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Rosaline (// or //) is an unseen character and niece of Capulet in William Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet (1597). Although silent, her role is important. Romeo is at first deeply in love with Rosaline and expresses his dismay at her not loving him back. Romeo first spots Juliet while trying to catch a glimpse of Rosaline at a gathering hosted by the Capulet family.
Scholars generally compare Romeo's short-lived love of Rosaline with his later love of Juliet. The poetry Shakespeare writes for Rosaline is much weaker than that for Juliet. Scholars believe Romeo's early experience with Rosaline prepares him for his relationship with Juliet. Later performances of Romeo and Juliet have painted different pictures of Romeo and Rosaline's relationship, as filmmakers have experimented with making Rosaline a more visible character.
Role in the play
Before Romeo meets her cousin Juliet, he loves Rosaline, Capulet's niece. He describes her as wonderfully beautiful: "The all-seeing sun / ne'er saw her match since first the world begun." Rosaline, however, chooses to remain chaste; Romeo says: "She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow / Do I live dead that live to tell it now." This is the source of his depression, and he makes his friends unhappy; Mercutio comments: "That same pale, hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline, torments him so that he will sure run mad." Benvolio urges Romeo to sneak into a Capulet gathering where, he claims, Rosaline will look like "a crow" alongside the other beautiful women. Romeo agrees, but doubts Benvolio's assessment. After Romeo sees Juliet his feelings suddenly change: "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night." Because their relationship is sudden and secret, Romeo's friends and Friar Laurence continue to speak of his affection for Rosaline throughout much of the play.
Rosaline is a variant of Rosalind, a name of Old French origin: (hros = "horse", lind = "soft, tender"). When it was imported into English it was thought to be from the Latin rosa linda ("lovely rose"). Romeo sees Rosaline as the embodiment of the rose because of her name and her apparent perfections. The name Rosaline commonly appears in Petrarchan sonnets, a form of poetry Romeo uses to woo Juliet and to describe both Rosaline and Juliet. Since Rosaline is unattainable, she is a perfect subject for this style; but Romeo's attempt at it is forced and weak. By the time he meets Juliet his poetic ability has improved considerably.
Gender studies critics have argued that Rosaline's name suggests that Romeo never really forgets her but rather replaces her with Juliet. Thus, when Juliet cries "What's in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," she is ironically expressing Romeo's own view of her as a substitute for Rosaline. That is to say, Rosaline, replaced in name only by Juliet, is just as sweet to Romeo. Gender critics also note that the arguments used to dissuade Romeo from pursuing Rosaline are similar to the themes of Shakespeare's procreation sonnets. In these sonnets Shakespeare urges the man (who can be equated with Romeo) to find a woman with whom to procreate—a duty he owes to society. Rosaline, it seems, is distant and unavailable except in the mind, similarly bringing no hope of offspring. As Benvolio argues, she is best replaced by someone who will reciprocate. Rosaline reveals similarities to the subject of the sonnets when she refuses to break her vow of chastity. Her name may be referred to in the first sonnet when the young man is described as "beauties Rose." This line ties the young man to both Rosaline and Romeo in Juliet's "What's in a name?" soliloquy. When Juliet says "...that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet", she may be raising the question of whether there is any difference between the beauty of a man and the beauty of a woman.
Rosaline is used as a name for only one other Shakespearean character—the one of the main female figures in Love's Labours Lost (1598). Scholars have found similarities between them: both are described as beautiful, with fair, white skin: misinterpretation : Rosaline in LLL is " as dark as ebony" and must be related to the Dark Lady of the Sonnet cf. Ladan Niayesh, « Muscovites and “Black-amours”: Alien Love Traders in Love’s Labour’s Lost », Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare [En ligne], 32 | 2015, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2015, consulté le 23 janvier 2016. URL : http://shakespeare.revues.org/3158; Camilla Caporicci, « Lady Rosaline’s Darkness: Linguistic Games and Deep Meanings », Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare [En ligne], 32 | 2015, mis en ligne le 10 mars 2015, consulté le 23 janvier 2016. URL : http://shakespeare.revues.org/2911;
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and both have a way of avoiding men's romantic advances. Rosaline in Love's Labours Lost constantly rebuffs her suitor's advances and Romeo's Rosaline remains distant and chaste in his brief descriptions of her. These similarities have led some to wonder whether they are based on a woman Shakespeare actually knew, possibly the Dark Lady described in his sonnets, but there is no strong evidence of this connection.
