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Prof. English May The True Hero: The Superior Character in Romeo and Juliet The play of Romeo and Juliet is different from William Shakespeares other tragedies in that there is not a clear distinction of individual heroes. The two protagonists are more passive than active; both are nave and lacking understanding. The hero is often thought to be the romantic, yet often hysterical, Romeo. But Romeos immoral background, emotional outbursts, mishap murders, and foolish actions make him a poor candidate for a hero. Juliet proves to be more innocent than Romeo because she possesses more rigorous moral ethics. Juliet is also more successful in overcoming the obstacles that she is faced with throughout the play. While both characters are not without faults, there is more understanding towards Juliets regrettable actions than that of Romeos. Through these concepts, the character of Juliet is seen to be the superior character and the true heroine in Romeo and Juliet. Before her first meeting with Romeo, Juliet is seen to be an innocent, young woman who is in a sheltered state; she exists in the care of her parents and nurse. When asked by her mother if she can love Paris, Juliet replies, Ill look to like, if looking liking more; / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make me fly (1.3.98-100). It is surmised that there are few large decisions that she is able to make without the consent of her parents whom she desires to please. Juliets innocence is further demonstrated as thoughts of love and lust appear to be completely absent in Juliets mind.

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Her innocence towards sexuality, being only thirteen years of age, is not uncommon; however, she is pronounced by her mother to be old enough for marriage: Well, think of marriage now; younger than you, / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are made already mothers (1.4.70-72). Juliet says of marriage, It is an honour that I dream not of (1.4.67). Although her innocence goes hand in hand with her youth and ignorance, her lack of knowledge seems to have fastened good values in her. This shows that in the beginning of the book Juliet is sexually inexperienced and obedient to her parents thus portraying her strong moral ethics. Juliets ingenuousness and sexual innocence are contrary to Romeos character. When Romeo first comes onto the scene, he proclaims that he is in love with a woman named Rosaline and says that She is rich in beauty (1.1.214). Rosaline has sworn chastity and wants nothing to do with Romeo. But, this doesnt stop Romeo from attending a party to see her, where his mind is quickly turned away from Rosaline as he sets his sites instead on the young Juliet. He speaks praises to Juliets beauty before ever uttering a word to her saying, Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! / For neer saw true beauty till this night (1.5.55-56). Both of these attractions are deduced to be feelings of mere infatuation. Romeos lusty desires and sexual experience are further portrayed by the personalities of Romeos kinsmen. Romeo carouses with lusty gallants such as Mercutio and Benvolio, who stalk the streets at night speaking of woman as sport. However, whether the union of Romeo and Juliet is formed from love or lust, the devotion that the one holds for the other is proven true throughout the course of the story. It is certain that Romeo is easily persuaded by lust in the beginning of the story, but once Juliet arrives on the scene, the mutual attraction is so strong that any further of his fickleness is wasted (Stauffer 29). Half way through the

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play, the friar rebukes Romeo, for doting, not for loving (2.3.82). However, the friar does approve of the love affair between Romeo and Juliet, which is evident when he marries them and attempts to help them to be together. The friars ultimate goal is to put an end to the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets by bringing the two families together through Romeo and Juliets love. Paul Jorgensen states, Juliet has not had to improve; but Romeo, at first a whining lover of himself in the role of lover, passionate but not truly reaching out of himself, has much to learn (33). Throughout the story, Juliet proves her ability to overcome obstacles as she begins to take control of her destiny and no longer lives in the shadows of her parents. Because of her love for Romeo, she is deserted by her father, mother, and nurse. She is almost completely alone when Romeo is exiled. But she refuses to turn back; she wont forget about Romeo and embrace Paris in marriage as her parents desire. Romeo is faced with similar oppositions as Juliet. His family, being sworn enemies to the Capulets, are kept in the dark about his romance with Juliet. Also, when the Capulets begin to perceive of the close relationship between Romeo and Juliet, it makes him a greater target to Capulet men such as Tybalt. There is no doubt as to Romeos faithfulness towards Juliet and his desire to do all that is needed in order to have her love, but because of his lack of experience in life, Romeo is not at all faultless. Perhaps the most notable act that sabotaged his relationship with Juliet was his slaying of Tybalt. However honorable and necessary it may have seemed to him at the time, Romeos rashness once again rears its ugly head after Mercutio foolishly brings about his own demise. Of course, Romeo immediately regrets his impetuous actions after the grave mistake had already been done as he does many times throughout the story.

