Romeo and Juliet are the epitome of true love and have been for hundreds of years. Their story is William Shakespeare’s best-known tragedy and one of his most popular plays. There are many factors that contribute to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths which include their own actions and decisions, fate and circumstances and the deeds of the other characters.
Romeo is a young, intense and love-sick character from beginning to end. He is romantic and compassionate; however he is also fickle and single-minded. His unrequited infatuation for Rosaline: “she’ll not be hit with Cupid’s arrow, she hath Dian’s wit”; which caused him so much torment and sadness, disappears the moment he sees and meets Juliet as she appears in the dance like a: “snowy dove trooping with the crows”. This metaphor shows how beautiful Juliet is in comparison to the other young women at the ball. Romeo’s reaction is ironic as he denied to Benvolio that he could ever forget Rosaline, when Benvolio suggested that Romeo should meet other women at the party to take his mind off Rosaline: “By giving liberty unto thine eyes examine other beauties”.
Romeo falls instantly in love with Juliet and Shakespeare shows us this by describing how Juliet has brought light into Romeo’s life: “teaches the torches to shine bright”. From the moment Romeo meets Juliet, his behaviour changes and by the time of the orchard scene, Act 2, Scene 2, he is animated and lively, a far cry from his dull behaviour over his love for Rosaline. Romeo’s friends and family noticed that his outlook has altered and in the company of his friends, Benvolio states: “Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable; now art thou Romeo”. He is well-regarded by the other characters in the play and many look up to him. However, his rushed decisions and unpredictable ways are, in the end, his downfall.
Juliet is a young, unworldly girl who is not yet fourteen: “My child is yet a stranger in the world; she hath not seen the change of fourteen years”. Juliet is much quieter, obedient and more innocent than Romeo and is greatly influenced by his actions as she has never been in such a situation, so believes every word that he says. Her youth is a key factor in her changes in character throughout the play. At the beginning of the play, she is not too interested in marriage or finding a husband and when her mother broaches the question of her marrying Paris, Juliet avoids any direct answer: “It is an honour that I dream not of”. However, as with Romeo, we see a great change of character when she meets her love. She is no longer disinterested and passive but lively and excited: “You kiss by th’book”. She is now flirtatious and eager at the thought of a new love. When their relationship becomes serious and they are married, she matures a great deal and when problems start to arise, she is the one who is sensible and practical, whereas Romeo threatens suicide rather than be banished. Her character changes, as she is above all an honest person in the beginning, yet she changes to deceive her family and lie to be with Romeo. By the end of the play, we have seen a complete reversal in Juliet’s character, from an innocent, honest young girl, to a serious woman who is deeply in love and whose only care is for Romeo.
Many consider the rashness of Romeo and Juliet’s decisions and their youth to be the tragic flaws of their characters which lead to their many problems and downfalls. Throughout the play, from when Romeo and Juliet initially meet until their deaths in the final act, their romance is rushed and hasty, and all of their decisions are made on spur of the moment feelings, without any real thought or deliberation. Romeo and Juliet’s marriage was not an event that was organised or reasoned, they simply acted on their feelings of lust. The two lovers had known each other barely a day when they were married and this was an odd affair, even in this era, which stunned the friends who were involved in this matrimony. Friar Lawrence notices that Romeo has instantly forgotten Rosaline in favour of Juliet: “Not in a grave, to lay one in, another out to have”; which means that although he told Romeo to bury his love for Rosaline, he did not expect Romeo to find another so quickly. If Romeo and Juliet had had a conventional relationship which gradually developed over time from lust and infatuation into deep, meaningful love; then perhaps their relationship would not have ended in such catastrophe, as many of their problems are simply due to mistiming and emotional decisions.
Romeo and Juliet both have their faults, yet Romeo is older and more aware than young Juliet and he is more at fault than her. He makes many of the rushed decisions and does not think through his actions. Romeo is Juliet’s first love, and first romantic encounter of any kind; she believes every word he says and even though she is intelligent she is also quite naï¿½ve and very trusting. As time moves on through the play, Juliet’s entire persona changes and she transforms from an innocent young girl, to a woman who will stop at nothing to be with her love. Another major problem that leads to Romeo and Juliet’s downfall was the fact that Romeo killed Tybalt. If this had not taken place, it is likely that Romeo and Juliet could have made their marriage public and the feud may have ended. Romeo was angry and upset, as Tybalt had stabbed and killed Mercutio, one of his best friends, he simply did what he believed was right at the time.
