Romeo & Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies. It is Juliet rather than Romeo who is the tragic hero of the play. Do you agree? Base your answer on close examination of the text.
We are studying Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare wrote this play in 1954 to 1955. Set in peaceful Verona, the Montague’s and Capulet’s are two rival families. Juliet is the only daughter of the Capulet household, and Romeo the only son of the Montagues. They fall in love with each other, causing tragic outcomes.
The prologue, at the start of the play, informs the audience about three important things. First, the two families at the beginning of the play, then, the fate of the two lovers, lastly, the two families at the end of the play. The purpose of the prologue is to foreground the certain themes of the play, which are, in Romeo and Juliet: conflict, fate and tragedy. The prologue also is written to introduce the play to the audience and help the audience follow the main plot of the play. It give an overview of the play so, if you cannot understand it, it will help you to. At the start of the prologue, we are informed about where the scene is set. “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene.” This helps establish that the pair of families, the Capulets and the Montagues, which are both as equally stood, in Verona, where the play is set.
As the prologue progresses it continues to reaffirm the feuding families, this shows conflict.
“From ancient grudge break new mutiny”
This helps the reader understand there is a long-standing feud that has been going on between these two families that people have remembered; this is suggested by ‘ancient grudge’. Conversely, ‘new mutiny’ suggests the families are going against the social order of Verona and are fighting. In the same country, this makes the families both seem disloyal to the key social values in Verona. The families’ reputations has been quashed because their fighting is harming so many people and in doing so are becoming outcasts of the city as they are not obeying the social order.
The description of the fate of the two lovers is used to suggest that, in the prologue, it is not oblivious what future is fated for Romeo and Juliet.
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers’ take their life.”
This clearly illustrates, as the two fathers are both enemies, Romeo and Juliet, their children, it quickly becomes evident that Romeo and Juliet are certain to die. ‘Star-cross’d lovers’ suggests to the audience that there is a magical fate, as if their death has been written in the stars, destined to happen. In the play Romeo and Juliet saw each other over a crowded room, this emphasises the romance shown in the play.
At the end of the play, the families have buried their differences and their children; this is established in the prologue in one line.
“Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife?”
This is intended by the writer to convey to the audience that the death of the main characters, Romeo and Juliet, has in turn caused their families to stop fighting and start to get on. Tragedy of the play is shown in the prologue by implying that the two lovers have died. Two main quotes show this, the first,
“The fearful passage of their death mark’d love.”
This constitutes to a key theme of the text, tragedy, as tragedy is said to be a path, calling the way Romeo and Juliet die a ‘fearful passage’ gives this ideal of the tragic path. This phrase also connotes what emotions Romeo and Juliet should be feeling just before they die. ‘Death mark’d love’ highlights to the audience the importance of Romeo and Juliet’s love and how that, from the beginning is doomed to fail.
The second main quote helps establish the tragedy in a higher grade of detail.
“Misadventur’d piteous overthrows”
This can be interpreted as a wrong turn that will have pitiful consequences. The way the two families have argued so badly yet the love between Romeo and Juliet has come through this symbolises the fighting being overthrowed and this to be a piteous misadventure. Suggesting to the audience that there is something terrible going to happen because of Romeo and Juliet’s love and that result will be very tragic.
The Greeks invented tragedy and it has been an established literary form for over 3000 years. During this time, there have been a number of different definitions as a genre. Two main views on tragedy are those of Aristotle and Karl Marx.
Aristotle developed a theory, which described the characteristics of tragedies. According to Aristotle, a good tragedy should have one main male character, who is the hero. This hero should be a very important person such as a politician, a leader or a noble person. In a tragedy, the hero always comes to a bad end and the play is based on the journey he made to get there. Usually the hero has a fatal flaw to their character. This flaw means they do something very stupid during the play that changes their fate to the worse. The play always ends on the character’s death. However, before he dies, he gets an insight into his own fate, and because of his behaviour, his death was inevitable.
Marx believed that society is made of two sets of people. These are those who have everything (factory owners) and those who have nothing (factory workers). A Marxist view on tragedy is that a hero having a fatal flaw would be wrong, as it would give the character a break from any social standing. Instead, Marxists consider that groups that structure and influence every area of their lives, such as families, the education system, the church, or the government, etc, surround people. A tragic play reveals how society can change people for the worse bringing to life tragic outcomes. There is usually one central character from any background or gender, but there may be more.
