Benvolio: As Neutral as Switzerland
Just like Switzerland during both World Wars, Benvolio tries to keep his neutrality in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet and tries to play the role of Romeo’s protector even though he tends to mistake his actions. He also is portrayed as honest with gaining the Prince’s trust and tries to keep peace between the Capulets and Montagues. He is also included to contrast Tybalt in his actions and way of being.
Benvolio plays a role of a protector to Romeo, trying to hide him from the people around him. When Benvolio and Mercutio are looking for Romeo, Mercutio shows that he doesn’t care about the emotions that Romeo is feeling at the moment. Benvolio tries to talk some sense into Mercutio by saying, “Come, he hath hid himself among these trees. / To be consorted with the humorous night. / Blind is his love and best benefits the dark” (2.1.30–32). Benvolio tries to stop Mercutio from harming Romeo. He tells Mercutio that he shouldn’t touch Romeo, through using a metaphor essentially saying that he is hiding in the trees to keep the night company. He calls his love blind and that is why it belongs in the dark where no one can touch it or hurt it. This proves that Benvolio is the one that understands Romeo and wants the best for him though providing him protection from others. Later, in the same passage, Benvolio tries to talk Mercutio out of searching for Rome saying: “Go, then for ’tis in vain / To seek him here that means not to be found” (3.1.42–43). In this quote, Benvolio tells Mercutio that they should stop looking for Romeo because maybe he is hiding for a reason and doesn’t want to be found. He also want to protect Romeo from Mercutio because he sees Romeo as vulnerable and as an easy target for Mercutio’s criticism. Thus, through the story, Benvolio is seen as Romeo’s protector and one that tries to keep him away from the world because of the state that he is in.
Another trait that Benvolio shows is honesty. When Romeo kills Tybalt and runs away, the prince arrives and Benvolio explains the situation in the following way: “Oh, noble prince, I can discover all / The unlucky manage of this fatal brawl. / There lies the man, slain by young Romeo, / That slew thy kinsman, brave Mercutio”(3.1.105–108). In this quote, Benvolio tells the prince that Romeo was the one who killed Tybalt, who killed Mercutio. Here, Benvolio gives Romeo away for the murder just to tell the truth, because he believes that both families should be treated equally. He didn’t look at the fact that Romeo is his own cousin and wasn’t biased. Later in the same passage, the prince asks Benvolio: “Benvolio, who began this bloody fray?” (3.1.113). This proves that the prince trusts Benvolio with telling the truth. After this, Benvolio replies: “Tybalt here slain, whom Romeo’s hand did slay. / Romeo that spoke him fair, bade him bethink / How nice the quarrel was and urged withal / Your high displeasure. All this uttered/ With gentle breath, calm look, knees humbly / bowed,” (3.1.114–119). This also proves that even when asked again, Benvolio without hesitation told the whole story the way it actually happened and didn’t try to deny that indeed Romeo was the one who killed Tybalt. He says that Tybalt started the fight even though Romeo told him how stupid the argument was with a calm voice and that he didn’t intend to kill him. Benvolio proves to be one of the only honest characters in the play, who is able to give away his own cousin, which later leads to him being banished from Verona and dying from the loss of his love.
Throughout the play, Benvolio is portrayed as a peacemaker. Shakespeare included Benvolio in the play to create a foil effect between him and Tybalt. Benvolio’s name translates to good wishing and is seen as one in the eyes of many while Tybalt is the main antagonist in the play and will put up a fight for the smallest reason. At the beginning when Sampson, Gregory and Abram start fighting, Benvolio says: “Part, fools! / Put up you swords. You know not what to do” (1.154–55). From the start, Benvolio acts like a peace keeper. He also proves that he isn’t scared of calling out people from the opposing family just to get what he wants. Later in the same scene, Tybalt threatens him by saying: “What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? / Turn thee, Benvolio. Look upon thy death” (1.1.56–57). Tybalt is introduced as a person thirsty for death. He isn’t scared to threaten Benvolio and is willing to fight against him rather to make peace. To this, Benvolio responds: “I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, / Or manage it to part these men with me” (1.1.58–59). He says that he is only trying to maintain peace. He also proposes to Tybalt that he helps him part the fight. He proves that he isn’t scared of parting the fighters and doesn’t care about Tybalt threatening to kill him. This is an example of one of the situations in which Shakespeare shows the foil between Tybalt and Benvolio. Benvolio being shown as down to earth and trying to do everything to maintain the peace and stop the fight between the two families and Tybalt being short-tempered and thirsty for blood.
Thus, Shakespeare included Benvolio as a personification of Switzerland, an honest peacekeeper who stays neutral throughout the play and is trusted by many highly placed people such as the prince himself. He isn’t afraid of calling out people and stopping fights just to maintain peace. He also defends Romeo from the world when he is in love but later due to his inability to lie, he states that Romeo killed Tybalt which gets him banished from Verona and leading to his death.