How does the language used show the change in Romeo's character and in his attitude to love?

Compare and contrast Romeo’s conversation with Mercutio (Act1.4) with his soliloquy before Juliet appears in the balcony scene. How does the language used show the change in Romeo’s character and in his attitude to love?

Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies about love and passion between two young people. Romeo is considered by many to be the perfect romantic hero, however upon closer analysis he can be characterized as just a young man, transformed by love.

This can be seen in Romeo’s initial interest in Rosaline, which is superficial and passive in comparison to the more complex and active relationship he develops with Juliet. The language used in Act 1, Scene 4 and the beginning of Act 2, Scene 2 shows this transformation clearly.

Act 1, Scene 4 begins on a Sunday evening outside Capulet’s house. Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio and about five or six other Maskers or Torch-bearers are about to make an appearance at the Capulet’s feast.

Mercutio may be an invited guest as he has friends in the Capulet household, but Romeo and Benvolio, Montague kin, certainly are not. However, they have come prepared with masks and an introductory speech which will get them into the party. Romeo, unlike the lively Mercutio and Benvolio, is very melancholy at this time, not really in the right spirit to attend a feast. He is obsessed with Rosaline; a woman who will never love him. Romeo has been encouraged previously by Benvolio to forget his present love and consider other women however he has been determined to keep on loving and suffering.

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When Benvolio discovered that Rosaline would be at Capulet’s feast, he challenged Romeo to attend the feast in order to compare Rosaline with other beauties. Romeo agreed to this however he said he was not going to see ladies more beautiful than Rosaline, but to prove to himself that Rosaline was the most attractive woman in existence.

As the scene opens we hear Romeo, who I feel would have a copy of his speech in his hand saying, “What, shall this speech be spoke for our excuse? / Or shall we on without apology?” It was not unusual for masked intruders such as themselves to offer a prepared speech which explained their actions, complimented the host and flattered the guest. However, Benvolio argues that such speeches old fashioned and long-winded (“The date is out of such prolixity”). He then mocks maskers who used to have one of their number dress up as Cupid to make a pretty speech about love. He states that they are not going to make excuses and the guests can take them as they find them. He closes by saying, “We’ll measure them a measure and be gone.” By this he means that they will dance for them and be gone.

Benvolio and Mercutio are ready to have an entertaining night at the Capulet’s feast, however Romeo and Benvolio are about to enter a territory where everything about them is cursed. Romeo is not in the mood for this and shows it by saying, “Give me a torch, I am not for this ambling; / Being but heavy, I will bear the light.” This phrase is an example of heavy and light imagery used in the play and I feel that these two words would be emphasised. Romeo is trying to convey that as a torch-bearer, he wouldn’t wear a mask or do any dancing. He is in a dark mood, ‘heavy,’ not light-footed, so he will only carry the light. For the rest of the scene Mercutio tries to talk Romeo into a better mood, but Romeo constantly resists, using word-play as his defence weapon.

Mercutio then insists that Romeo must dance, however Romeo replies, “You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles, I have a soul of lead / So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.” Here Romeo is making a pun on the word sole/soul. This is not meant to be humorous but it is merely a statement of his ‘heavy’ feelings. Mercutio subsequently points out that love and sadness do not have to go together, Romeo should, “borrow Cupid’s wings, / And soar with them above a common bound.” In reply to this, Romeo makes another pun on the word soar/sore to imply that he cannot borrow Cupid’s wings because he has been so badly wounded by Cupid’s arrow. He is too tied up in love to be able to leap up high as his heavy soul is holding him to the ground, (“Under love’s heavy burden do I sink.”)

With that attempt failing, Mercutio then tries again to lift Romeo’s spirits by using sexual innuendo to cheer him up. It also adds humour to the speech as the audience always enjoy any language related to sex. Romeo has just said that he is sinking under the burden of love, so Mercutio replies that Romeo would “sink in it should you burden love / Too great oppression for a tender thing.” This means that if Romeo cannot rise to the occasion, he will be a burden to the one he loves, but it is also implying that if Romeo gets what he wants (sex) he will sink into the woman and be a burden to her. Romeo is not convinced by this and he says that love is not a “tender thing” at all, but rough and “pricks like a thorn”. Here, Romeo is talking about the sexual side of love and Mercutio carries this on by making a pun on the word ‘prick’. He says, “Prick love for prickling, and you beat love down.” In Mercutio’s view, love-sickness is caused by lack of sex; if he would stimulate his love into action (by having sex), he would get over thinking that he needs to be in love.

