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Romeo is one of the title characters in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Romeo is the son of old Montague and his wife, who secretly loves and marries Juliet, a member of the rival House of Capulet. Forced into exile by his slaying of Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, in a duel, Romeo commits suicide upon hearing falsely of Juliet's death.
The character's origins can be traced as far back as Pyramus, who appears in Ovid's Metamorphoses, but the first modern incarnation of Romeo is Mariotto in the 33rd of Masuccio Salernitano's Il Novellino (1476). This story was adapted by Luigi da Porto as Giulietta e Romeo (1530), and Shakespeare's main source was an English verse translation of this text by Arthur Brooke. Although both Salernitano and da Porto claimed that their stories had historical basis, there is little evidence that this is the case.
Romeo is one of the most important characters of the play, and has a consistent presence throughout it. His role as an idealistic lover has led the word "Romeo" to become a synonym for a passionate male lover in various languages. Although often treated as such, it is not clear that "Montague" is a surname in the modern sense.
The earliest tale bearing a resemblance to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is Xenophon of Ephesus' Ephesiaca, whose hero is a Habrocomes.The character of Romeo is also similar to that of Pyramus in Ovid's Metamorphoses, a youth who is unable to meet the object of his affection due to an ancient family quarrel, and later kills himself due to mistakenly believing her to have died. Although it is unlikely that Shakespeare directly borrowed from Ovid while writing Romeo and Juliet, the story was likely an influence on the Italian writers who the playwright was greatly indebted to. The two sources which Shakespeare most likely consulted himself are Brookes' translation of de Porta and W. Painter's The goodly historye of the true, and constant Love between Rhomeo and Iulietta.
Role in the play
Romeo first appears in the play in the first scene, shortly after the brawl between the Montagues and the Capulets. As a young man, he is rash and quite easily distempered. As a general rule, he is a mirror image of Juliet, being urged to marry by his father. He is overly eager, especially because he is infatuated with Rosaline, who is uninterested in him due to her commitment to chastity. His cousin Benvolio (who is related by his divorced mother's new husband), wishing to distract him from his romantic plight, presumably to gain Rosaline's favour, takes him and his friend Mercutio, uninvited and disguised, to a feast at the house of the Capulets. There he meets and falls in love with Juliet, the daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet. However, this was not merely infatuation, but true love, as Romeo explicitly states that loves Rosaline, but the two talk and indeed fall in love, as Romeo also is noted to find Juliet less than beautiful. This however changes and Romeo learns to see the beauty in his true love (as opposed to infatuation with Rosaline, Shakespeare's method of adding contrast). Romeo again meets her after the feast, as she laments her love for him from her balcony. Through a meeting with Juliet's Nurse, Romeo arranges for them to be married secretly by Friar Lawrence. When Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, insults Romeo in the streets the next day, he is prevented by his now familial relation with Tybalt from defending his honour. His friend Mercutio, exasperated by this, fights Tybalt, and is killed by him. Romeo, seeking revenge, kills Tybalt, which results in him being exiled from the city by the Prince. He leaves the next morning, having consummated his marriage with Juliet. Juliet, whose father intends to marry her to an aristocrat, Paris, unbeknownst to Romeo takes a potion, provided by Friar Lawrence, which places her in a death-like coma. She is therefore buried, and a messenger is sent to Romeo to tell him that Juliet is in fact alive, who unfortunately is unable to reach him to due to the plague. Romeo, genuinely believing Juliet to be dead, travels to her grave, where he meets and kills Paris. When he sees her body, he kills himself, moments before she awakes; when Juliet sees that Romeo is dead, she kills herself in turn shortly thereafter. The tragedy leads to the end of the feud between the two families.