Character Analysis in Romeo and Juliet
Romeo: From the beginning of the play, Romeo is a romantic. Initially, he is head over heels in love with a woman named Rosalind who does not seem to know he exists. He then transfers this love to Juliet after meeting her at the Capulet’s party. Much of his rhetoric surrounding love for Juliet is taken from sonnet language. Throughout the play he demonstrates poor judgment and impetuous emotional responses to situations.
Juliet: Shakespeare makes a intelligent and rational empowered character out of the female lead of this play. In many readings, Juliet both trains Romeo how to love her and takes her destiny into her own hands. Though her story ends tragically, her suicide can be read as the only way in which Juliet can determine the outcome of her own life and reject her family’s expectations within her patriarchal society. It is important to remember that Juliet is very young, only thirteen, and that she is much more level-headed and mature than Romeo.
Mercutio: Although he only appears in four scenes in this play, Mercutio is one of the most memorable characters from Romeo and Juliet. His comic banter and sense of humor are complicated by his volatile and inflammable temper. Mercutio is loyal to the Capulets while being the cousin of Paris and the Prince. This loyalty gets him killed in a fight with Tybalt, which brings about the turning point in the play.
Character Analysis Examples in Romeo and Juliet:
Act I - Scene I
"wisely too fair,..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Notice how clunky Romeo's metaphors are when he talks about love. Romeo's discourse imitates poetry and the sonnet tradition in which a poet would catalogue a woman's beauty and perfection in 150 14-line poems. This type of speech suggests that Romeo is less in love with Rosaline and more in love with the pose of melancholic love. He likes to hear himself poetically talk about the pain he is feeling.
"too much of mine own...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
In our first introduction to Romeo, he is already in love with a woman. His grief is "too much of mine own" because his love is unrequited: he loves a woman who does not return, or acknowledge his love. Because Romeo's love comes from himself rather than the woman, he seems to be in love with the idea of love. In introducing this character in this way, Shakespeare positions the romance in the play as Romeo's education on what love really is.
"long sword..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
A "long sword" is a weapon that belongs to a skilled warrior of distinction. Calling for this sword demonstrates Capulet's power and position. However, his wife's comment that a crutch would be more fitting shows that Capulet is old and not fit to continue fighting. His desire to take up arms in the street demonstrates how deep the hatred between the two families is; it reaches back for generations and from the bottom to the top of both clans.
"my master's kinsmen...." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Gregory and Sampson are Capulets. Their "master" is Lord Capulet and Tybalt is his nephew. Tybalt's close familial relationship to the Capulets makes him the head of the Capulets in this scene. Notice that before we see Juliet, the romantic protagonist of this play, we see hot-tempered Tybalt, leader of the young men who battle in the streets.
Act I - Scene II
"crystal scales..." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
This is a metaphor that references Romeo's eyes. "Scales" implies judgement based on evidence while Shakespeare used "crystal" and eye interchangeably. Benvolio is asking Romeo to use his eyes for judgement since they are currently blind from his love. This metaphor positions Benvolio as Romeo's more rational friend.
"My will to her consent is but a part...." See in text (Act I - Scene II)
Here Capulet asserts that he cannot order his daughter to consent to marriage and tells Paris that he must first try to woo her. While this suggests that Capulet and his daughter have a good relationship in which Juliet is allowed to determine her own future, this benevolent behavior will be reversed when Juliet denies his wishes. This instead operates as the illusion of choice: if Paris woos her, Juliet will believe that she was able to choose her own husband. Notice that Juliet's feelings or consent is never considered by either man.
Act I - Scene III
"grow by men...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
By this the Nurse means that women become pregnant by men and then grow large with the baby. While Lady Capulet uses an elaborate metaphor to speak to Juliet's romantic notions, the Nurse's comments are grounded in a physical and biological understanding of marriage.
"already mothers..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Lady Capulet echoes what Paris said to Juliet's father in the previous scene and uses herself as an example of a young marriage. Notice that both Lady Capulet and Paris use the example of unnamed "other women" as models of behavior in order to convince Juliet that she should get married. Only the Nurse appeals to Juliet's feelings rather than offering other women's experiences to shape her decisions.
"My lord and you were then at Mantua...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
Here the Nurse tells a story from Juliet's childhood. She begins by displacing Lady and Lord Capulet to Mantua and placing Juliet in a homey space with her and her husband. The Nurse narrates Juliet's childhood as if Juliet were her child. This speech could be read as a sweet way in which the Nurse shows her long history with Juliet or the way she asserts her motherly claim to Juliet over Lady Capulet.
