The name Benvolio means ‘good-will’ or ‘peacemaker’ (in contrast to Malvolio in Twelfth Night meaning ‘ill-will’). He is one of the calmer characters in the play, slightly torn between loyalty to his family and a desire to keep the peace. The direct definition of his name, makes him slightly more of an archetype within the peace. He contrasts with some of the others (the fury of Tybalt, the bluntness of Mercutio, etc.) to show how things could be. Though not embroiled hugely in the action, he survives the duration of the play and is one of the better off characters by the end.
From the outset, Benvolio is shown to be a gentle individual. Though he does eventually raise a sword to defend himself against Tybalt, he initially tries to act as peacemaker in the brawl. He is also the confidant of Lord Montague, he talks of Romeo’s sadness with him. As he does not know how to approach it, Montague employs Benvolio to talk to Romeo. He tries to lead Mercutio away from the fight in Act 3; he seems logical but lacks the power of conviction to convince those around him of his viewpoint.
He is trustworthy enough for the Prince to take his word for what happened in the brawl, a clear indication of his reputation. He has lots of stellar advice for Romeo. This does not mean he isn’t bold; it is he who suggests they go to Capulet’s party to find him another woman. But every time Benvolio speaks there is a clarity and simplicity to his words. He has clear questions and clear advice. In fact, his very last line in the play is “This is the truth, or let Benvolio die”; clearly his integrity is of the utmost importance to him.
So after he relays the events of Tybalt and Mercutio’s death, when does Benvolio next appear? Trick question: he doesn’t. A character who has witnessed or been instrumental in all the major events up until now, is suddenly gone. Why? One possibility is that, if characters are an archetype, then he symbolises control and reason. And from that point onwards, be it in potions which make you seem dead, banishment, or fights in tombs, it is fair to say that control and reason largely go out of the window. Or does the death of his best mate and the banishment of the other cause him to cut ties with the family? We don’t know. Because he literally vanishes. Whilst it is good to consider who is responsible for the negative events in the play, it is also worth considering who could have helped matters but wasn’t about.
In opening brawl: “I do but keep the peace: put up thy sword,/ Or manage it to part these men with me.” (Act I, Sc i)
To Montague: “A troubled mind drave me to walk abroad.” (Act I, Sc i)
On love: “Alas! That love, so gentle in his view,/ Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof.” (Act I, Sc i)
On Romeo’s suffering: “Take thou some new infection to thy eye,/ And the rank poison of the old will die.” (Act I, Sc ii)
On Romeo: “Blind is his love and best befits the dark.”_ (Act II, Sc ii)_
To Mercutio: “I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire:/ The day is hot, the Capulets abroad,/ And, if we meet, we shall not ‘scape a brawl;/ For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”_ (Act III, Sc i)_
To Tybalt and Mercutio: “Either withdraw unto some private place,/ Or reason coldly of your grievances,/ Or else depart.” (Act III, Sc i)
To Romeo: “The prince will doom thee death/ If thou art taken: hence! Be gone! Away!”_ (Act III, Sc i)_
His final line (after recounting the brawl): “This is the truth, or let Benvolio die.”_ (Act III, Sc I)_