Rosaline (/ˈrɒzəlɪn, -n/) is a fictional character mentioned in William Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet (1597). She is the niece of Lord Capulet. Although an unseen character, her role is important: Romeo's unrequited love for Rosaline leads him to try to catch a glimpse of her at a gathering hosted by the Capulet family, during which he first spots Juliet.

Rosaline in Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, one of the few films to give her a visible role.
Created byWilliam Shakespeare

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 playEdit

Before Romeo meets Juliet, he loves Rosaline, Capulet's niece and Juliet's cousin. He describes her as wonderfully beautiful: "The all-seeing sun / ne'er saw her match since first the world begun."[1] 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."[2] 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."[3] Benvolio urges Romeo to sneak into a Capulet gathering where, he claims, Rosaline will be perceived like "a crow" alongside the other beautiful women.[4] 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."[5] 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.



"...Juliet on the balcony ponders Romeo's name and likens it to that rose that remains itself whatever it is called. Is Juliet that rose, and, thereby, Rosaline renamed?""

—Jonathan Goldberg[6]

Rosaline is a variant of Rosalind,[7] 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").[8] Romeo sees Rosaline as the embodiment of the rose because of her name and her apparent perfections.[9][10] 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.[9]

Rosaline is used as a name for only one other Shakespearean character—one of the main female figures in Love's Labours Lost (1598), although Rosalind is the name of the main female character in As You Like It. Scholars have found similarities between them: both are described as beautiful, 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.[11]

Rosaline as plot deviceEdit

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.[12] 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.[13]

Rosaline and JulietEdit

"Rosaline and Paris...are the subtlest reflectors of all...they are cast like a snake's skin by the more robust reality of Romeo and Juliet."

—Ruth Nevo, on the Rosaline-Juliet, Paris-Romeo comparison[14]

Literary critics often compare Romeo's love for Rosaline with his feelings for Juliet. Some see Romeo's supposed 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.[12]

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 favourably. 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:[15]

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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18][19] However, in Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo sees Rosaline (played by Paola Tedesco)[20] first at the Capulet feast and then Juliet, of whom he becomes immediately enamoured. 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.[21] Rosaline also appears in the 2013 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

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. After they are forgiven and return to Verona, they learn that Rosaline is now married to Count Paris, and 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.[22][23]

Rosaline is the main protagonist of the 2017 American drama series Still Star-Crossed she is portrayed by actress Lashana Lynch.


  1. ^ Romeo and Juliet, I.2.92–93.
  2. ^ Romeo and Juliet, I.1.231–232.
  3. ^ Romeo and Juliet, II.4.4–5.
  4. ^ Romeo and Juliet, I.2.365.
  5. ^ Romeo and Juliet, I.5.59–60.
  6. ^ Goldberg, Jonathan. Queering the Renaissance. Durham: Duke University Press (1994), 221–227. ISBN 0-8223-1385-5
  7. ^ "Rosaline". A Dictionary of First Names. Eds. Patrick Hanks, Kate Hardcastle, and Flavia Hodges. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). Oxford Reference Online. Retrieved 25 June 2007. Oxford Reference (Registration required)
  8. ^ "Rosalind". A Dictionary of First Names. Eds. Patrick Hanks, Kate Hardcastle, and Flavia Hodges. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2006). Oxford Reference Online. Retrieved 25 June 2007. Oxford Reference (Registration required)
  9. ^ a b Whittier, Gayle. "The Sonnet's Body and the Body Sonnetized in 'Romeo and Juliet'." Shakespeare Quarterly 40.1 (Apr 1989): 27–41.
  10. ^ Lewis, Alan. "Reading Shakespeare's Cupid." Criticism 47.2 (Apr 2005): 177–213.
  11. ^ Clarke, Charles and Mary Clarke. The Shakespeare Key. City: Kessinger Publishing, LLC (2007), 651–652. ISBN 1-4304-6745-2
  12. ^ a b Gray, Henry David. "Romeo Rosaline, and Juliet". Modern Language Notes 29.7 (Nov 1914): 209–212.
  13. ^ Evans, Bertrand. "The Brevity of Friar Lawrence." PMLA 65.5 (September 1950): 841–865.
  14. ^ Nevo, Ruth. "Tragic Form in Romeo and Juliet". Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 9.2 (April 1969): 241–258.
  15. ^ Bowling, Lawrence Edward. "The Thematic Framework of Romeo and Juliet." PMLA 64.1 (Mar 1949): 208–220.
  16. ^ Krims, Marvin, "Romeo's Childhood Trauma?--'What Fray Was Here?'." PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for Psychological Study of the Arts. (November 1999) 3 article no. 991022. Reprinted in Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 76.
  17. ^ Marsden, Jean. The Re-Imagined Text. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, (1995), 87–88. ISBN 0-8131-1901-4
  18. ^ Branam, George C. "The Genesis of David Garrick's Romeo and Juliet." Shakespeare Quarterly 35.2 (July 1984): 170–179.
  19. ^ Stone, George Winchester, Jr. "Romeo and Juliet: The Source of its Modern Stage Career." Shakespeare Quarterly 15.2 (April 1964): 191–206.
  20. ^ "Romeo & Juliet (1968)". Yahoo! Movies. Yahoo!. 2007. Retrieved 28 June 2007.
  21. ^ Martin, Jennifer L. "Tights vs. Tattoos: Filmic Interpretations of 'Romeo and Juliet'." The English Journal 92.1 (Sep 2002): 41–46.
  22. ^ Maxwell, Tom (20 July 2007). "Keira's helpful prompt". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  23. ^ "After Juliet by Sharman McDonald". Plays. Acquis. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 27 May 2009.