"Susan and she..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
It is never explained who Susan is, though the context suggests that she was the Nurse's daughter. Often, rich women would hire wet nurses to nurse their babies so that they did not have to breast feed. If the Nurse were Juliet's wet nurse then it would make sense that she had a daughter at the same time Juliet was born. If the Nurse did lose her daughter, it would explain why acting like Juliet's mother was so important to her.
"I can tell her age unto an hour...." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
The Nurse asserts her knowledge of and close relationship with Juliet. Most wealthy women would give birth then give their child to a nurse or governess to raise. The Nurse has acted as Juliet more than Juliet's mother; however, as her mother, Lady Capulet still has power and control over Juliet's life. Notice how the Nurse asserts her importance and closeness with Juliet throughout this scene.
" pretty age..." See in text (Act I - Scene III)
In this context "pretty age" means marrying age. This view of Juliet's age directly contradicts what her father said in the previous scene. Juliet's mother seems to think that Juliet is ready for marriage. However, this assertion occurs in lines in which Lady Capulet cannot even talk to her daughter without the presence of the nurse. This suggests that Lady Capulet does not actually know her daughter or her daughter's wishes.
Act I - Scene V
"set cock-a-hoop..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
This phrase means to act without restraint. From this exchange we see that Capulet acknowledges Tybalt's hotheadedness. Despite the feud, Capulet seems to understand the rules of social decorum while Tybalt cares only about the feud. This foreshadows Tybalt's part in bringing about the play's tragic resolution.
"rich for use..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
It is interesting that in this first speech, Romeo emphasizes Juliet's purity and ethereal nature. He speaks of her the way sonneteers and poets speak of their unrequited loves, and situates his love outside of the real world. Since we know that Romeo and Juliet do not have a chaste love, this could be understood as a mentality that Romeo will grow out of over the course of the play.
"have a bout..." See in text (Act I - Scene V)
To "have a bout" is to dance with you. Capulet here directly addresses the gentlemen in the room entreating them to dance. This demonstrates Capulet's misogynistic view of both relationships between the sexes and courtship and foreshadows his negative reaction to Juliet defying his wishes.
Act II - Scene II
"A thousand times good night!..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
There is a comedic element to this line because Juliet's "thousand times goodnight" is not actually good night, she will return to the stage to make sure that Romeo will meet her in the morning. For all of her stoic instruction and rational contemplation of the meaning of names, her inability to say good night once demonstrates Juliet's simultaneous excitement about her love and worry that her love is not genuine. This first farewell has become one of the most famous lines of this play.
Act II - Scene IV
"R is for the..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
In Elizabethan pronunciation, an "R" would have sounded like a dog's growl. The Nurse continues to suggest that R begins another word, such as "arse," but then stops herself realizing that she has spelled the word wrong. This playing with Romeo's name could suggest that the Nurse does not like him, or it could show the Nurse trying to play with words the way Romeo and his friends were playing with words earlier in the scene.
"fain lay knife aboard..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
This is a colloquial saying that means to lay a claim to. The Nurse could mention Paris here for one of two reasons. First, to show Romeo that if he does not keep his word his lady will go to another. Second, to assert her importance in Juliet's decision making. She says "sometimes" as if she and Juliet have been discussing her two suitors for an extended period of time, though we know that Juliet met Romeo and heard about Paris only the day before.
"life..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Mercutio seems to be looking for a fight. He understands Tybalt's letter to Romeo as a challenge to his on life. Benvolio quickly corrects him by saying that Romeo will answer the challenge, not Mercutio. This hot headed response foreshadows Mercutio's later actions with Tybalt.
Act III - Scene I
"begins the woe others must end...." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
With this line Romeo marks the turning point in the play and within himself. Thus far, the audience has seen Romeo melancholic and in love. This marks the point at which Romeo enters the feud. Ironically, Romeo acknowledges that this turn in events will end in woe, foreshadowing his tragic end.
"word and a blow..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
Mercutio is taunting Tybalt to fight him. He is enacting the same behavior that he assigned to Benvolio earlier in this scene. Mercutio marks himself as the hot-headed fighter.
"Am I like such a fellow..." See in text (Act III - Scene I)
It is ironic that Mercutio tells Benvolio that he is a hot-head when Mercutio has been the most outspoken and offensive character in the play so far. Mercutio describes himself more in his anecdote about the tavern brawler than Benvolio.
