All human beings seek perfection, but ultimately realize that this is unachievable. We naturally gravitate towards perfection yet we learn that everyone is flawed. Our unique imperfections and weaknesses are what make us human. Our flaws impact our actions and the decisions we make. In The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare examines the dramatic and tragic flaw of Romeo Montague. Romeo, the protagonist and tragic hero, is a young boy who is spontaneous and reckless. His extreme impulsivity can be considered Romeo’s greatest flaw. Throughout the play, Romeo makes several decisions without regard for the consequences of his actions. His rash behavior eventually leads to his downfall and his untimely death.
Love is one of the first emotions that we experience, and Romeo is longing to find his one true love. At the very beginning of the story, Romeo is madly in love with the beautiful Rosaline. Rosaline, however, explains that she does not feel the same way about Romeo. These unreciprocated feelings by Rosaline impact Romeo greatly and causes Lord Montague to express concern for his son. He is unaware of the situation Romeo is in with Rosaline and says, “Many a morning hath he there been seen, with tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew, adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs”(The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet (R), 1.1, 124-126). Lord Montague asks Benvolio, Romeo’s cousin, to find out what is bothering him:
Romeo: Ay me! Sad hours seem long.
Benvolio: What sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours?
Romeo: Not having that which having makes them short.
Benvolio: In love?
Benvolio: Of love?
Romeo: Out of her favor where I am in love (R, 1.1, 154-161).
Benvolio pushes Romeo to tell him who he is in love with:
Romeo: In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman. And she’s fair I love.
Benvolio: A right fair mark, fair coz, is soonest hit.
Romeo: Well, in that hit you miss. She’ll not be hit with Cupid’s arrow (R&J, 1.1, 197-202).”
Romeo, of course, is talking about Rosaline, whom he is in love with. He is explaining to his cousin that she does not share the same feelings for him. Rosaline says she is not interested in falling in love with Romeo or anyone else. She cannot be influenced by his declaration of love, his good looks or his wealth. She plans to live a pure and celibate life.
Romeo is very depressed and discouraged that Rosaline does not love him back. In an attempt to cheer him up, his friends convince him to go to a masquerade party at the Capulet’s home. Although there is an ongoing feud between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s, Romeo is convinced to attend the party and assumes his mask will keep his identity a secret. When he arrives at the party, Romeo is still very depressed about the circumstances surrounding the relationship he wants with Rosaline. However, these feelings seem to disappear the moment he sees Juliet. He falls in love with her at first sight and his feelings for Rosaline are instantly diminished. Romeo expresses his thoughts about Juliet, “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear – Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! Did my heart love till now? … Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.” (R, 1.5, 42-45; 50-51). Once again his tragic flaw is clearly evident. Within minutes of seeing Juliet for the first time, Romeo has completely forgotten about his heartache over Rosaline’s unrequited love and has found a new love in Juliet.
Romeo feels he must meet Juliet the moment he lays his eyes on her and he makes his way through the crowd to find her. They cross paths in the middle of the dance floor and lock eyes. In that moment, it is as if there is no one else there. Romeo says to Juliet, “My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss (R&J, 1.5, 93-94)”. Romeo then kisses Juliet, neither of them realizing who they are. After the party, both Romeo and Juliet are curious about who they had just fallen in love with. Romeo asks who the beautiful girl was and he is told that she is Juliet Capulet, a member of his family’s greatest enemy. Juliet asks about Romeo and finds out that he is a Montague. Realizing he is supposed to be an enemy of her family, she cannot believe how unlucky she is to have fallen in love with Romeo before knowing who he was. Due to the feud between their two families, their relationship is forbidden.
Although he realizes their love is forbidden, Romeo cannot stop thinking about Juliet, so he returns to the Capulet home hoping to see his love. Romeo climbs the wall of their home and hides outside, risking his life to see her. He says, “I have night’s cloak to hide me from their sight; and but thou love me, let them find me here. My life were better ended by their hate than death prorogued, wanting of thy love (R&J, 2.2, 75-78)”. Romeo once again shows his flaw in this scene by being reckless and not thinking about the possible consequences. He is willing to die for love and for Juliet, a girl he had only met that night. He proclaims his love for Juliet and asks her to marry him. Juliet is concerned by Romeo’s declaration of love and she says, “Although I joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract tonight. It is too rash, too unadvised, and too sudden (R&J, 2.2, 117-119)”. Juliet worries that Romeo’s declaration of love is not serious and that he is being too impulsive in his decision of promising to marry her.
After Romeo declares his love for Juliet and promises to marry her, he decides to visit Friar Laurence to ask him to marry them. He explains to the Friar that he is in love with Juliet and says he has a great desire to marry her. Friar Laurence explains that “Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes (R&J, 2.3, 67-68)”. Friar Laurence tries to convince Romeo that his love for Juliet is not true. He says Romeo is merely in love with her beauty and that he will change his mind again about who he loves. However, Romeo is stubborn and certain about his love for Juliet. He refuses to believe that he would ever love another.
Romeo exposes his flaw of impulsivity when he expresses his undying love for Juliet and again when he decides to slay Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death. Enraged by the loss of his best friend at the hands of Tybalt, Romeo’s recklessness gets the best of him. The King does not sentence Romeo to death but instead banishes him from Verona. If Romeo had considered the consequences of murdering his enemy, he could have prevented his banishment from Verona and would not have been separated from Juliet. Romeo feels that being banished from Verona is worse than death. To him, remaining alive but never being able to see his one true love ever again is worse than dying. Romeo feels that at least if he were to die, he would not have to live with the pain of being separated from Juliet.
By the end of the play, Romeo’s rash behavior is the cause of his untimely death. When Romeo discovers Juliet’s seemingly dead body, he immediately decides to kill himself. Romeo cries, “Come, bitter conduct; come, unsavory guide! Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on the dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark! Here’s to my love! O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die (R&J, 5.3, 116-120)”. Romeo decides that he cannot continue to live if Juliet is dead so he drinks poison, kisses Juliet and dies. Moments later, Juliet wakes up only to find Romeo dead. If Romeo had stopped for a minute to get help or went to see Friar Laurence, he would have discovered that Juliet’s death was staged and that Juliet would soon wake. Unfortunately, his rash decision to drink the poison resulted in his untimely death. When Juliet woke up and found Romeo dead, she too kills herself using Romeo’s dagger.
The heartbreaking and devastating deaths of Romeo and Juliet could have been prevented if Romeo would have thought more rationally. Had he paused to think, he would have been alive when Juliet awoke and this pointless tragedy would have been avoided. You should always consider the consequences before making any important decisions and it is unwise to make choices spontaneously because they can end in disaster. While Romeo did some good things in the play, he did a lot of bad as well. Romeo was very impulsive and rash and his reckless choices and behavior had a negative impact on many people. Ultimately, his tragic flaw of rash decisions, impulsive behavior and foolish actions resulted in unnecessary heartache and loss.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet, Holt McDougal, 2012.