These two theories compare their shared belief that there should be one main character. In Romeo and Juliet, this could be either Juliet or Romeo as, in Juliet’s case; she killed herself with a dagger after Romeo had died. In Romeo’s case, he thought that Juliet was dead and drank a deadly poison to be with her. The two definitions also believe that their will be a tragic outcome at the end of the play. In Romeo and Juliet, this is the death of the two lovers at the end of the play.
Contrasts between the two theories include Aristotle’s idea that the hero has a fatal flaw. In Romeo and Juliet, this is the anger that Romeo has when Tybalt kills his best friend, which results in him having to leave Verona and Juliet. The Marxist theory is that the groups of people surrounding the hero cause the fatal flaw. In Romeo and Juliet, this is the two families, the Capulets and the Montagues, which causes Romeo and Juliet to marry and keep their relationship a secret, as the society would not approve their marriage. Which Marx thought played an important role in a tragic play. They also disagreed on who should play the hero. Aristotle wanted a male hero who was very important in society such as a politician. Conversely, the Marxist theory suggests, the hero can be from any background or gender and the suffering of a peasant is as worthy as the suffering of a king. In Romeo and Juliet, this is either Romeo or Juliet could have been the tragic hero or heroin of the play, as they both died at the end of it also as they were not kings or peasants as such.
Although it could be argued that the play Romeo and Juliet is based on, the Marxist theory as if the two feuding families had not had, existed Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other would not have had to been a secret. Based on the evidence discussed above Aristotle’s idea of tragedy could also be associated with the play because it was unusual to have a woman heroin in the Shakespearean period and Aristotle thought that the hero must be one man.
Romeo is a passionate young man, driven by his emotions. When we first meet him, he thinks he is in love with Rosaline. At the start of the play, we see Romeo introduced before we meet him, through the conversation between Benvolio and Lord Montague. Lord Montague asks Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio, about where Romeo is. In this converse, we learn what the other characters think and say when we first meet Romeo.
“With tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew.”
The description of Romeo’s tears is used to suggest that the lovesickness of Romeo is so strong it makes him cry. The depiction of ‘the fresh morning’s dew’ helps the audience institute that Romeo is in a black disposition and isolates himself from anyone who can help him and he locks himself in his room, while he cries over the idea of being in love. This courtly love is the reason for Romeo being so miserable.
Benvolio is Romeo’s cousin and good friend.
“Underneath the grove of sycamore
So early walking did, I see your son,
Towards him I made but he was ware of me,
And stole into the covert of the wood.”
Contrasting to the accustomed temperament Romeo adopts later in the play, we see now that he is extremely secluded and does not seem to want help from any one, even though that is what he needs. Benvolio has tried to find out what is wrong with Romeo, but as soon as he gave Romeo, the chance to confess some of his burdens onto him Romeo declined and suppressed from his good friend. Based on the evidence discussed above, I believe that our foremost introductions to Romeo direct the audience to deem that he has an especially melancholy facade.
When we first meet Romeo, is driven by mixed emotions. Hr is in love with the idea of being in love. This is portrayed in his oxymoron dialogue.
“Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health.”
These contradictory contrasts are proposed to convey the pleasure and pain Romeo experiences in the course of being in love. The temperament he has suggests self-indulgency and a theatrical shrewdness of attention seeking. Romeo ignores unvarying tradition, as he is infatuated, in his mind all that matters is being in love with love.
When we first meet Romeo, he seems not to be the tragic hero, as he seems to be already reaching the end of a tragedy with Rosaline. Although this seems apparent, it could just be a signal to forecast tragedy for Romeo, if so this would make him the tragic hero of the play. In my opinion he is, based on all the above evidence, the tragic hero of the play; and what has already happened is just a sign for things to come.
Juliet is the fourteen-year-old daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet; she has been brought up by the ostentatious nurse and has an extremely formal relationship in the company of her mother.
“Madam, I am here, what is your will?”
Juliet sees her mother not as a companion but as a respected elder, she has had to spend most of her life without Lady Capulet as a main figure in her life. The language is extremely formal and it seems that the relationship between mother and daughter is very social, and Juliet’s mother seems very concerned about social standings and her appearance to others than about being a proper mother to Juliet.
Lady Capulet wants Juliet to marry Paris, a wealthy highly socially stood young man in his early twenties. Her attitude towards Juliet’s marriage is not motherly, and is an arrangement, and not for love at all. She tries to sell Paris to Juliet as if he were some special golden book.
“The fish lives in the sea, and ’tis much pride for fair without the fair within to hide.”