Act III - Scene II
"Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
During Shakespeare's time, a woman's duty was to marry and produce children. A daughter's primary duty was to her father until marriage at which point it transferred to her husband. Juliet, a radical female character for her time who chooses to marry outside of her father's consent, uses this speech to weigh her choices. She does not automatically decide that her duty is to Romeo simply because he is her husband; she comes to that decision through reason.
"I am not I..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Juliet foreshadows her reaction to Romeo's eventual death. Without him, she cannot be herself or anyone else. Juliet's identity has become inextricably linked to Romeo's identity. Here, Juliet inadvertently offers the audience an explanation for her coming suicide.
Act III - Scene III
"Unseemly woman in a seeming man..." See in text (Act III - Scene III)
The Friar uses this speech to highlight a major part of Romeo's identity. Romeo is an intensely emotional person with overdramatic reactions and feelings. When he threatens to kill himself over his banishment, the Friar yells at him and tells him to remember his duty as a husband and a man. He cannot retreat into his feelings and self hatred, he must live for his wife.
Act III - Scene V
"die..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
This marks a separation between Juliet and her Nurse's counsel. Symbolically, in deciding that she will no longer mind her Nurse's advice, Juliet marks her departure from childhood and entrance into adulthood.
"rate..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
"Rate" means to scold someone. Notice that the Nurse is the only person who comes to Juliet's defense. Unlike Juliet's mother who points Capulet's wrath at her daughter, the Nurse tries to deflect Capulet's anger onto herself.
"sunset of my brother's son..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Capulet is talking about Tybalt, his brother's son. The sunset is a metaphor for death, while the rain is a symbol for the tears cried over Tybalt's death. Capulet speaks about death in playful metaphors that discredit the seriousness of Tybalt's death. These short lines paint Capulet as an uncaring man.
"conduit..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
A "conduit" is a pipe. This is a teasing metaphor for Juliet's tears. Notice again that the Capulets do not take sorrow seriously; they continuously mock and chide Juliet for feeling her cousin's death.
"want of wit..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Lady Capulet once again shows that the Capulets do not take death seriously. Lady Capulet here claims that there is an appropriate amount of grief to show for death and anything beyond that demonstrates that someone is not intelligent. Since it has been less than a day, this "appropriate time" seems unreasonable.
Act IV - Scene I
"unstain'd..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
"Unstained" in this context means pure. We know that Juliet has already lost her virginity in this play, thus "purity" no longer means virginal but faithful. As long as no one else possesses her, she remains "unstained." However, this understanding of purity ironically makes Juliet into an object: in order to remain pure, she must remain Romeo's possession.
" with this knife..." See in text (Act IV - Scene I)
Juliet threatens to kill herself if the Friar cannot fix her situation. This threat is ominous because the audience knows that by the end of the play Juliet will have killed herself. Her repeated assertion that she is going to kill herself over her grief and loss demonstrates Juliet's anguish and melancholy.
Act V - Scene I
" if a man did need a poison ..." See in text (Act V - Scene I)
Romeo's ability to quickly recall this apothecary in detail indicates that he has been thinking about suicide while being banished. Like This is an effective rhetorical device that shows that audience that Romeo is in the same mental state as Juliet, who has repeatedly threatened to kill herself.
Act V - Scene III
"All this I know, and to the marriage Her nurse is privy; and if aught in this Miscarried by my fault, let my old life Be sacrific'd, some hour before his time, Unto the rigour of severest law...." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
The Friar is a controversial character within this play. On one hand, he is a man of the cloth who allows the lovers to be together and keeps their secret until they die. However, he is also the catalyst for the tragedy that ensues in this play. His actions can be seen as a form of cowardice: he gives Juliet the vial so that no one finds out he married the lovers, and he runs in the tomb rather than staying with Juliet and preventing her from killing herself. Even this final speech, in which he tells the prince that he should be prosecuted for his actions, is full of blame for everyone's involvement in the young lovers's deaths. In this way the Friar can either be read as a selfish character who acts and speaks out of self interest, or as the moral center who reminds everyone of their hand in the tragedy.
"unkind hour(150) Is guilty..." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
Notice that the Friar blames chance, the "unkind hour," for the tragedy of Romeo and Paris's deaths. Even though it was the Friar's plan that set up these two deaths, he focuses on the random, uncontrollable forces that made his plan go so awry.
"greater power than we can contradict..." See in text (Act V - Scene III)
The Friar here speaks to his own inability to control the events of the story. His plan was thwarted by a series of unlikely and unfortunate events that led to the death that he was trying to prevent. The friar says this in order to recognize his own inability to control fate and death.