• J.E Stanway

Shakespeare Analysis: Romeo Montague is The Villain of His Own Story

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Watercolour by John Massey Wright, Act II Scene II

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has been popularized as a love story for centuries. However, fans of Shakespeare's works know it better as a tragedy and a fable on the consequences of holding grudges. Throughout the play, certain events take place that eventually causes both Romeo and Juliet to take their own lives, and, within those events, three murders occur (three, because one horrific death just isn't enough). After reviewing all the events that lead up to these three murders, it is easy to prove one thing - which is that the charming and handsome Romeo is responsible for them all.

Victim One - Mercutio

Our first victim is Mercutio, Romeo's best friend and loyal comrade. In Act III Scene I, Mercutio is in a heated argument with Tybalt, Juliet's cousin. Mercutio then challenges Tybalt to a duel. Romeo throws himself in front of Tybalt and Mercutio, trying to prevent them from causing anyone to be hurt. When Romeo intervenes, however, it causes Tybalt to lose his focus, and his sword goes under Romeo’s arm, stabbing Mercutio. Mercutio, who is about to die, blames Romeo for his being wounded when he exclaims:

“Why the devil you come between us? I was hurt under your arm.” (Act III Scene 1, line 72).

Ultimately, Romeo’s attempt to save his friend ends up killing him. It's reasonable to note that in this instance, Romeo doesn't set out to cause harm. However, his interference is not the only reason Romeo should be held responsible for Mercutio’s death. Tybalt is angry with Romeo because he had attended the Capulet party so, when Tybalt comes looking for Romeo, he asks Mercutio for his whereabouts, stating the fact that they frequently confide in one another:

“Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo.” (Act III Scene I, line 44).

Mercutio refuses to reveal his location though, most likely not wanting him to be killed (like a real friend). And thus, Mercutio’s attempt to save Romeo from harm ends up in his own death, by refusing to inform on his friend. In all fairness, Romeo's role in this death is caused by a myriad of accidents, rather than malicious intent. Nevertheless, it is Romeo's heedlessness and lack of restraint that results in these accidents, making him responsible whether he intended it or not. As this first death displays, Romeo lacks cognitive thinking, causing his seemingly minor actions to lead towards larger problems.

Victim Two - Tybalt

Our second victim is Tybalt, the aforementioned Capulet cousin and nemesis of Romeo. Romeo, in his anger, challenges Tybalt to a duel and then proceeds to kill him with his sword. As his death is soon investigated, Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin, proclaims:

Tybalt, here slain, whom Romeo's hand did slay." (Act III Scene 1, line 142).

After Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo burns with hatred towards him for doing so, as he relays:

“Alive in triumph and Mercutio slayn? Away to heaven respective lenity, let my fire eyed fury be my conduct now!” (Act III Scene I, line 121).

Romeo’s emotions get in the way of his better judgment, causing him to start the duel in the first place. Unlike the earlier death of his friend, Romeo's actions were a direct result of his conscious effort of revenge. Romeo did in fact mean to cause harm and, despite his feeling of justification for avenging his friend (whose death was partly his doing), that doesn't excuse his deliberate and malicious action.

Victim Three - Paris

Our third and final victim is Paris, fiance to Juliet. When Romeo hears of Juliet’s supposed death, he goes to her tomb to confirm it and is bent on killing himself if her death is true. Paris sees Romeo, assuming that he was trying to desecrate Juliet's grave, and yells at him to leave. Romeo asks Paris to leave him be, but he refuses, causing Romeo in his grief and lack of sense to reply:

“Wilt thou provoke me? Then have at thee boy!”(Act V Scene III, line 69).

He then draws out his sword and stabs and kills Paris without a second thought. After doing so, Romeo says to himself:

“I think he told me that Paris should have married Juliet… am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet; to think it was so?” (page Act V Scene III, line 78).

Romeo is clearly jealous of Paris because of his prior betrothal to Juilet. Romeo's jealousy mixed with his grief most likely makes it easier for Romeo to kill him and likely to justify the killing to himself at this moment. In this third instance of murder, Romeo is again directly and deliberately responsible.

From reading and examining these scenes, it's reasonable to conclude that by killing Tybalt intentionally, an underlying rage is awoken in Romeo, enabling him to kill Paris faster and more instinctively than when he murders Tybalt. With blood already on his hands and his true love dead, at this moment, Romeo has nothing left to lose by taking another life.

The Point

Romeo’s lack of better judgment causes him to be responsible for the deaths of three people. He neither thinks of the consequences that would come with his actions nor does he allow himself to admit his own guilt. He justifies every action he takes against his victims, even blaming Mercutio's death solely on one person, despite his involvement. It's not until he takes his own life that he is able to set down his sword, making himself his last victim.

Romeo Montegue is often romanticized as one of the greatest literary heroes of all time. However, when observed and analyzed, another interpretation of his character surfaces - he acts without thought and on emotion, causing endless suffering of every person he comes into contact with throughout the play. He is, in fact, despite being our protagonist, the villain of his own story.

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