Lady Capulet is selling Paris to Juliet, saying that with him, she will be happy and she will have a well-upheld position next to such an attractive man. Lady Capulet is in addition telling Juliet that her marrying this man will connote that she will make their family look superior in social standings.
Although Juliet is very young, she seems very mature and has the main characteristics of a tragic hero, she is young and her life is already doomed to fail in tragedy. She has a choice to marry Paris or not and at this point in the play, it seems as if she will.
When Romeo first sees Juliet, he seems to be astonished by her splendour. At this point, Romeos words seem to become romantic imagery to display his fickle love for Juliet.
“A snowy dove trooping with crows.”
Romeo is hasty to fall out of love with dear Rosaline, and in to love with Juliet. Although he has only just seen her and has no idea that she could have a good or bad character, but still becomes infatuated by Juliet, saying compared to everyone else ‘trooping’ around her, she is ‘a snowy dove’ and is full of beauty. However, he has not spoken to her. While he is harbouring over Juliet’s beauty, Tybalt, her cousin swears to seek revenge on Romeo for showing himself at a Capulet party, and therefore foreshadows the tragic outcome of the play. The first meeting with Romeo and Juliet was an elaborate romantic climax which leads up to their fist kiss.
“And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.”
‘Palmers’ are pilgrims from Jerusalem, who lay palms down on the ground. This is a key example of religious imagery. The spontaneous conversation leads up to the kiss. The conversation shows respect for Juliet in the way he talks. ‘Pilgrims’ underlines the depth and purity of their love. Religious imagery gives the idea of purity. Juliet’s character has matured so much and she has become very passionate and is no longer a child.
“Then have my lips.”
Juliet is no longer a child and is thinking of marriage. When she meets Romeo, she does not follow tradition and asks him to kiss her, without her mothers consent. This shows the strength of Juliet feelings and youthful romanticism. This religious imagery, that pervades Romeo and Juliet’s speech when they first meet, contrasts sharply with the nurses’ cynical comment.
“He that can lay hold of her shall have the chinks.”
Showing that the nurse is very aware of Juliet’s material value, unlike Romeo, and by implication, showing the potential that she might by exploited by young men for her money. This also has the effect of reminding the audience that Juliet’s inheritance is going to seize an intense influence on her father’s manner to her marriage; therefore introducing a darker sentiment into the jubilant atmosphere created by the two lovers’ first meeting.
Romeo is the tragic hero at the first meeting because he falls in love with a Capulet at first sight. In addition, he is not the tragic hero because of the way he falls in and out of love so easily. Juliet is the tragic hero as she has just fallen I love with Romeo even though she is promised to Paris. In addition, she is the tragic hero because she is so young and innocent.
In conclusion, so far in the play Romeo does not seem to be the tragic hero because he is older and seems to get himself into dire situations, such as not doing the honourable thing and staying in love with Rosaline as a replacement for loving Juliet in next to no time when he foremost saw her.
In act three scene one, we meet Tybalt and Mercutio as they argue in a frank manner. It starts when Tybalt asks Mercutio if he has seen Romeo.
“Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo.”
Mercutio’s response is a deliberate misunderstanding of Tybalt’s meaning, and due to this starts to fight Tybalt. Mercutio’s deliberate misunderstandings of speech seem to reflect the mistakes Romeo makes during the rest of the play, and therefore under shadows the underlying themes of conflict, fate and tragedy in the play.
When Romeo enters the scene, he is married to Juliet, and his joy seems to rule over his actions, as he will not fight Tybalt.
“And so, god Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as my own, be satisfied.”
As Montagues and Capulets are sworn enemies, Tybalt and Mercutio, even though on different sides of the dispute, do not understand why Romeo will not fight, because of this Mercutio and Tybalt fight.
When Romeo comes between them, Tybalt kills Mercutio under Romeo’s arm. Romeo feels to blame for this as he thinks he should have fought himself, but blames his emotions on Juliet.
“Thy beauty hath made me effeminate.”
Juliet has made Romeo weaker, because of this Mercutio is dead. Social pressure is high upon Romeo because he is now related to Tybalt, through Juliet, and he has just killed his best friend. The Marx theory is correct here.
Romeo does not seem to cope under the pressure and so proceeds to kill Tybalt. After he has done so he realises that he is doing all of this because of fate.
“O, I am fortune’s fool.”
According to both Marx and Aristotle, the hero will realise what they did before the end of the play. The tragic hero recognises his own faults and the situation he made for himself. At this point in the play, Romeo is the tragic hero.
