romeo doesn’t listen and they get married anyway. This is part of the reason for his death and is another part of his flaw. He doesn’t listen to the warnings fate has given him either. He acts without thinking things through, without considering the consequences. When he kills Tybalt is a good example. Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin and a Capulet. He has just killed Mecutio Romeo’s best friend. When Romeo kills Tybalt he does it purely out of vengeance, it is a crime of passion. He has let his emotions control him, and doesn’t think. This leads to him being banished to Mantua, which leads to Juliet drinking the potion, which leads to their deaths. From here onwards everything goes wrong for the lovers. “This day’s black fate on moe days doth depend” Romeo did not want to kill Tybalt really as he offered the hand of peace. Romeo did not want to fight and doesn’t see the point in it. He didn’t set out intending to kill Tybalt; “And so good Capulet which name I tender as my own be satisfied” it was just his emotions that made him act that way. This shows Romeo isn’t completely virtuous, but not evil either. It also shows up his tragic flaw and the way he misjudges situations and reacts to quickly. This is the characteristic of a tragic hero. Romeo also believes love can so anything it wants to. He believes it won’t be found out or caught. This is what makes him sneak into the grounds to see Juliet. “With loves light wings did I o’erperch these walls for stony limits cannot hold love out” This is a metaphor for him being a bird, love is what got him here, and love is what makes him feel invincible. This is another part of his tragic flaw.
Romeo shows arrogance and hubris, he tempts fate a lot in the play.” Then I defy you stars” He takes Paris and Tybalts life, which isn’t appropriate for him to do. Romeo uses religious imagery, in religion life is regarded as sacred and should only be ended by the hand of God. It is not up to anybody else. Then for Romeo to commit two murders we feel like he is being very arrogant and tempting fate. He also marries Juliet without parental consent. This leads to her parents thinking she is free to marry Paris, which leads to her taking the potion ending in their death. Romeo also shows arrogance in taking his own life. He is doing what it isn’t natural to do,” thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open and in despite I’ll cram thee with more food”. Romeo personifies the vault saying it has stuffed its mouth with dead bodies, but he will force the doors open and add himself to the bodies. Cramming something with more food is not natural, and Romeo is doing this un- natural thing, he is being arrogant. This is a flaw in his character. If he was not arrogant he would not be able to kill himself and maybe things would have turned out differently.
Romeo by the end of the play has changed; he has grown up a lot. He seems older because he has found true love, and does not appear as young. He is also more understanding, as when Paris dies he asked to be placed with Juliet, and Romeo does this for him. He does not know about Paris’ marriage to Juliet so this action shows he has a heart and that he is capable of mercy and kindness, proving again that he is not completely virtuous nor evil. When he goes to see the apothecary he sees his need, paying his poverty, which proves he is caring. At the beginning when he talks about Rosaline it is hollow and not real love, “Thy love did read by rote, that could not spell” but by the end he knows what true love is and that real love acts it does not just speak. Romeo starts off innocent but by the end that has all changed as he has murdered two men.
Romeo talks in a grand poetic style as do most tragic heroes. Romeo and Juliet talk to each other in sonnets with rhyming couplets. If the characters speak in poetry they are usually high status characters. It makes them different and separates them out from the other characters like the servants and the nurse as they have a much lower status . When you read sonnets it sounds musical. Music is the food of love so it backs up the fact that Romeo and Juliet are in love and separates them out from the other characters who are not. Also when Romeo speaks in poetry it sounds as though all the words are just flowing and pouring out uncontrollably like all his emotions and feelings. This shows that Romeo is always letting his feelings run high and control him
As you can see, Romeo definitely is to some extent a tragic hero, but there are other factors to blame in the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Tybalt can also be attributed some of the blame because of his love of fighting. He just finds any excuse to start a fight whereas Romeo tried to make peace with Tybalt and only ended up fighting because of his flawed character which makes him give in to emotion . This led to the death of Mercutio and then Tybalt. Romeos’ banishment, Friar Lawrence’s plan and then the Deaths of Romeo and Juliet then follow as a concequence of this. “I will withdraw but this intrusion shall now seemingly sweet convert to bitt’rest gall”
You could also say that it was chance. "Oh fortune, Fortune all men call thee fickle” Juliet personifies fortune saying that It is so fickle that no one knows what will happen to them in their lives so maybe no one can really be blamed for the events. There are lots of examples of this for example the accidental meeting of Peter with the invitation list to Capulet’s party and the non-delivery of Friar Lawrence’s letter “Unhappy fortune”
Adolescent passion could also be to blame. All throughout the play, things were rushed and hasty. They had only just met when they decide to get married. The opposition of youth and age demonstrates this. Romeos passion is evident “I stand on sudden haste” Romeo lets his passion control him as I stated earlier. Friar Lawrence even warns Romeo about he dangers of loving that passionately “These violent delights have violent ends” “Therefore love moderately, long love doth so too swift arrives as tardy as too slow” Romeo doesn’t listen to this advice and he is ruled by his passion for Juliet. Romeo’s hastiness and passion get the better of him when he kills Tybalt and that leads to their deaths
The feud could also be to blame. The two families struggle for power and the two families grow up hating each other. Tybalt feels that the “honour of my kin” has been insulted by Romeo’s presence at the feast. Because of this Mercutio dies and Romeo is provoked into "Fire-eyed fury” and enacts revenge upon Tybalt, which leads to their deaths. Also if the families were not feuding Romeo and Juliet would just have been able to share their love in the open and marry with the parental consent Apart from the feud they would probably Capulet and Lady Capulet would probably think Romeo a good match for Juliet as he was from a high status family just like the Capulets.
The two fathers also share a part in the blame. It seems that the fathers hold absolute sway over their daughters. They may give them to whomever they chose and are insulted if the daughters choose otherwise. Juliet makes that choice and incurs the wrath of Capulet “….go with Paris to Saint Peters church or I will drag thee on a hurdle hither!” He forces Juliet to marry Paris which makes her in desperation take the potion which leads to their deaths so in a way the male dominated society is to blame.
I believe that Romeo is a tragic hero as he displays throughout the play many characteristics of one. He is an individual of high status, the audience is moved by his plight, he has a tragic flaw in his character that leads to his death and shows arrogance. He also shows courage and is not completely virtuous nor evil and he is involved in a struggle with fate. However I also think that other factors like the male dominated society, the feud and fortune can be blamed for the death of Romeo and Juliet and that the other characters also played apart in this tragedy
Dawn grant 11s