Sympathy for Romeo in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Sympathy for Romeo in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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Sympathy for Romeo in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

"Then I defy you, stars" This is Romeo's reaction to hearing Juliet is
dead, he wishes to control his own fate after having so much bad luck
-the bad luck (fate) he has is one way Shakespeare builds up sympathy
for him. Before Romeo comes into the play the audience feels sympathy
for Romeo because of what the chorus and Montague say about him. What
others say about Romeo is an important technique in building up
sympathy; Shakespeare lays the foundations for the audience to feel
sympathy later on by using this. A couple of times in the play
dramatic irony produces sympathy when Romeo feels compelled to do
something. The change in the imagery Romeo uses shows his true
feelings, as he becomes more definite the audience are more
sympathetic when things go wrong. These are the points I am going to

An idea of fate or the stars controlling everything first appears in
the prologue,

"A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life:

Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows

Doth with their death bury their parents' strife."

Here it seems as if they exist only to end their parents quarrel, this
would make the audience sympathetic for their plight.

In the first scene there are many points to comment on. Firstly
Montague is concerned about Romeo and describes him as being very
upset, the audience may be sympathetic to him even though they don't
know a reason,

"Many a morning hath he been seen,

With tears augmenting the fresh mornings dew,"

When Romeo talks to Benvolio he seems to be trying to gain sympathy
from Benvolio

"Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire …"

he seems to be talking from his head not his heart and is feigning his
feelings for Rosaline, he greatly exaggerates his feelings for her, he

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shows how clever he is with words and he is whining because she won't
sleep with him, not even for gifts

"Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold."

Other examples point to him not being genuine about his love for
Rosaline, he just whinges and moans about Rosaline but doesn't do
anything about it, later when he cannot be with Juliet he attempts to
commit suicide. As soon as he sees another woman i.e. Juliet, he falls
in love with her and Rosaline is forgotten. He has got upset and is
trying to get attention from everyone he can.

Some members of the audience may see through Romeo's charade at this
point but most would realise when Romeo speaks to the Friar, if they
saw through it, they would feel less sympathy, but more if they
didn't. I don't think Romeo expected Benvolio to believe him,

"Does thou not laugh?"

Also this shows that he may be used to being made fun of by Mercutio
and others, this may evoke pity in members of the audience who spot
it, but as it has been shown, the audience did not have to understand
the subtle meanings of Shakespeare's language to feel pity or sympathy
for Romeo.

The language in the first scene is in great contrast to Act 5 Scene 3.
Romeo's changing sincerity of feelings is reflected by the differing
style of his imagery and in turn his language shows how he feels. In
Act 1 Scene 1 he is insincere about his feelings for Rosaline and this
is shown in his imagery, which seems confused and contradictory and he
seems sorry for himself.

"O brawling love! O loving hate!

O anything of nothing first create"

The last scene shows he is very definite and focused about what he is
going to do, he isn't confused anymore

"I still will stay with thee,

And never from this palace of dim night

Depart again."

Here he is sincere, not so selfish and is unhappy about Juliet. This
drastic alteration in his feelings creates sympathy for Romeo because
as his language changes the audience know he is sincere and are
sympathetic because of what happens to him.

At the party it is shown that Romeo is respected in Verona, by what
Capulet says of Romeo,

"A bears him like a portly gentleman

And, to say truth, Verona brags of him

To be a virtuous and well governed youth"

Praise indeed, when coming from his greatest enemy, and because it
comes from his greatest enemy it is all the more powerful in
persuading the audience that Romeo isn't a reckless person and
wouldn't go looking for a fight which produces sympathy later on when
he seems to be forced to fight.

Romeo again shows how clever he is with words and imagery at the party

"My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss."

Although here it is not clear whether he is being serious at this
point. He seems very fickle to forget his 'grief' and fall in love the
first time he sees Juliet.

"Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!

For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night"

This is different to the style of speech he uses in Act 1 Scene 1 but
it doesn't seem like true love.

Later on the audience is reminded of this when Friar Laurence says:

"Young men's love then lies

Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes"

What Friar Laurence says actually decreases sympathy for Romeo because
he shows the audience that he is fickle audience that he is fickle, or
faked his grief for Rosaline. He says that Romeo shouldn't chase after
other women until he is over the last,

"Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!

Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,

So soon forsaken?"

In Act 3 Scene 1 a climax of sympathy that Shakespeare built up to
previously is reached. Romeo is nice to Tybalt even when he is
insulted, because he is married to Juliet,

"Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee

Doth much excuse the appertaining rage

To such a greeting."

There is dramatic irony here as Tybalt doesn't know that Romeo married
Juliet and nor do Romeo's friends. The audience know that Romeo isn't
looking for a fight but the others think he is trying to wind Tybalt
up. Romeo feels compelled to fight because Tybalt killed Mercutio and
it was Romeo's fault,

"Why the devil came you between us?

I was hurt under your arm"

A lot of sympathy for Romeo is in this scene, because Romeo was nice
to Tybalt. As shown by Capulet, Romeo wasn't looking for a fight.
Tybalt killed Mercutio and Romeo felt guilty about that. It may have
been a lot worse for Romeo though if Tybalt had known about his
marriage, as he may have been angry enough to kill Romeo.

In this scene I think it would be impossible for the audience not to
feel sympathy for Romeo.

Here he again mentions fate or fortune to sum up his bad luck

"O, I am Fortunes fool"

Here he refers to Fortune as a person, perhaps a mention to God, this
may suggest that Romeo feels betrayed by God and may produce sympathy
from the audience.

On top of that, Romeo hears from the Friar that his punishment is
banishment, when he would rather die for his crime. He laments about
this a lot,

"There is no world without Verona walls,

But purgatory, torture, hell itself."

"'Tis torture, and not mercy. Heaven is here,

Where Juliet lives;"

He attempts to commit suicide (he didn't for Rosaline when he couldn't
be with her) but is prevented by the Friar, I think this shows that
Romeo is serious about his love for Juliet and because of this and the
banishment the audience feel pity for Romeo. The Friar decreases
sympathy by what saying Romeo is a fool and is overreacting,

"Thy Juliet is alive"

"Tybalt would kill thee,

But thou slew'st Tybalt; there art thou happy."

In the penultimate scene he again mentions fate,

"Then I defy you, stars"

This shows his frustration at fate controlling him and his wish to
control his own fate, though by doing what he does he plays into fates
hands, by fulfilling the prophecy from the chorus.

In the final scene Romeo kills himself because he thinks Juliet is
dead, the audience knows she isn't and the irony produces pity.

By killing himself, Romeo completes fates goal in bringing the two
families together with death.

In all Shakespeare evokes a lot of sympathy in different ways and
different interpretations of his words create different emotions from
the audience, he introduces different techniques to emphasise the main
theme of fate.
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