Now that Mercutio has passed his judgement on Romeo’s state of mind, he is ready to lead the way into the Capulet’s feast. At this point Mercutio would put on his mask as he makes a comment about how he has an ugly mask for an ugly face. He does not care however, what people say about it, (“what care I.”) Benvolio is also eager to enter the feast and instructs everyone to begin dancing as soon as they are through the door, (“and no sooner in, / But every man betake him to his legs.”) Romeo, however, is not done with his melancholy or playing with words. He says again that he will only carry a torch; he will let those who are light-hearted dance, but as for himself, “I am proverb’d with a grandsire phrase; / I’ll be a candle holder and look on: / The game was ne’er so fair, and I am done.” A “grandsire phrase” is an old proverb (‘A good candle-holder proves a good gamester’ – i.e. if a person does not play, he cannot lose). By saying this Romeo is trying to convey that he does not believe he can win the game of love, so he does not want to play.

In reply to this, Mercutio mocks Romeo’s attitude by taking “done” to mean “dun” and says, “Tut, dun’s the mouse, the constable’s own word. / If thou art Dun, we’ll draw thee from the mire, / Or (save your reference) love, wherein thou stickest / Up to the ears.” Mercutio is just having a bit of fun, playing on Romeo’s words to try and tell Romeo to stop being dull and gloomy and to enjoy himself. Mercutio closes by urging everyone to go to the party, saying, “Come, we burn daylight, ho!” Romeo however, does not move, and says, “Nay, that’s no so”. To “burn daylight” could be taken as to waste time, and Romeo pretends to misunderstand Mercutio’s meaning, taking the phrase literally pointing out that it is still dark, not daylight. Mercutio carries on Romeo’s Iambic Pentameter showing the closeness between the pair and tells Romeo to be reasonable as he was merely trying to point out that they are wasting not only their torches and time, but their good looks. “Take our good meaning, for our judgement sits / Five times in that ere once in our five wits.” By this, Mercutio is telling Romeo to stop being witty and accept their true meaning as it is probably five times more trustworthy than impressions received through the five senses. Romeo refuses and instead he makes a pun on “meaning” and “wit”, “And we mean well in going to this mask, / But ’tis no wit in going”. Romeo is stating that they have good intentions in going to this party; however there is no sense behind why they are going.

Since the start of the scene, Romeo has been determined to spoil everyone’s fun. This whole conversation started when Romeo said he would not dance, however now he is saying something more serious. He feels that it would not be a wise thing to go to the feast at all. Mercutio is now getting a little aggravated with Romeo. He refuses to accept Romeo’s comment and finishing off Romeo’s previous sentence and iambic pentameter, he adds, “Why, may one ask?” Romeo replies that he had a dream, though he does not go on to explain what it was. This may have been because Mercutio does not give him half a chance as he interrupts by saying, “And so did I.” Mercutio is getting fed up with Romeo’s whining when he just wants to have fun. When Romeo then asks what his dream was, Mercutio replies that it was, “That dreamers often lie”, and Romeo wit fully finishes Mercutio’s sentence by saying, “In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.”

Mercutio’s famous “Queen Mab” speech starts at this point. It is said in prose as Mercutio’s speech always is showing his flippant, humorous character. The speech is motivated by Romeo’s stubborn refusal to join in the fun that Benvolio and Mercutio have planned. Mercutio has finally had enough with Romeo trying to spoil their fun and he lets his imagination run wild as he describes the dream he had the previous night. The speech is full of imagery and shows us that Mercutio likes to be centre stage. If I were directing this speech on stage, I would direct Mercutio to appear as though his imagination has taken over his actions and he moves around the stage as though he is reliving his dream.

Although the speech is a little like a fantasy, Mercutio’s point is clear; that Romeo is being foolish to believe in his dream. The speech is quite lengthy and Mercutio could continue if it weren’t for Romeo interrupting him saying, “Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! / Thou talk’st of nothing.” Mercutio, who has now returned to reality, states that this is exactly his point, “True, I talk of dreams, / Which are the children of an idle brain, / Begot of nothing but vain fantasy”. Mercutio then goes on to say that fantasy is as changeable as the wind. Benvolio continues, taking the word “wind” meaning ‘breath’ and remarks that if they continue to argue in such a manner, then they will be too late to go into the Capulet’s feast as the supper is over.

Following this Romeo says a soliloquy which proves he is showing his true self. At this point I feel he may turn away from the group and talk in a hushed tone so that nobody else can hear him. The speech is foreshadowing what actually happens in the rest of the play and might be preparing the audience for this. Romeo looks uneasily into the future and has a premonition of death. Despite this, Romeo does go into Capulet’s house. He says that he is doing so because he is entrusting his fate to “He, that hath the steerage of my course”. Here, Romeo is using a pilot metaphor which he uses quite a few times during the course of the play, and in this case we might assume that Romeo’s pilot is God.

The scene closes with Benvolio calling on the drum to strike and because there are no curtains on the stage, they would all march around the stage once to indicate that they have entered Capulet’s house.

