["Rosaline" is a leading character in Shakespeare's comedy, Love's Labor's Lost, and "Rosalind" is the leading character in Shakespeare's comedy, As You Like It. Both characters are wise and witty.]
Romeo has been wandering in the woods at night and shutting himself up in his room during the day. His parents, worried about this behavior, ask Benvolio to talk with him. Alone with Benvolio, Romeo starts talking about his problem before he's asked. Benvolio says "Good-morrow, cousin," and Romeo replies, "Is the day so young?" (1.1.160), indicating that he's in such bad shape that he's surprised it's still morning. Benvolio informs him that it's not yet nine o'clock, and says, "Ay me! sad hours seem long" (1.1.161). The "Ay me" is a kind of sigh in words, and it appears that Romeo is inviting Benvolio to ask him why he is so sad. Benvolio does ask, and Romeo tells him that he is "Out of her favor, where I am in love" (1.1.168). Although he doesn't tell Benvolio her name, Romeo is speaking of Rosaline, and in the rest of the scene he continues to speak of her and of his hopeless love for her.
Romeo says that Rosaline is beautiful but adverse to love, and it's killing him; he says, "she's fair I love" (1.1.206), but "She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow / Do I live dead that live to tell it now" (1.1.223-224). Benvolio suggests that Romeo could learn to forget Rosaline "By giving liberty unto thine eyes; / Examine other beauties" (1.1.228), but Romeo is sure that Rosaline is the fairest of all and that he can never forget her. [Scene Summary]
In the list of invitees to Capulet's feast is "my fair niece Rosaline" (1.2.68-69). (By the way . . . It appears that Rosaline is just as much a Capulet as Tybalt is, but that doesn't seem to be an issue with Romeo, probably because his love for her is only a distant daydream.) After Romeo reads the list for Capulet's illiterate servant, Benvolio says, "At this same ancient feast of Capulet's / Sups the fair Rosaline whom thou so lovest" (1.2.82-83), and then suggests that he and Romeo go to the feast, so that Benvolio can "make thee think thy swan a crow" (1.2.87). Romeo responds that he would be a heretic in the religion of love if he admitted that there was anyone more beautiful than Rosaline, but he does agree to go with Benvolio to Capulet's, "to rejoice in splendor of mine own" (1.2.101). [Scene Summary]
Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and some others are about to make an appearance at Capulet's feast. Mercutio and Benvolio want to go right on in, but Romeo is not in the mood. He says, "Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling; / Being but heavy, I will bear the light" (1.4.11-12). As a torch-bearer, he wouldn't wear a mask or do any dancing. He's being a party-pooper, and why? Because he's "heavy," depressed, melancholy. He does make a little pun on the word "light," but he's still ruining the fun. Mercutio insists that Romeo must dance, but Romeo replies, "You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles: I have a soul of lead / So stakes me to the ground I cannot move" (1.4.14-16). "Soles . . . soul" is another pun, but more lugubrious than humorous. Mercutio points out that love and sadness don't have to go together; he says, "You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings, / And soar with them above a common bound" (1.4.17-18). A "common bound" is an ordinary leap in a dance; Mercutio is telling Romeo that love can give him the power to make an extraordinary leap. Romeo replies that he can't borrow Cupid's wings because he has been so badly wounded by Cupid's arrow. He says that he is "so bound [tied down], / I cannot bound [leap] a pitch [height] above dull woe: / Under love's heavy burden do I sink" (1.4.20-22). All this to-do on Romeo's part is about his love for Rosaline. And -- probably -- so is his speech which ends the scene:
I fear, too early: for my mind misgivesTo us, this speech foreshadows what happens to him because of his love for Juliet, but at the moment he's probably thinking that he will just die for the love of Rosaline. [Scene Summary]
In the scene in which Romeo meets Juliet a stage direction reads, "Enter CAPULET, all the GUESTS and GENTLEWOMEN to the Maskers"(1.4.16, s.d.). You'd think that "Guests and Gentlewomen" would include Rosaline, but she's not mentioned. [Scene Summary]
The Prologue to the second act begins:
Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,People scorned heirs who "gaped" (waited with open mouths, like baby birds) for the deaths of their parents. Perhaps some of this scorn is contained in the image of Romeo's love for Juliet eagerly awaiting the death of his love for Rosaline. The Chorus also points out that Romeo was willing to die for a beauty (Rosaline's) which is now not beautiful, since it has been compared to Juliet's beauty. These comments may make Romeo appear immature and shallow, but the play is, after all, a story of young love, and the next line points out an important difference between Romeo's new love and his former love. In "Now Romeo is beloved and loves again" (2.Prologue.5), the"again" does not mean "for the second time"; it means "in return." Romeo's love for Rosaline was a one-way street, but Romeo and Juliet have a mutual love. [Scene Summary]
