Benvolio (Montague) is a character in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Read our overview of the Benvolio character below:
Benvolio is Romeo Montague’s cousin, about the same age. He is also Romeo’s friend and a member of the group of teenagers allied with Romeo and other young Montagues, who hang out together in Verona.
It would be false to say he is an interesting character as he has virtually no dramatic function in the play. He does not cause anything to happen, and in addition to that, if one were to meet him as a real person one would not find him very interesting. After Mercutio’s and Tybalt’s deaths and the interrogation by the Prince Benvolio disappears from the play.
Although he does not have a function in the dramatic sense, his presence and participation in Romeo’s life does help to flesh the play out: if a writer wants to present a ‘gang’ of young men he or she has to people it, and so we have Benvolio partly fulfilling that function.
Regarding his personality, what is most striking about Benvolio is his maturity and the good sense he shows, as opposed to Romeo’s immaturity and rash behaviour, and Mercutio’s dashing, swashbuckling approach . All three are intelligent boys but, unlike his cousin, Benvolio is cautious and thoughtful.
He is a sympathetic listener and it is because of that that we hear the story of Romeo’s lovesickness. He listens and lends a sympathetic ear to Romeo’s whining about having been smitten by Rosaline, a girl he has seen and never spoken to but is eating his heart out about. In telling that story Romeo is revealing his passionate and romantic nature, even before meeting Juliet, and the audience needs the context it provides.
Benvolio’s relative maturity and wisdom become evident when he counsels Romeo to forget about Rosaline. There are plenty of other girls, he tells his cousin. Rosaline isn’t so special and there are many more attractive girls around Verona. He suggests that they gatecrash the Capulet party to check them out. That is where Romeo is going to meet Juliet. In that sense, Benvolio has a kind of semi-detached dramatic role.
Verona is a dangerous place for hot-blooded young men overflowing with testosterone as, with the feud, there is always the possibility that a spark could cause a fire. When the Prince threatens to execute the next one who causes a fight Benvolio becomes the peacemaker in chief, urging everyone to calm down and not even go anywhere near where there could be a chance encounter with the Capulets. If his peacemaking mission had worked, and caused a completely different direction for the play’s action, that would have constituted a dramatic event, but it failed dismally and his efforts, therefore, had no effect on the play’s action.
The name ‘Benvolio’ means goodwill, or well-wisher, or peacemaker (coming from the Latin roots of bene meaning good, and volo meaning wish)Read a , so in naming him Shakespeare is emphasising his role up front. There are shades, however, as he is prepared to spy on Romeo for Romeo’s parents and report back to them about what’s going on with their son. When asked by the Prince about violent incidents, instead of shrugging in a non-comitial way as most teenagers would, he is willing to spill the beans and the Prince seems to know that he can count on Benvolio to do that. However, it is usual for actors to play Benvolio as ‘that very nice guy.’
Top Benvolio Quotes
I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword,
Or manage it to part these men with me. (act 1 scene 1)
Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof! (act 1 scene 1)
I’ll pay that doctrine, or else die in debt. (act 1 scene 1)
One fire burns out another’s burning,
One pain is lessen’d by another’s anguish (act 1 scene 2)
O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio’s dead!
That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds (act 3 scene 1)
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