Character Directory

PRINCE ESCALUS

Prince Escalus is the ruler of Verona, where the play is set. The Prince is a representative of civil order, an important ideal for Shakespeare. The Prince appears three times in the play. First, in 1.1, he describes the feud between Montague and Capulet. In 3.1 he banishes Romeo and precipitates the climax of the tragedy; rather too late, he states a principle of statecraft that has been too little observed in Verona: 'Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill' (3.1.199). At the close he summarizes the fateful resolution of the feud, accepting blame 'for winking at... discords' (5.3.293). This acknowledgement of the state's responsibility for order was not present in Shakespeare's sources; it reflects the playwright's interest in the civic as well as the purely personal ramifications of tragedy. This theme recurs throughout Shakespeare's work in dramas ranging from Richard II to King Lear to The Tempest. In the stage direction that introduces him at 1.1.79, and nowhere else, the Prince is given a name, Escalus. This is a Latinization of Delia Scala, the name of the princely family that ruled Verona in the late Middle Ages.

PARIS

Paris is a nobleman who wishes to marry Juliet. Paris, who is forced on Juliet by her parents, confidently assumes that he will wed her. He is closely juxtaposed with Romeo throughout the play. Though no villain, Paris is nonetheless an agent of the world that opposes the private universe of the lovers, and this is indicated by his staid and predictable behaviour and speech. His sentiments are those of the conventionally poetic lover, the type of lover Romeo was before he met Juliet. Lady Capulet even compares him to a book in 1.3.81-S8. His smug exchange with Juliet in 4.1 can only stiffly approximate the brilliant poetry of her dialogue with Romeo. In his final appearance—at Juliet's tomb in 5.3—this well-meaning but vapid gentleman declares his grief in a formal sestet that is reminiscent of Romeo's word play in Act 1; the contrast is completed when the mature Romeo arrives, desperate and resolute. Paris honorably opposes the man whom he believes is desecrating Juliet's tomb, but he dies without comprehending, or even seeing, his rival's passion.

MONTAGUE

Lord Montague is Romeo’s father and the head of the family bearing his name, rivals to the Capulet clan. Montague appears only briefly, in the three scenes in which the feud with the Capulets erupts into violence, and on each occasion he accepts in conventional terms the objections of the Prince to the fighting. In the final scene of reconciliation (5.3), he offers to commission a golden statue of Juliet as a public memorial to the love that the feud has doomed.  Although Shakespeare believed the Montagre-Capulet conflict was a historical event, it in fact never occurred.

CAPULET

Lord Capulet is the father of Juliet and the head of the family bearing his name, rivals to the Montague clan. Though short tempered, Capulet at first seems benevolent: he resists the marriage proposal by Paris in 1.2, observing that Juliet is too young, and in 1.5 he orders Tybalt to leave the banquet rather than fight Romeo. However, in 3.4 he suddenly decides to give Juliet, by now secretly married to Romeo, to Paris and rages furiously at his daughter when she resists; he belongs to the conventional, unfeeling world that opposes the lovers. When he impulsively moves the wedding date up by a day (4.2), Capulet becomes an agent of fate, hastening the play's tragic climax. His humorous involvement in the wedding preparations does not restore him to our affections, nor does his cursory and somewhat stilted mourning when he believes the drugged Juliet to be dead. Only at the end of the play, when his daughter's actual death impels him to seek a reconciliation with Montague, can we again find him humanly sympathetic.  The feud between the Capulets and the Montagues did not in fact occur, although Shakespeare and his sources believed it to have been real.

An old man

Cousin Capulet is an aged relative of Capulet. Cousin Capulet (called 'Old Man' in some editions) speaks only two lines in a brief conversation, at the feast in 1.5, on the rapid flight of the years. This episode, occurring just as Romeo and Juliet are about to meet, is one instance of the motif of time's passage, which recurs throughout the tragedy.

ROMEO

Romeo is one of the title characters in Romeo and Juliet and the lover of Juliet. Romeo progresses from posing as the melancholy lover of Rosaline to a more mature stance as Juliet's devoted husband, committed to her despite the world's displeasure. Romeo's early speeches declaiming his affection for Rosaline are parodies of conventional courtship; preposterously bookish and artificial, they emphasize by contrast the depth of his later love for Juliet. And Romeo undergoes another maturation as well: from helpless hysteria in 3.3, after his banishment, he comes in 5.3 to a resolute acceptance of what he sees as his only choice, death with Juliet. 

