According to Aristotle (335BC), an essential element in the ‘good or fine’ character of every great tragic hero is ‘hamartia’, the fatal flaw. The tragic hero’s fatal flaws inevitably lead to negative consequences in his life. The character of Romeo, the tragic hero of William Shakespeare’s cautionary tragedy Romeo and Juliet, contains three key fatal flaws that condemn him and others to death. Through employing the dramatic techniques of meaningful dialogue, soliloquy, narrative structure, and characterisation, Shakespeare privileges that Romeo’s flaws of irresponsibility, rashness and waywardness were stereotypical of upper-class youth during the Renaissance.
Romeo’s fatal flaw of irresponsibility is foregrounded
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Shakespeare’s adaptation heavily accentuates Romeo’s recklessness by suggesting that his decisions are excessively quick and ill-considered. The foreshadowing of Romeo’s eventual downfall occurs when Romeo confers with Friar Laurence about marrying Juliet ‘on sudden haste’ (II.iii.96). In reply, the friar cautions, ‘Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast’ (II.iii.97). This proverb, verbalised by a strong symbol of wisdom and nobility, is possibly the most central moral lesson in Shakespeare’s didactic play. This privileged belief of care and wisdom in one’s every actions is also foregrounded later when Romeo irrationally murders Tybalt with ‘valour’s steel…[and] fire-eyed fury’ (III.i.110-119), as well as when he immediately rushes to the apothecary for a ‘dram of poison’ (V.i.63) to commit suicide upon hearing news of Juliet’s ‘death’. In both situations, Romeo’s decisions and actions are consumed with his passionate, ‘brawling love’ (I.i.168) for Juliet that ultimately reduces him to a ‘desperate man’ (V.iii.59) and a ‘weary’ ‘life…taker’ (V.i.65). Because both situations result in terrible downfall, Shakespeare cautions that recklessness in love is a fatal flaw in one’s character, just as Levenson (1987) wrote, ‘Youth repeatedly expires in its own ardency like a flash of lightning, while mature society endures – for better or for worse – to perform the funeral rites.’
Throughout the play, Shakespeare repeatedly foregrounds Romeo’s