The language used in this scene shows a lot about Romeo’s character at this time. Heavy imagery is the key theme throughout the scene and Romeo’s language indicates this. He makes continuous references to dark, depressing and heavy ideas such as, “Being but heavy”, “I have a soul of lead”, “Under loves heavy burden do I sink”. By saying these quotes, Romeo is trying to portray his melancholy and sombre mood. He feels that he is too deeply in love to enjoy himself and he must continue to be in his depression until Rosaline is in love with him. Even when Mercutio continually tries to persuade him to ‘lighten up’, Romeo will not stop his ‘heavy’ language and I feel this shows a little immaturity in his character. He says that he is despairing too much over Rosaline that he cannot have fun and he will just watch everyone else enjoying themselves.

Having said this, in line 35 Romeo comments, “A torch for me: let wantons light of heart”. This is an example of light imagery that Romeo has introduced and is evidence that Romeo can have a light hearted mind. It also proves that he is no totally obsessed with Rosaline, but he just likes talking about her which may suggest that he is being a bit of a drama queen and he enjoys being sad.

Throughout the scene, Romeo’s ability to play on words is made obvious, showing his quick-wittedness and intelligence. These are in the form of puns such as, “You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles, I have a sole of lead”, and also through proverbs which he has used in his speech in convey a particular emotion. An example of this is, “I am proverb’d with a grandsire phrase”.

When Mercutio twists Romeo’s comment and includes sexual innuendo in his speech (“And to sink in it should you burden love”), Romeo does not get frustrated by this but merely continues Mercutio’s idea in his defence. This shows both Romeo’s and Mercutio’s boyish character.

Romeo’s final speech of the scene involves fate imagery. Romeo has looked into the future and had a premonition of death. He is entrusting his fate to God (“He that hath the steerage of my course”), however Romeo seems more melodramatic than religious. Romeo has held onto his image of himself as a victim of hopeless love and unavoidable fate. I feel this shows us his impulsive character as he has not really put any thought behind what he is saying and has no evidence of any sort that it is true.

Romeo is a free spirited youth who is pining for Rosaline, the object of his unreturned love. During Act 1, Scene 4, Romeo’s attitude to love is made obvious by the language he used to convey his emotions. The ‘heavy’ imagery which I mentioned previously once again plays a large role in our understanding. Romeo has never even met Rosaline and he knows nothing about her character and yet he seems to think that his life can know longer be enjoyed until Rosaline and himself are together. Romeo makes this attitude clear throughout the scene.

At the start of the scene it is obvious that Romeo is not in the mood to be going to the party (“I am not for this ambling”). Although he realises that Rosaline, his love, will be one of the guests his mood does not alter. I feel that this proves to us that Romeo is not keen on pursuing Rosaline, but he would rather just despair over her.

Romeo continues to moan constantly that he is too depressed to enjoy himself (“I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe”). However if he was truly in love then he would not be moaning to his friends about it. He would be doing anything possible to get close to his love. Therefore I feel Romeo realises that the type of love he is experiencing is infatuation not pure love.

When Romeo begins to make puns and include light imagery he is proving that he still does have the ability to lighten up. It is showing that perhaps Romeo’s love for Rosaline is fake as previously he was so depressed to do anything, and now he is able to compose witty puns. By this, Romeo’s superficial approach to love is revealed as I think he is showing how he is in fact not in love with Rosaline herself, but he is in love with the thought of being in love.

Act 2, Scene 2 takes place very late on Sunday night. It is the same evening that Act 1, Scene 4 took place on and also the same evening that Romeo met Juliet for the first time. The setting for the scene is in Capulet’s orchard. Romeo is sitting alone where he has just been listening to Mercutio mocking Romeo’s love-longing for Rosaline. Romeo’s first words in this scene are therefore about Mercutio: “He jests at scars that never felt a wound”. Romeo’s point is that Mercutio can make jokes about the pain of love only because he has never felt any such pain. The last word of this line purposely half rhymes with the last word Benvolio spoke in the previous scene to indicate that no scene break is intended. If I were directing this scene I would place Romeo under a tree, so that it fits well with Mercutio’s description in the previous scene (“Now will he sit under a medlar tree”).

Romeo then looks up at the Capulet’s house and sees Juliet come to the window, and says, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” During the first 47 lines of this scene, all of Romeo’s speech is said as an aside proving that he is showing his true self during this time. Light imagery has immediately come into Romeo’s speech and continuous references to light imagery are made throughout the scene, for example “Arise, fair sun” and “Two of the fairest stars”. In this case, Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun. Continuing this comparison, Romeo says, “Arise, fair sun, and kill he envious moon, / Who is already sick and pale with grief / That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.” Romeo is saying that Juliet is a ‘maid’ of the moon because the moon-goddess Diana is the patroness of decency, and Juliet is a decent maid. Romeo, however, sees the promise of bright warm love in Juliet which is far more beautiful than the pale light of the moon. He goes on to urge Juliet to stop being a maid of the moon by saying “Her vestal livery is but sick and green / And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.”