Romeo's growth is clearly brought about by his love. When he and Juliet first meet, he has not yet found a stronger mode of expression than the conventional Sonnet, as she recognizes when she observes, 'You kiss by th'book' (1.5.109). In their mutual ecstasy in the 'balcony' scene (2.2), it is Juliet who, though no less enraptured, is the more aware of the likely consequences of their love. Further, we recognize the impulsive boy in Romeo as he urges Friar Laurence to haste in 2.3. Once married, however, Romeo begins his transformation: in his attempt to make peace with Tybalt, he wishes all the world to love as he does, although to no avail. As he departs from Juliet into banishment, after their abbreviated wedding night, he offers hope to his despairing bride and displays a true maturity in sharing the mutual consolation necessary in their seemingly hopeless situation. At the end of the play, he has achieved the capacity to stand alone in the face of tragedy, as is demonstrated in the contrast between himself and Paris. Paris contents himself with formal rhymed verses reminiscent of Romeo's speeches in Act 1, whereas Romeo himself burns brightly with desperate determination.

MERCUTIO

Mercutio is Romeo’s friend who is killed by Tybalt. Mercutio, a buoyantly ribald and belligerent young gallant, serves as a foil for the maturing Romeo, who is discovering that love offers a more profound world than that of gentlemanly pleasures and enmities. Named for Mercury, the impudent god of thievery, Mercutio embodies an instability inherent in the noble society of Verona. His brilliant comedic monologue on Queen Mab (1.4.53-95) builds to a chaotic crescendo that suggests the violence that is lurking just beneath the surface of Veronese life. He is one of Shakespeare's bawdiest characters; in a mock incantation in 2.1, in which he lists the anatomical parts of Romeo's supposed beloved, Rosaline, he deflates the rhetoric of romance. His unabashedly carnal approach to love contrasts with the pure devotion that Romeo learns, and his hostility is compared with Romeo's intention to make peace with Tybalt after his marriage to Juliet. 

Mercutio ultimately belongs to the conventional world that opposes the young lovers. He blindly fulfils his role in that world by pointlessly insisting on fighting Tybalt, thereby launching the tragic complications of the play. While we can admire his wit, his loyalty to Romeo, and his courage in death, we also see that Mercutio has little business declaring 'a plague o' both your houses' (3,1.92, 108) when he has himself contributed so dramatically to the final catastrophe.

BENVOLIO

Benvolio is the friend and cousin of Romeo Benvolio's good sense and calm temperament are contrasted with the belligerence of Romeo's other friend, Mercutio. In 2.1, knowing that Romeo wishes to be alone, Benvolio draws Mercutio away. He attempts to prevent the brawl among the servants in 1.1 and the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt in 3.1; in both cases, he is ineffectual. This courteous and gentle character (whose apt name means 'good will') appropriately disappears from the play as the tragedy unfolds.

TYBALT

Tybalt is a cousin of Juliet. The belligerent Tybalt insists on fighting for the Capulet family against the Montague clan on any occasion. His arrival turns the humorous verbal confrontation between servants in 1.1 into a violent brawl. When he recognizes Romeo at the feast in 1.5, he wants to duel with him on the spot. The next day he fights and kills Mercutio, thus inciting Romeo to slay Tybalt in revenge, the act for which he is banished. In Shakespeare's source, Tybalt is merely a name, appearing only to be killed by Romeo in a street fight. The playwright elaborates the character to generate dramatic tension in the first half of the play; Tybalt serves to emphasize the potential for violence that accompanies the developing love between hero and heroine.

FRIAR LAURENCE

Friar Laurence is the clergyman who assists Romeo and Juliet. Although presented as a respectable, well-meaning old gentleman given to platitudes, the Friar serves as an agent of malevolent fate. In his first speech (2.3. 1-26) a sententious bouquet of rhymed observations on plant lore, he demonstrates the conventionality of thought that will lead him to proceed recklessly—to the lovers' destruction—while maintaining an air of caution. Moreover, his remarks on good and bad uses for herbs foreshadow the role of potions and poisons later in the play. He warns Romeo against haste in such passages as 2.6.9-15, but nonetheless agrees to perform the secret marriage of the young lovers. The Friar's flimsy morality is evident when he advises the distraught Juliet in 4.1. Accepting a bigamous marriage as an alternative, though not an ideal one, he proposes a devious capitulation to her parents' wishes, accompanied by the desperate expedient of the sleeping potion. In the final scene, his lack of character is richly demonstrated as he abandons Juliet in the predicament his rash plans have brought about.