Rosaline as plot device
Analysts note that Rosaline acts as a plot device, by motivating Romeo to sneak into the Capulet party where he will meet Juliet. Without her, their meeting would be unlikely. Rosaline thus acts as the impetus to bring the "star-cross'd lovers" to their deaths—she is crucial in shaping their fate (a common theme of the play). Ironically, she remains oblivious of her role.
Rosaline and Juliet
Literary critics often compare Romeo's love for Rosaline with his feelings for Juliet. Some see Romeo's love for Rosaline as childish as compared with his true love for Juliet. Others argue that the apparent difference in Romeo's feelings shows Shakespeare's improving skill. Since Shakespeare is thought to have written early drafts of the play in 1591, and then picked them up again in 1597 to create the final copy, the change in Romeo's language for Rosaline and Juliet may mirror Shakespeare's increased skill as a playwright: the younger Shakespeare describing Rosaline, and the more experienced describing Juliet. In this view, a careful look at the play reveals that Romeo's love for Rosaline is not as petty as usually imagined.
Critics also note the ways in which Romeo's relationship with Rosaline prepares him for meeting Juliet. Before meeting Rosaline, Romeo despises all Capulets, but afterwards looks upon them more favorably. He experiences the dual feelings of hate and love in the one relationship. This prepares him for the more mature relationship with Juliet—one fraught by the feud between Montagues and Capulets. Romeo expresses the conflict of love and hate in Act 1, Scene 1, comparing his love for Rosaline with the feud between the two houses:
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?
Psychoanalytic critics see signs of repressed childhood trauma in Romeo's love for Rosaline. She is of a rival house and is sworn to chastity. Thus he is in an impossible situation, one which will continue his trauma if he remains in it. Although he acknowledges its ridiculous nature, he refuses to stop loving her. Psychoanalysts view this as a re-enactment of his failed relationship with his mother. Rosaline's absence is symbolic of his mother's absence and lack of affection for him. Romeo's love for Juliet is similarly hopeless, for she is a Capulet and Romeo pursues his relationship with her; the difference being that Juliet reciprocates. This does not seem likely seeing as his mother died of grief after his banishment, indicating that she probably loved him deeply.
Rosaline has been portrayed in various ways over the centuries. Theophilus Cibber's 1748 version of Romeo and Juliet replaced references to Rosaline with references to Juliet. This, according to critics, took out the "love at first sight" moment at the Capulet feast. In the 1750s, actor and theatre director David Garrick also eliminated references to Rosaline from his performances, as many saw Romeo's quick replacement of her as immoral. However, in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo sees Rosaline (played by Paola Tedesco) first at the Capulet feast and then Juliet, of whom he becomes immediately enamored. This scene suggests that love is short and superficial. Rosaline also appears in Renato Castellani's 1954 film version. In a brief non-Shakespearean scene, Rosaline (Dagmar Josipovitch) gives Romeo a mask at Capulet's celebration, and urges him to leave disguised before harm comes to him. Other filmmakers keep Rosaline off-camera in stricter accordance with Shakespeare's script. Robert Nathan's 1966 romantic comedy, Juliet in Mantua, presents Rosaline as a fully developed character. In this sequel, in which Romeo and Juliet did not die, the pair live ten years later in exile in Mantua. When Rosaline shows up in Mantua with her husband County Paris, both couples must confront their disillusionment with their marriages. Another play, After Juliet, written by Scottish playwright Sharman Macdonald, tells the story of Rosaline after Romeo dies. A main character in this play, she struggles with her loss and turns away the advances of Benvolio, who has fallen in love with her. Macdonald's daughter, Keira Knightley, played Rosaline in the play's 1999 premiere. The 2012 young adult novel "When You Were Mine" by Rebecca Serle sets Rosaline's story in a contemporary high school. Rosaline and Romeo (renamed Rob) have been best friends since childhood and are just beginning to fall in love when Rosaline's cousin, Juliet, moves back into town and sets her sights on Rob. Rosaline also appears in the 2013 film adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.
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