Romeo and Juliet

by

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Foil 2 key examples

Read our modern English translation.
Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet vs. Rosaline:

Rosaline and Juliet can be considered foils with diverging paths in the play. Both women are the objects of Romeo's love, though Romeo's obsession for Rosaline comes to seem superficial compared to his love for Juliet, which affords him the strength to defy their families' ancient rivalry. 

Rosaline is mainly characterized by her rigid insistence on staying chaste and preserving her virginity—as young, unmarried women of the era were expected to do. Juliet, by contrast, seems less bound to convention and more sexually adventurous. Though she only makes her sexual desires entirely explicit after marrying Romeo, before they marry, she continually hints at her own lust for him. For example, in Act 2, Scene 2, she calls out to Romeo from her balcony: "Romeo, doff thy name, / And, for thy name, which is no part of thee, / Take all myself." In Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio unknowingly comments on Juliet's sexuality when he compares the virginal Rosaline to a hypothetical woman who is sexually available and thus preferable, expressing his wish that Rosaline were more promiscuous.

Though Juliet is a far more complex character than Rosaline, Rosaline also serves an important narrative purpose. She helps set the plot in motion by providing an impetus for Romeo to attend the Capulets' ball: Mercutio persuades Romeo to gatecrash the event in order to find a new woman who will make him forget his love for Rosaline. In this way, Shakespeare suggests that women are not merely sexual objects or status symbols, but individuals with power of their own. Even from afar, Rosaline exerts power over Romeo by leading him to commit an act of outright rebellion. However, it is Juliet—and not Rosaline—who clearly claims and exercises her autonomy by articulating and pursuing her own desires rather than upholding traditional values. 

Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet vs. Rosaline:

Rosaline and Juliet can be considered foils with diverging paths in the play. Both women are the objects of Romeo's love, though Romeo's obsession for Rosaline comes to seem superficial compared to his love for Juliet, which affords him the strength to defy their families' ancient rivalry. 

Rosaline is mainly characterized by her rigid insistence on staying chaste and preserving her virginity—as young, unmarried women of the era were expected to do. Juliet, by contrast, seems less bound to convention and more sexually adventurous. Though she only makes her sexual desires entirely explicit after marrying Romeo, before they marry, she continually hints at her own lust for him. For example, in Act 2, Scene 2, she calls out to Romeo from her balcony: "Romeo, doff thy name, / And, for thy name, which is no part of thee, / Take all myself." In Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio unknowingly comments on Juliet's sexuality when he compares the virginal Rosaline to a hypothetical woman who is sexually available and thus preferable, expressing his wish that Rosaline were more promiscuous.

Though Juliet is a far more complex character than Rosaline, Rosaline also serves an important narrative purpose. She helps set the plot in motion by providing an impetus for Romeo to attend the Capulets' ball: Mercutio persuades Romeo to gatecrash the event in order to find a new woman who will make him forget his love for Rosaline. In this way, Shakespeare suggests that women are not merely sexual objects or status symbols, but individuals with power of their own. Even from afar, Rosaline exerts power over Romeo by leading him to commit an act of outright rebellion. However, it is Juliet—and not Rosaline—who clearly claims and exercises her autonomy by articulating and pursuing her own desires rather than upholding traditional values. 

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Act 2, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio vs. Romeo:

Mercutio and Romeo, though close friends and kinsmen, can also be viewed as foils. Romeo is shy, romantic, and tender-hearted, which Mercutio often mocks him for. For example, Mercutio tells Romeo in Act 2, Scene 4 that "this driveling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole," scornfully comparing Romeo's obsessive interest in Rosaline to a "great natural," or a jester-like fool.

Meanwhile, Mercutio is outwardly confident and brash, and far more interested in sex than romance. He often speaks in crude sexual innuendo—his reference to the "great natural" who looks to "hide his bauble in a hole" doubles as a euphemism for sexual intercourse—whereas Romeo expresses his desires through flowery, romantic lyricism. 

Though Romeo's romantic nature makes him a more sympathetic character than Mercutio, Mercutio is also clever and experienced in a way Romeo is not. Romeo instinctively understands the futility of the Montague-Capulet feud (which he aptly describes as "brawling love"), but it is Mercutio who openly criticizes the feud (by crying out, "A plague o' both your houses!" when he dies in Act 3). Mercutio also understands the human vices and weaknesses that have enabled the feud, as his Queen Mab monologue in Act 1 makes clear. By comparison, Romeo is far more naive than his best friend: he firmly believes in the value of romantic love and peace, and he can't understand why they may be difficult—or even impossible—to obtain in conflict-ridden Verona. 

Additionally, Mercutio represents the patriarchal order: he is sexually explicit, aggressive, and quick to dominate others by demonstrating his authority over them, whether through physical violence or displays of complex language. On the other hand, Romeo represents a clear threat to that order. His romantic nature and willingness to privilege his love for Juliet over his loyalty to the Montague name make him "effeminate," as he refers to himself in Act 3. Yet Shakespeare wants to show that this supposed "effeminacy" is positive, not a flaw. Mercutio may be wiser than Romeo in some ways, but Romeo's ability to love lends him strength, generosity, and compassion. 

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Act 3, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio vs. Romeo:

Mercutio and Romeo, though close friends and kinsmen, can also be viewed as foils. Romeo is shy, romantic, and tender-hearted, which Mercutio often mocks him for. For example, Mercutio tells Romeo in Act 2, Scene 4 that "this driveling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole," scornfully comparing Romeo's obsessive interest in Rosaline to a "great natural," or a jester-like fool.

Meanwhile, Mercutio is outwardly confident and brash, and far more interested in sex than romance. He often speaks in crude sexual innuendo—his reference to the "great natural" who looks to "hide his bauble in a hole" doubles as a euphemism for sexual intercourse—whereas Romeo expresses his desires through flowery, romantic lyricism. 

Though Romeo's romantic nature makes him a more sympathetic character than Mercutio, Mercutio is also clever and experienced in a way Romeo is not. Romeo instinctively understands the futility of the Montague-Capulet feud (which he aptly describes as "brawling love"), but it is Mercutio who openly criticizes the feud (by crying out, "A plague o' both your houses!" when he dies in Act 3). Mercutio also understands the human vices and weaknesses that have enabled the feud, as his Queen Mab monologue in Act 1 makes clear. By comparison, Romeo is far more naive than his best friend: he firmly believes in the value of romantic love and peace, and he can't understand why they may be difficult—or even impossible—to obtain in conflict-ridden Verona. 

Additionally, Mercutio represents the patriarchal order: he is sexually explicit, aggressive, and quick to dominate others by demonstrating his authority over them, whether through physical violence or displays of complex language. On the other hand, Romeo represents a clear threat to that order. His romantic nature and willingness to privilege his love for Juliet over his loyalty to the Montague name make him "effeminate," as he refers to himself in Act 3. Yet Shakespeare wants to show that this supposed "effeminacy" is positive, not a flaw. Mercutio may be wiser than Romeo in some ways, but Romeo's ability to love lends him strength, generosity, and compassion. 

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