FRIAR JOHN

Friar John is an unsuccessful emissary between Friar Laurence and the exiled Romeo. In 5.2 Friar John reports that he has been unable to deliver Laurence's letter to Romeo, having been quarantined as a suspected plague carrier. Thus Romeo remains unaware that the death of Juliet is feigned, and the tragic denouement is launched.

BALTHASAR

Balthasar is a servant of Romeo. In 5.1 Balthasar brings Romeo the erroneous news that Juliet is dead, triggering the last phase of the tragedy. In 5.3 Balthasar accompanies Romeo to Juliet's tomb. Romeo sends him away with a letter to Montague, but, concerned about his master, he stays to observe him. At the end of the play he gives the Prince the letter, which helps to explain the tragedy to the lovers' parents.  Balthasar is the only servant of the Montagues in the play except for Abram and a nameless companion, who participate in the brawl in 1.1. Accordingly, Balthasar is conventionally designated as the companion, who neither speaks nor is named in early texts of the play.

SAMPSON

Sampson is a servant of the Capulet household. Sampson and Gregory brawl with servants of the Montague family in 1.1, after opening the play with a pun-filled dialogue in which Sampson boasts of his bold fighting spirit, while Gregory taunts him for being a coward. They both content themselves with verbal battle until Tybalt inspires them to bring matters to blows. Shakespeare presumably gave Sampson an heroic name to add another touch of humor to his role, but the thought went undeveloped; the name is not spoken in the dialogue.

GREGORY

Gregory is a servant of the Capulet household. Gregory and his fellow servant Sampson brawl with servants of the Montague family in 1.1, after opening the play with a pun-filled comic dialogue in which Gregory taunts his companion for being a coward. The brawl is purely verbal until Tybalt appears and the rival households come to blows. The episode illustrates the lengths to which the feud between the families has gone, with their servants pursuing the quarrel in the streets.

PETER

Peter is a servant in the Capulet household, the assistant of the Nurse. Peter appears with the Nurse in 2.4 and makes a brief speech that both furthers a sexual innuendo and displays comical cowardice. His principal appearance, however, is in 4.5. When the Musicians hired for the wedding of Juliet are dismissed because she is believed to have died, Peter accosts them. He demands free music and then engages them in a comic exchange, insulting them and playing on their names. A stage direction in the Q2 edition of the play indicates that Peter was portrayed by Will Kempe, a famous comic of the day.

ABRAHAM

Abram is a servant of the Montague family. In 1.1 Abram and Balthasar brawl with servants of the Capulet household. This episode illustrates the extent to which the feud between the two families has upset the civic life of Verona.

Apothecary

Apothecary is the druggist from whom, in 5.1, Romeo buys a poison with which to kill himself, believing Juliet to be dead. Romeo believes that the poverty-stricken Apothecary can be bribed to break the law and defy common moral sense by selling him this drug. The young hero veers between contempt for the Apothecary and sympathy for another victim in a world of misery.

Musicians

Musicians are three players hired by Paris to provide music at his wedding to Juliet. However, Juliet is found apparently dead, and they are not needed. They are then accosted by the servant Peter, who demands free music and engages them in a comic exchange (4.5. 100-141). Their names, Simon Catling, Hugh Rebeck, and James Soundpost, indicate the instruments they play. A catling is a small, lutelike string instrument; a rebec, an early violin; a soundpost, for the singer in the group, is an internal component of a string instrument.

Pages

The play’s first page is a young servant of Mercutio. Mortally wounded in 3.1, Mercutio sends the Page, who does not speak, to summon a surgeon. The second page is a servant of Paris. The Page accompanies his master on his nocturnal visit to the grave of Juliet in 5.3; when Romeo arrives and fights with Paris, the Page summons the Watchman and later testifies to the Prince.