Lady Capulet enters the scene with the happy news of Juliet’s marriage. When she sees Juliet in sadness, she assumes it is because of Tybalt’s death and not because of the banishment of her secret husband, Romeo. To cheer her daughter Lady Capulet swears vengeance onto Romeo for killing Tybalt and tells Juliet that she will send ‘a unaccustom’ed dram’ to Mantua to kill Romeo. Social pressure is high on Juliet at this point in the play, as Juliet is motivated by her mother to let Romeo die to please her family.
After delivering this mews to Juliet, Lady Capulet tells her enthusiastically that she will soon be married to Paris as her father wishes, showing the importance of marriage and the social links of the Elizabethan times.
“Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride.”
Juliet’s reaction shows maturity, her love for Romeo, and duty to him. Her complicated situation means she says no to marriage, which shocks her mother.
When Lord Capulet enters the scene, he asks Lady Capulet if she has told Juliet that she has to marry County Paris. He has no comprehension that his failure to consult Juliet may not be in her best interests. He feels that he has done his duty on Juliet’s behalf by providing her with a handsome and socially benevolent man.
“Have you delivered to her our decree?”
As Capulet has arranged such a good match for Juliet, he does not understand why she reacts as she does, and gets so angry and gives her an ultimatum.
“To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,
Or I will drag you thee on a hurdle thither.”
A hurdle is a device used to carry traitor when they were being dragged through the streets during a public execution. By saying that he will drag Juliet on a hurdle to the church, Capulet is therefore implying that he sees Juliet as a traitor to this arranged marriage but does not understand why.
When Juliet hears this news, she breaks common Elizabethan traditions and opposes the marriage, saying she would rather die than marry Paris. Her answer showing how desperate a situation she is in.
“Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.”
Juliet is seen by her family as a girl who they can control. Juliet is actually very mature and controls her own life, shown by her threat to kill herself, which also foreshadows the forthcoming events that lead to the tragic outcome of death.
Juliet’s independence is not yet recognised by her parents, who believe that she is still going to obey them. Therefore, the defence that she forwards is interpreted by her Father as awkward madness.
The nurse’s summary of the events, and her view is clearly that Juliet should marry Paris if she is ever going to be able to keep the honour of her Family.
“I think it best you married with the County.”
Juliet now feels that all of her family and her companions have betrayed her and has an enormous amount of social pressure in this situation. She reacts calmly, showing maturity, and that she has risen to the occasion.
Although Juliet is showing maturity and so on, she resembles more the character of a tragic hero, because she is young and is being hastily forced into marriage not of her own choice; she is withholding a huge secret from her family, about Romeo, and is under great social pressure all through this scene.
Juliet is aware of her situation, that she seems controlled by all males in her life. Firstly, her father, and now Paris wishes to control her too. “It may be so, for it is not mine own” Paris feels that he owns Juliet, as if she is just property that he can do what he wants. Juliet wishes to break free form this cycle of misguided control so desperately that she feels that she is past any form of help, as if no one cares and as though there is no hope left for her.
“Past hope, past care, past help.”
Juliet’s situation seems so bitter and helpless to her that she cannot see any way out of her arranged marriage. Juliet is so emotionally intense that she is prepared to contemplate death. “I long to die.” Although she is only thirteen, fourteen Juliet is considering suicide and is only young yet wants to die. The audience feels shocked at Juliet’s rash and fateful decision that in Elizabethan times would have seemed disobedient yet they can se why she feels this way. Juliet is the tragic hero at this point in the play because she is considering death and feels that there is no other way out if this situation for her.
Romeo is the tragic hero because he comes from one of a feuding family. Romeo killed Tybalt and has been banished. He loves the only woman who he should not and because of this, he dies a tragic death that is caused by his passionate and impetuous nature. The audience are encouraged to feel the characters emotions through his pleasure and pain approach to love.
Juliet is the tragic hero because she comes from the other feuding family. Romeo killed Tybalt and has been banished, which leaves Juliet without a husband or a cousin. She loves the only man who she should not and because of this, she dies a tragic death that is caused by his passionate and impetuous nature, as Romeo poison himself and Juliet then stabs herself. The audience are encouraged to feel the characters emotions through her grown-up yet fickle approach to love.
Juliet lets the audience experience many emotions including; death, killing, sadness, betrayal, love and tragedy. They are portrayed realistically to empathise with the characters can see and understand the situations better, for example, when Juliet’s parents found out that she did not want to marry Paris. Therefore, Juliet is the tragic hero of the play.