Josefino Rivera Jr.
February 17, 2017
Good to a Fault
Too often supporting characters are cast aside for the more glamorous protagonists, but there is much to be discovered about their persona if you take the time to study them in greater depth. Benvolio is one of those characters. He is from the play written by William Shakespeare titled, “Romeo and Juliet”. The play follows the story of two star crossed lovers from two opposing families. Their forbidden love results in their deaths but ultimately brings their two families to peace. Benvolio is Romeo’s cousin and is a static character throughout the play. He is portrayed as the “good guy” and is often seen as the peacekeeper and voice of reason. At first glance, you would think that Benvolio is only around when the audience needs him to be. He only seems to be around when we (as an audience) need to know something about Romeo, if a fight scene needs to be summarized, or if someone needs to try and resist a fight between the two houses. There is much more to Benvolio than what first meets the eye, though.
Benvolio sees himself as the peacekeeper, as the good natured guy who just wants to help. We are introduced to Benvolio early on in the play. He has a role in the beginning fight of the play and it is his character who tries to convince Tybalt to back down from fighting. He says this to Tybalt, “Part fools! / Put up your swords; you know not what you do,” (1.1.76). This line sounded familiar to me. After doing a little research I found out why. There is an illusion in this quote taken straight from the Bible. The allusion is the part when Benvolio says, “You know not what you do.” That line is part of a quote Jesus once said. Shakspeare definitely added this to show that Benvolio strives to do good like Jesus did. Shakespeare also makes sure, however, that the audience knows Benvolio is still just a human and that he too has his faults. The way Benvolio sees himself vs how others see him is very different, “What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, / As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. / Have at thee coward!” (1.1.66). Tybalt said that quote towards Benvolio at the fight scene in the beginning of the play as well. Tybalt points out that Benvolio is a hypocrite for talking about peace but, having his sword drawn and ready to fight. Shakespeare allows Benvolio to think he is a good, Jesus like person but, shows that he is just as human as any other person in the play and that, although he wants to do good, his actions don’t always correlate with what he believes in doing. This gives Benvolio the peacemaker role in the play but, keeps him human by having faults.
Loyalty is a strong theme throughout Romeo and Juliet. Each house is loyal to their own kin and would do anything to defend each other. Benvolio, to me, is one of the most loyal characters in Romeo and Juliet. He is shown to not only be loyal to his house, the Montagues, but very loyal to his cousin Romeo as well. We see much of Benvolio’s loyalty toward the beginning of the play, “Here were the servants of your adversary, / And yours, close fighting ere I did approach. / I drew to part them. In the instant came / The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepared, / Which, as he breathed defiance to my ears, / He swung about his head and cut the winds,” (1.1.96). Benvolio explains to Lord Montague the fight that just unfolded without making up any details. He is later instructed to go and find out why Romeo is so sad. Benvolio discovers that Romeo is lovesick, which makes Benvolio sad. He suggests to him that he should go and find another girl; this eventually leads to Romeo meeting Juliet. His actions are normally in the self interest of others, which makes him one of the most selfless characters in the play. There however, is another side to his loyalty as seen in this quote, “O 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). After Tybalt kills Mercutio Romeo ends up killing Tybalt in a rage. When Prince Escalus comes and asks what has just happened, it is only Benvolio who answers. He ends up giving a non-bias response to the prince, revealing that Romeo was to blame. This however, was not an act of betrayal but an act of loyalty to a higher power. Whether that higher power was god or the law, I don’t know.
As stated earlier, the way others see Benvolio is different from how he perceives himself. His hypocritical personality is best shown through the words of other characters in the play describing him. In one such instance Mercutio and Benvolio where talking about how they should return home so that they don’t get into a fight with the Capulets, when Mercutio described him like this, “Thou art like one of those fellows that, when he / enters the confines of a tavern, claps me his sword / upon the table and says “God send me no need of / thee!” and, by the operation of the second cup, / draws it on the drawer when indeed there is no / need.” (3.1.5). This depicts Benvolio as a hypocrite who after entering a bar, would put his sword down and say “I don’t need this” but, after two drinks would draw his sword on the bartender for no reason. Benvolio responds to this statement in disagreement, asking if he really thinks he is like that. Mercutio responds to him with another analogy, “Come, come, thou art as hot a Jack in thy mood / as any in Italy, and as soon moved to be moody, and as / soon moody to be moved,” (3.1.12). What Mercutio means by this is that Benvolio is just like any other person. He can get angry over little things and sometimes, when there is nothing to be angry about, he can find something to get angry at. Benvolio didn’t seem to realize this though. He acted a bit shocked and confused when Mercutio described him like that. I don’t think Benvolio ever realized he was a hypocrite, even after Mercutio told him so. This is the reason why I think Benvolio never progressed into a dynamic character in the play.
“Nay, an there were two such, we should have none / shortly, for one would kill the other,” (3.1.16). If there were two people like Benvolio, then soon enough they would both kill each other. This is yet another quote said by Mercutio. Benvolio never progressed very far in the play but his character demonstrated some characteristics that we, as an audience, can learn from. His complete loyalty to the Montague family, Romeo, and the law served Benvolio well as he was never blamed or punished because he was always truthful when asked something. Other characters in the play showed respect to Benvolio, not because he was in a role of importance or power, but because he was loyal and respectful. The message of peace spread by Benvolio was powerful. It could have been more so if he wasn’t so hypocritical. Maybe Shakespeare’s lesson for the audience here was to act the way you want to be perceived. Even though Benvolio was only a minor character in the play and remained static, there was a lot to be learned from him. There was much more behind Benvolio that what first met the eye and through Shakespeare’s ingenious way of writing, even the small characters played a major role in delivering a greater meaning in the play.