LADY MONTAGUE Lady Montague is the mother of Romeo and wife of Lord Montague.  Lady Montague appears only twice, beside her husband, and speaks only one line. In 5.3 she is said to have died of grief following Romeo's banishment.
LADY CAPULET

Lady Capulet is the mother of Juliet and wife of Capulet. Desiring the marriage of Juliet to Paris, Lady Capulet is curt, imperious, and coldly unsympathetic to her daughter's qualms, even without knowing that they stem from her passion for Romeo; she is a representative of the conventional world that opposes the young lovers. Her grief in 4.5, when she believes the drugged Juliet is dead, elicits our sympathy, but we may remember her enraged demands for revenge on Tybalt's murderer in 3.1. She does not speak in the final scene of reconciliation.

JULIET

Juliet is one of the title characters and the lover of Romeo. Juliet first appears as a conventional upper-class daughter, affectionately dependent on her Nurse and accepting of the marriage to Paris that is planned for her. However, when she is gripped by passion for Romeo, she displays a heroic capacity to resist her world, despite the dangers of her love. She accepts death no less readily than Romeo when destiny has destroyed their lives. 

When she first meets Romeo, she shows herself to be intelligent and perceptive. She matches wits with him in improvising their joint Sonnet (1.5.92-105), and she recognizes in him traces of the bookish, artificial lover he has been earlier, remarking that he kisses 'by th'book' (1.5.109). While no less enraptured than her lover during the subsequent 'balcony' scene (2.2), she is nonetheless more aware than he of their danger, as in 2.2.116-120, and it is she who sees that they must commit themselves to marriage if their plight is to be overcome. Although her response to the onset of passion is mature, she does not lose her appeal as a blooming young lover. Her soliloquy at the opening of 3.2, before she learns of Romeo's banishment, is a brilliant and utterly endearing expression of the impatience of the lover looking forward to a tryst. 

When faced with Romeo's banishment and the prospect of an enforced marriage to Paris, Juliet agrees to take the sleeping potion offered by Friar Laurence. In 4.3.15-58, she reviews a roster of possible terrors she faces in a frightening speech that underlines the courage with which she must and does proceed. She is no less resolute at the tragic climax of the play. Waking to find that mischance has overwhelmed her efforts, she does not hesitate to join her lover in death rather than continue living in a world that lacks their love. 

It has often been thought that Juliet's age, 14, represents a typical marriage age for English women of Shakespeare's day, but historians believe that the normal age was the late teens or early twenties. In any case, Shakespeare lowered Juliet's age from that given in his source, 16, and lines such as 1.2.8-13 suggest that she is supposed to be thought of as quite young for marriage, perhaps to emphasize her vulnerability. On the other hand, Lady Capulet states explicitly that Veronese girls younger than Juliet were mothers (1.3.69-71). The question remains puzzling.

Nurse

Nurse is a servant in the Capulet household, the nanny and former wet nurse of Juliet. The longwinded Nurse, a broadly comical figure who repeatedly resorts to the low humour of sexual innuendo, functions as a foil for Juliet's delicacy and openness; in 1.3 the anecdote she relates from Juliet's childhood illuminates the heroine's background. But as the tragedy deepens, the Nurse loses her humorous qualities and becomes a symbol of the conventional world that opposes the private realm of the lovers. Further, her crass recommendation that Juliet simply ignore her union to the banished Romeo (3.5.212-225) serves to isolate the heroine at a crucial moment. In her last appearance the Nurse cackles mindlessly about sex as she attempts to wake the drugged Juliet, and she echoes the uncomprehending grief of the family when it appears that the girl is dead.

Citizens Any of the townspeople who try to stop the feud at the beginning of the play between the members of the Capulet and Montagues.
Watchmen Any of three guards who come at the behest of Paris' page, when his master sends him away.
Servant

Servant is a worker in the Capulet household. In 1.2 the Servant is given a list of guests to Capulet's banquet and instructed to deliver invitations. However, he is illiterate and seeks the help of Romeo, who happens to be passing by. Thus Romeo learns of the banquet, which he will attend in search of Rosaline but where he will meet Juliet. At the banquet the Servant (or perhaps another one) is unable to identify Juliet in 1.5.42.

Servingman

Serving-man are members of the staff of the Capulet household. A Serving-man summons Lady Capulet to dinner in 1.3. In 1.5 four Serving-men, one of whom is comically named Potpan, jestingly clear away the banquet while preparing for a backstairs party of their own. In 4.2 and 4.4 Serving-men joke with Capulet as they assist in his preparations for the wedding of Juliet. These mellow and humorous domestics serve to suggest an atmosphere of bourgeois solidity to the Capulet household.

 

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