At this moment, I feel that either Juliet would lean out of the window or Romeo would step out from under the tree so that he can get a clearer view of her. This might explain his sudden change in tone. He drops his poetic metaphors and says simply, “It is my lady, O it is my love: / O that she knew she were!” By this he means that he wishes she knew that she is the lady that he loves. Romeo then sees that Juliet is saying something, but he cannot hear what it is and so he says to himself, “What of that? / Her eye discourses, I will answer it.” It seems that he is

about to step into her view, but holds himself back at the last second, saying, “I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks: / Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, / Having some business, do entreat her eyes, / To twinkle in their spheres till they return.” This is a beautiful way of saying that Juliet’s eyes are like stars. He had thought that her eyes spoke, and he is now saying that they are speaking to the stars, and that the stars are speaking to them.

Still comparing Juliet’s eyes to stars, Romeo asks himself what would happen if the two stars traded places with Juliet’s eyes. He decides that the brightness of her cheek would outshine the stars, and that “her eyes in heaven / Would through the airy region stream so bright / That birds would sing and think it were not night.” Then Juliet leans her cheek on her hand, and Romeo simply wishes that he were a glove on her hand, so that he, too, could touch her cheek.

Following this, Juliet sighs, “Ay me!” To Romeo, these simple words are divine. He says, “She speaks! / O speak again, bright angel, for thou art / As glorious to this night, being o’er my head, / As is a winged messenger of heaven / Unto the white-upturned wond’ring eyes / Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him, / When he bestrides the lazy puffing clouds, / And sails upon the bosom of the air.” Romeo really believes that Juliet is angelic and his description is so beautiful and poetic that it is as though he has actually seen an angel and is now gazing upon another one.

We now hear Juliet’s famous words, “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” Of course she is not actually speaking to Romeo as she has no idea that he is there, but she is so much in love with him that she is asking why he must be ‘Romeo’ a Montague. She asks him to “Deny thy father and refuse thy name”, so that he will no longer be a Montague. If he will not do that, then if he just swears that he loves her, she will give up the name of ‘Capulet’. Hearing this, Romeo asks himself if he should speak now, or listen to more of what Juliet has to say. This is the last speech of Romeo’s soliloquy and the scene continues with the pair hold a romantic conversation which ends in an agreement in marriage for the following day.

After reading Romeo’s soliloquy at the beginning of Act 2, Scene 2 it is clear that his character and attitude to love has changed immensely. I feel that we must ascribe Juliet as the cause of this transformation as it was upon meeting her that Romeo’s image and outlook on love has been altered. It was she who made Romeo realize that his superficial idea of love which he experienced with Rosaline was not true love. It was through this realization that Romeo’s character was changed and he was inspired to speak some of the most beautiful and intense love poetry ever written.

As soon as the scene commences, the idea of light imagery is introduced, “What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east and Juliet is the sun.” This continues throughout the scene and I feel that it is trying to portray the idea that Romeo is a fresh and new person. He is no longer in his sad and sombre mood, moaning about Rosaline. Juliet has driven him out of his melancholy and he is of high spirits as his life at present looks hopeful.

Romeo uses poetic language of love during his soliloquy as he compares Juliet to many romantic things such as which Romeo uses during the scene such as “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, / Having some business, do entreat her eyes”, and “O speak again, bright angel”. This shows us that he has become more passionate towards love since meeting Juliet. He has discovered what pure love is and this has driven him to speak in this way. Instead of merely phrasemaking about love, Romeo begins to devote his whole being and his intelligence to it and its object, Juliet.

Romeo’s change in character in his soliloquy I feel is also shown by what he does not say. During the whole soliloquy Romeo makes no mention to the danger he is putting himself in by coming to Juliet this evening, the danger of him being caught. He also omits the fact that the woman he has fallen in love with is a member of the family which he and all his relatives detest. Nevertheless he has sneaked into the garden of his enemy’s daughter, risking death to catch a glimpse of her because his love for Juliet has compelled him to. This shows the eagerness of his character which has developed due to love. Previously Romeo did not want to even go into the party which his love was attending and now he is risking death just to see his new love.

Romeo’s language throughout this piece is all positive and of high spirits (“But soft, what light through yonder window break”). For a person to speak in this fashion, his character must be very cheerful and I feel that it is this joyful character which has given his the courage to risk death for his love. He is unafraid of danger as he feels that his love for Juliet, the true love he is experiencing will protect him.

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How does the language used show the change in Romeo's character and in his attitude to love?. (2018, Dec 28). Retrieved from

How does the language used show the change in Romeo's character and in his attitude to love?
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