Of the many characters involved in the romantic though tragic performance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ all bear some responsibility for sending the “star crossed lovers” to their deaths.
At the start of the performance the audience are informed of what is to happen in the play. They are aware from the beginning that the play is a tragedy as the main characters die in the final scenes “which but their children’s end, nought could remove, is now the two hours traffic of our stage”. None other of Shakespeare’s plays begin in this way, we are not told why Shakespeare does this but although the audience knows what is to happen they watch to see how the performance concludes into the death of the two young lovers.
Rosaline, who speaks not a word in the play, but who we are told Romeo is first infatuated with, could be blamed, as if she had of “oped her lap” as Romeo wished then he would not of become a love sick fool “in sadness cousin I do love a woman” and allowed himself to be persuaded to the Capulet’s party were he laid eyes on Juliet. Romeo soon forgets about his love for Rosaline once he has seen Juliet.
Early the morning after the Capulet’s Party Romeo pays Friar Lawrence a visit. “Young son it argues a distempered head so soon to bid good morrow to thy bed”. He tells the Friar of his newfound love who perceives Romeo to wear his heart on his sleeve. “Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts but in their eyes”. The day before he had been fixated on his “love” for Rosaline. At this point in the performance Friar Lawrence is viewed as a man with a good head on his shoulders. He is a talented chemist and a good mentor to Romeo, until he concocts a plot to bring the households feud to an end. “For this alliance may so happy prove to turn your household’s rancour to pure love”. The Friar interferes in the family feud without appreciating the deep-seated hatred that exists between the families.
He agrees to marry the children as he thinks it will stop the banter between households. Although the Friar’s intentions are good they cause chaos. Friar Lawrence later comes up with the idea of Juliet faking her own death with the help of one of his medicines “take thou this vial, being then in bed and this distilled liquor drink thou off” we do not know if this is the Friar’s best idea for the young couple or the best idea to save his own skin, as he would be guilty of conducting a bigamous marriage.
Friar Lawrence entrusts a friend to deliver a message to Romeo of his and Juliet’s plan. The person given the message is the Friar’s old friend Friar John. Friar John bears some responsibility for the tragedy as he then goes to visit a sick friend in a town of plague; this then results in the letter being delivered too late to Romeo.
Another character that should have acted more responsibly is the Nurse. She acts as a mentor to one of the children but she allows herself to get caught up Juliet’s love life. When she first hears of the proposal from Paris she is extremely excited for Juliet, “Go girl seek happy nights through happy days”. Then later when she finds out of Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other she forgets the role she has to play and goes along with the marriage. She even goes to Romeo “pray you sir, a word, I told you, my young lady bid me enquire you out” to arrange the marriage and reports the news back to Juliet that very day “then hie you hence to Friar Lawrence’ cell there stays a husband to make you a wife”.
Then there are Juliet’s parents who arguably could be blamed for the children’s deaths. It could be said that Lord Capulet’s rage and ultimatum drives Juliet to the fatal decision she makes, but we must remember that in the performance he is not aware that Friar Lawrence has already wed Juliet to Romeo.
The audience is shown, at the Capulet’s party, that Lord Capulet is a reasonably good man, Tybalt sees Romeo and his initial reaction is to start a brawl, “now by the stock and honour of my kin, to strike him dead I hold it not a sin”. Lord Capulet then compliments Romeo “a bears him like a portly gentleman, and to say truth, Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well-governed youth” and tries to prevent any up roar at the party. When Paris first asked for Juliet’s hand in marriage “but now my lord what say you to my suit” Lord Capulet is quite hesitant, “let two more summers wither in their pride ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” and wants to keep Juliet his only surviving daughter as a child.
After Tybalt’s death he quickly orders Juliet to be married to Paris to try and help her over her bereavement for Tybalt. He knows nothing of Juliet’s love for Romeo so when Juliet refuses his offer “he shall not make me there a joyful bride” Lord Capulet grossly over reacts “Out, you green-sickness carrion! Out, you baggage! Out, you tallow-face!” We must keep in mind that in the days this performance was first put to stage a daughter had to obey her father, and that this was quite common for the daughter’s parents to choose whom she should marry.
“The Fiery Tybalt” who also is kept the dark about the lovers wedding causes manic in the play. He kills “Good Mercutio” after getting into an argument because Romeo will not fight with him, “Tybalt the reason that I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting” because of the unknown, to his friends and Tybalt, link they have now he is married to Juliet. This triggers Romeo’s hate and desire for revenge upon Tybalt, which results in Romeo being exiled from Verona.
Mercutio, Benvolio and others of Romeo’s childish friends could also be blamed as they coax him to attending the Capulet’s party. Tybalt would have no means to kill Romeo and would not have planned revenge upon him after Lord Capulet warns him not to harm Romeo “I will withdraw but this intrusion shall, now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall”.
Romeo’s closest friend, Mercutio, who is a joker and a tease in the performance can be blamed especially because he jeers Romeo into doing things and if he had not got in the way “Tybalt you rat-catcher, will you walk?” and the young lovers may have lived. Not forgetting another less significant character in the play Mercutio’s cousin the Prince could be blamed. If he had brought the civil brawls then no tension would have been between the two households. There is evidence of him trying to prevent the fighting “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of peace” but his warning is not took notice of.
The major characters of this play, Romeo and Juliet, undoubtedly bear the most responsibility for their deaths as had control over their own actions. The audience is aware of how impetuous Romeo is. Although we believe he is older than Juliet, Juliet is arguably more mature. At the start of the performance Romeo is infatuated with Rosaline, he feels lonesome and does not socialize with his friends because of the sorrowful love he has for her “under loves heavy burden I do sink”. As soon as he lays eyes on Juliet he believes it is love at first sight and showers her with praise “if I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine the gentler sin is this”. Both Romeo and his Juliet rush into their marriage “if that thy bent of love be honourable thy purpose marriage” without thinking rationally. Both the lovers were probably suffering from what we now call “puppy love” in minutes of seeing each other they both felt that the rest of their lives were to be with one another and are both willing to give up everything “deny thy father and refuse thy name, or, if thou wilt not, be sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet”.
Some people believe that the characters in Romeo and Juliet are to blame for the lover’s deaths, characters such as Romeo and Juliet themselves, the parents and the Nurse and Friar. But some believe Shakespeare meant it to be another, a character that is not mentioned in the cast list. This character stalks through the play every minute it is being performed, effecting what happens to the characters. This character is Fate. I believe Shakespeare meant for the play to be controlled by fate, as everything from the Capulet’s party to the misfortune of Friar John visiting his sick friend is all set at the right place at the right time.
I also believe that Shakespeare wrote the play, which is a tragic love story, to serve as a warning for centuries to come of the plight of young lovers from opposite sides of the fence. “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo”.