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On several occasions, both Romeo and Juliet have the feeling that unknown consequences are lurking over the horizon. But these premonitions do not cause them to slow down. Even before his meeting with Juliet, Romeo says, For my mind misgives Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, Shall bitterly begin this fearful date With this nights revels, and expire the term Of a despised life closed in my breast, By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (1.4.106-11) Juliet later has similar notions of foreboding, saying of Romeo, O God, I have an ill-divining soul! Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb. Either my eyesight fails, or thou lookest pale. (3.5.54-57) If the either had heeded the warnings they perceived, there is a good chance that their lives would have been spared. From the beginning, Romeo is shown to be a man of intense passion and has emotional outbursts several times throughout the play. These moments of hysteria progress after Romeo slays Tybalt and is banished from Verona. Romeos melancholic behavior is taken to a new extreme when he threatens suicide after he is exiled. This is when the wise friar shouts some practical words to Romeo: Hold thy desperate hand: Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art:

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Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote The unreasonable fury of a beast. (3.3.108-11) Romeos tantrums portray his ignorance in youth which distorts his mind from thinking more clearly; this may have prevented his and Juliets deaths altogether. In the end, the dangerous fault of the two lovers is their extreme rashness (Stauffer 30). As Romeo and Juliet are drawn together with such great intensity, their irrational actions are the primary cause leading up to their demise. Catherine Belsey states, desire undoes the dualism common sense seems so often to take for granted (47). They are both at fault for their premature deaths from nearly the very beginning of the story. Romeos rashness is seen as he places his life in danger when he climbs over the wall to see Juliet on the first night of their meeting. Juliets reckless behavior is recognized when she desires marriage on that same night. A lack of caution is also evident when Romeo kills Tybalt and when Juliet takes the sleeping potion in an attempt to be with Romeo. Their impetuousness is perceived several other times throughout the story as well. If Romeo and Juliet had taken a step back or listened to the friars words of counsel when he said, Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast (2.3.94), perhaps the grievous end would not have come. Instead, Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt and Paris lives would have been saved, and perhaps eventually a public union between Romeo and Juliet would have been possible. Ralph Berry concludes, the final events are essentially simple, and we should react simply to them (71). Perhaps that is what Shakespeare intended, yet the events that unfolded were not unchangeable. Andrews says, the lovers deaths do bring about a cessation of civic strife in Verona. But the price for this reconciliation has been very high-and for the lovers inestimable (564).

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From Juliets first encounter with Romeo, she admits to the extreme suddenness of the two lovers new romance: Although I do joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract to-night: It is too rash, too unadvisd, too sudden; Too much like the lightning, which doth cease to be Ere one can say it lightens. (2.2.116-20) But this is not enough to stop her from rushing forward into the relationship as she proclaims a desire for marriage shortly after: If that thy bent of love be honorable, Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow, By one that Ill procure to come to thee, Where and what time, thou perform the rite; And all my fortunes at they foot Ill lay, And follow thee my lord throughout the world. (2.2.142-47) Gray remarks, Juliet does remain practical and hard-headed enough to insist on marriage before consummation, but the contract of love between Romeo and Juliet cannot be faithfully executed in a world of time, and recklessly they draw up a second contract (61). The second contract that Gray is speaking of, is fulfilled as the two lovers rashly speed events forward. Ending with their premature deaths. Hallett sums up the final query: The question most often remaining is who will take responsibility for the disaster? (19). Although Juliet makes several rash decisions, Romeo proves to be the hastier of the two. In consequence to some of his actions, three peoples

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lives are lost including his own. Arguably, Juliets life is forfeited due to Romeos actions as well. Romeo is the older male character, so he is expected to be more mature and not as emotionally driven in his actions as Juliet, but this does not prove true. Though he is often proclaimed to be the hero of the story, the evidence suggests that his character is inferior to that of Juliets whose ill-fated actions can be better understood and invoke lesser consequences than that of Romeos. It is shown that Juliet possesses greater moral ethics and is more successful in overcoming the difficulties that she is faced with than Romeo. Thus, Juliet is the single most important character in the story and the true heroine.

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Andrews, John. Ethical and Theological Questions in Shakespeares Dramatical Works. William Shakespeare: His World, His Work, His Influence, Volume II: His Work. Ed. John Andrews. Vol. 2. New York: Scribners, 1985. Print. Belsey, Catherine. The Name of the Rose in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeares Tragedies. Ed. Susan Zimmerman. New York: St. Martins, 1998. Print. Berry, Ralph. Romeo and Juliet: The Sonnet World of Verona. Tragic Instance: The Sequence of Shakespeares Tragedies. Ed. Ralph Berry. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1999. Print. Gray, J.C. Romeo and Juliet, and Some Renaissance Notions of Love, Time, and Death. Dalhousie Review 48 (1968): 58-69. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 April 2009. Hallett, Bryce. All the Passion with Humour and Heart, Sydney Morning Herald 10 June 2006: 19. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 April 2009. Jorgensen, Paul. Romeo and Juliet. English Author Series - William Shakespeare: The Tragedies (English Authors Series). Ed. Paul Jorgensen. New York: Twayne, 1985. Print. Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. The Tragedies of William Shakespeare (Modern Library). New York: Modern Library, 1994. Print. Stauffer, David A. The School of Love: Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare, The Tragedies. A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Alfred Harbage. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-

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Hall, 1964. Print.