After leaving Capulet's feast, Romeo suddenly turns back and jumps the wall into Capulet's orchard. Benvolio and Mercutio look for him, and Mercutio answers Benvolio's appeal to call Romeo by saying, "Nay, I'll conjure too" (2.1.6). Mercutio has no knowledge of Romeo's new-found love for Juliet, and Mercutio's joke is that since Romeo is under the spell of Rosaline, a conjuration is required to make him appear. Mercutio begins by calling out, "Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover! / Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh!" (2.1.7-8). None of this gets a response from Romeo, and Mercutio concludes that he must be dead, so he must be conjured again. Mercurtio invokes Rosaline's eyes, forehead, and lip, then switches to the other end of her body and works his way upwards. He conjures Romeo, "By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh / And the demesnes that there adjacent lie, / That in thy likeness thou appear to us!" (2.1.19-21). Still getting no response from Romeo, Mercutio decides its useless to call any more, because "Now will he sit under a medlar tree, / And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit / As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone" (2.1.34-36). [Scene Summary]
At dawn the night after Capulet's feast, Romeo visits Friar Laurence. The Friar rightly guesses that Romeo has been up all night and exclaims, "God pardon sin! wast thou with Rosaline?" (2.3.44). Apparently he's afraid that Romeo has been sinning with the girl he has long longed for, but Romeo reassures him that he's forgotten all about Rosaline, has fallen in love with Juliet, and wants to be married that very day.
In a few moments Friar Laurence will agree to do as Romeo asks, but first he makes fun of Romeo's sudden change of heart. As he is chiding Romeo, the Friar also expresses his doubt that Romeo really knows what love is. The Friar says that if Romeo can suddenly drop Rosaline in favor of Juliet, it shows that "Young men's love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes" (2.3.67-68). And all those tears that Romeo shed for Rosaline "were salt water thrown away in waste, / To season love, that of it doth not taste!" (2.3.71-72). Real love, the Friar saying, doesn't need to be seasoned with salt, because real love is not a matter of pain and suffering. The Friar goes on to tell Romeo that his sighs for Rosaline are still floating above their heads, that his groans for Rosaline are still echoing in the Friar's ears, and that the stain of a tear shed for Rosaline can still be seen on his cheek. Thus, since his change of heart has been so sudden, Romeo should "Pronounce [proclaim] this sentence [lesson] then, / Women may fall, when there's no strength in men" (2.3.79-80).
Romeo tries to defend himself by saying, "Thou chid'st me oft for loving Rosaline" (2.3.81), as though he expects the Friar to approve of the fact that he has stopped loving Rosaline, but the Friar answers, "For doting, not for loving, pupil mine" (2.3.82). In the Friar's opinion, what Romeo felt for Rosaline was a silly crush, not true love. Romeo protests that the Friar "bad'st me bury love," but the Friar shoots back, "Not in a grave, / To lay one in, another out to have" (2.3.83-84). The image of putting a corpse in the grave only to take out another corpse is grotesque, but it makes the Friar's point, which is that he is afraid that Romeo has merely exchanged one infatuation for another. Romeo then asks the Friar to stop chiding, because there really is a difference between his old love and his new one: "Her I love now / Doth grace for grace and love for love allow; / The other did not so" (2.3.85-87). Romeo's declaration that he and Juliet have a mutual love appears to mollify the Friar somewhat, but he doesn't let Romeo entirely off the hook. The Friar says of Rosaline, "O, she knew well / Thy love did read by rote and could not spell" (2.3.87-88). To "read by rote" is to "read" the way toddlers do, when they have had a story read to them so many times that they have it memorized. To "spell" is to really read by sounding out the words and making sense of them. Rosaline, according to the Friar, knew that Romeo was only in love with love, and that Romeo only sighed and suffered because he knew that was what lovers are supposed to do. Nevertheless, the Friar is willing to marry Romeo and Juliet. [Scene Summary]
The morning after Capulet's feast Benvolio and Mercutio are again looking for Romeo. Mercutio, assuming that Romeo is doing as Romeo has done in the past -- moping over Rosaline -- comments, "Ah, that same pale hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline, / Torments him so, that he will sure run mad" (2.4.4-5). Then Benvolio mentions that Tybalt has sent a challenge to Romeo, and Mercutio jokes that Romeo is already dead because he has been "stabbed with a white wench's black eye, run through the ear with a love-song," and shot right through the heart with Cupid's arrow. "And" -- Mercutio asks -- "is he a man to encounter Tybalt?" (2.4.14-17).
Mercutio's jokes here contain the only physical description of Rosaline, and this is the last we hear of her. [Scene Summary]