Benvolio: an honest peacekeeper
The peacemaker, amongst a group of hot headed characters, Benvolio Montague, cousin to Romeo, in William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, is a character who significantly moves the plot along, helping Romeo along the way to discover his true love. Shakespeare creates Benvolio from scratch, making the characteristics of honesty and peace-making some of his most well-known aspects. It is Benvolio’s kindness that later develops a sense of care and helpfulness towards Romeo, trying to keep him out of harm’s way and help him reach a happier future.
Throughout the play, one aspect that characterizes Benvolio is his honesty. After the fight between the servants of the Montagues and the Capulets at the beginning of the play, Benvolio explains to Lord Montague: “Here were the servants of your adversary / And yours, close fighting ere I did approach (…) / Till the Prince came, who parted either part” (1.1.96–105). In this scene, it is the first time that we see how honest Benvolio is, regardless of the situation. The reader sees from the excerpt in this scene, that when explaining the progress of the fight Benvolio does not in any way twist the information to make one side seem better than the other. Benvolio was completely honest, simply stating the facts as they were, without any bias. Later on in the play, when faced with a similar situation, Benvolio still holds to his principles. After the death of Mercutio and Tybalt, Benvolio describes the fight scene to the Prince: “Tybalt here slain, whom Romeo’s hand did slay (…) / This is the truth, or let Benvolio die” (3.1.114 -137). Here in this scene, Benvolio is faced again with describing a situation post-fight, to an audience. Despite the fact that giving the full and correct information about the fight and its breakdown could pose a threat to his friend, Romeo, and his family, Benvolio describes the whole fight to the Prince anyways, because he understands that the truth is the only way to go about life and that one should not lie. It is Benvolio’s honesty throughout the play that propels a lot of the action. If it wasn’t for his honesty, Romeo wouldn’t have been banished from Verona. On the other hand however, if it wasn’t for Benvolio, Romeo also wouldn’t have met Juliet.
Another clear characteristic of Benvolio’s is his helpfulness to Romeo, and how much he cares about his cousin. At the beginning of the play, when Romeo returns from the woods with a long face, Benvolio tells him: “By giving liberty unto thine eyes. / Examine other beauties” (1.1.217 -218). In this scene, Benvolio is worried about Romeo’s situation, and his long-lasting depression, therefore questions him about the reason for his grievances. When he finds out that Romeo is head over heels in love, he gives him valid advice, to take Romeo’s mind off the problem, and to help him improve his mood. Besides showing Benvolio’s care for Romeo and his wellbeing, it also demonstrates Benvolio’s willingness to solve a problem, and help anyone in any way he can. Later on in the play, after Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio, Benvolio shouts at Romeo: “Romeo, away, be gone! / … / The Prince will doom thee death / If thou art taken…” (3.1.94–97). Here, Benvolio again proves that he is a great friend to Romeo, keeping his best interests at heart. Here, as soon as Romeo murders Tybalt, Benvolio knows to send him away. He does not attend to anything else first, his priority is Romeo. In this excerpt, Shakespeare also uses repetition to show Benvolio’s helpfulness to Romeo. Benvolio says “Romeo, away, be gone!”(3.1.94) and then ends the excerpt with “Hence, be gone, away!”(3.1.97), emphasizing, that for his own wellbeing, Romeo must leave the marketplace, and leave Verona. Constantly, throughout his appearances in the play, Benvolio has Romeo’s wellbeing at heart and tries to help his cousin in any way he can. Benvolio does not change his actions throughout the play.
The fact that Benvolio is static throughout the whole play can also be characterized through his willingness to be a peacemaker; always seeking to end a fight rather than start one. Benvolio’s first line in the play, demonstrates this characteristic, as he is breaking up the fight between the servants of the two rival houses, Montagues and Capulets. “Part, fools! / Put up your swords. You know not what you do” (1.1.54 -55). Here we can see, even in the opening scene of the play, during his first appearance, Benvolio is portrayed as a peacemaker. His statement “You know not what you do” can be considered as a paradox, as the servants in fact know what they are doing — they are fighting — but at the same time, they do not — they are not aware of the repercussions of their fight. This line is able to show Benvolio’s ability to solve a problem, and how when doing so, he takes into consideration everyone around him — in this case, the Prince, and the reputations of the Montague and Capulet families. During his last appearance in the play, Benvolio is faced with the same situation, but here much feistier. When Benvolio tries to prevent Mercutio and Tybalt’s argument from escalating into a fight, he says: “We talk here in the public haunt of men. / Either withdraw unto some private place, / And reason coldly of your grievances, / Or else depart. Here all eyes gaze on us” (3.1.21 -24). Benvolio, yet again is acting as a peacemaker in the group, trying to stop the men from hurting themselves, and in so doing angering the Prince of Verona even further. In this situation, Benvolio realizes that the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt is highly inevitable, therefore suggesting to them to hold it somewhere more private so as to not make a scene of it and cause trouble, hoping that it might call the fight off. Unfortunately, neither of the men take Benvolio’s advice, which later leads to both of their deaths.
Benvolio is a static character throughout the play of Romeo and Juliet, always taking the peaceful approach towards a situation, never having started a fight himself. He is most well-known for his honesty, and helpfulness to Romeo. It is he, in fact, who helps Romeo find Juliet, and leads to this epic, yet tragic, love story.