However, this was possibly one of the worst things Romeo could have done in his situation; any problems Romeo and Juliet had suddenly became much worse. Romeo knows this as soon as he sees Tybalt fall: “O, I a fortune’s fool”. This murder leads to Romeo’s banishment and both he and Juliet would prefer death to being separated. If Romeo had thought before he fought with Tybalt, he perhaps would have known to stay away, because deep down he knew that he was committing an immoral deed and this action would lead to many more dilemmas and upset. Although it is said that other people’s actions play a major part to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, a person’s actions are their own doing and the final decision is ultimately their own.
The feud between the Montagues and Capulets had been causing problems, antagonism and resentment for years: “From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean”. There were fights in the street (Act 1, Scene 1 and Act 3, Scene1), bitterness between younger members of the family (for example Tybalt) and fear in day to day life. However, against all the odds, Romeo and Juliet met and fell in love. If there had been no feud, or the families could simply build bridges and forget the past, the Romeo and Juliet’s love may have blossomed and the tale would have had a clichï¿½d ‘happily ever after’ ending. However, bitterness, pride and revenge ruled the families’ minds and they would do whatever it took, even kill another man, in order to show their pride. These beliefs resulted in tragedy and the needless death of five family members. The Friar, the Prince and even the tired and weary heads of the families tried to end the feud, in vain. However, in the end, it was love which conquered all and managed to end the warfare between the families, even if this love had ended in heartbreak for both families and all around them.
Benvolio’s role in the play is that of the peacemaker. He is sensible, honest and sincere; a man who looks out for his friends and family and goes to any length in order to help them. He is Romeo’s cousin and they are very close friends, but he does find Romeo’s infatuation for Rosaline quite odd and believes that Romeo is too young to be depressed over a woman so he suggests that Romeo should: “forget to think of her…By giving liberty unto thine eyes”. Benvolio suggests that Romeo should go to the Capulet party, look at other women and forget his unreturned love for Rosaline. This is precisely what Romeo does, which then leads to further problems in the play. If Benvolio had not suggested that Romeo should go to the party, he would not have met Juliet, as in normal circumstances the two families did not associate, and therefore his troubles would not have begun. Although Benvolio did not know that love-sick Romeo would fall for his enemy’s daughter, he did know that attending a Capulet party could cause trouble.
Mercutio is another good friend of Romeo’s; who is related to Prince Escalus. Mercutio is vivacious, lively, witty and shrewd; he is the source of comedy in the play, yet his jokes always have a point to make. Mercutio does, in many ways, cause further friction between the families as although he is good friends with the Montagues, he is part of neither family so does not worry as much of the consequences of upsetting the Capulets; in fact he quite enjoys the teasing, mockery and banter between the Montagues and the Capulets and when he finds out that Tybalt has sent a letter to Romeo, challenging a duel, Mercutio is eager to know more and states that Romeo could easily outdo Tybalt in a fight. In Act 3, Scene 1, Mercutio knows that Tybalt is looking for a fight with Romeo and even though he knows of the trouble a fight in the street between these men may cause, he still encourages it, against Benvolio’s best pleas and mocks Tybalt: “Good King of Cats”, this is a play on words which Mercutio knows will aggravate Tybalt.
Romeo and Benvolio try to prevent the duel as they know the trouble I may cause: “Tybalt, Mercutio, the Prince expressly hath forbid this bandying in Verona streets”; however, Mercutio seems to feel that it is his duty and that he is honour-bound to fight Tybalt, yet ironically this leads to the downfall of Romeo, instead of helping his reputation. Tybalt stabs and kills Mercutio and Mercutio curses the feuding families: “A plague a’both your houses!” Nevertheless, even in the face of death, Mercutio is jesting and lightening the situation, when Benvolio asks if he is hurt he simply replies: “Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch”. Romeo then sets out into a blind rage and kills Tybalt which is the turning point of the play and everything goes downhill from here. Therefore, if Mercutio and thought through his actions, as many of the characters in the play need to, and not instigated a fight with Tybalt, which he knew would cause disturbance and more conflict then perhaps he may not have died and Romeo would not have been banished.
Tybalt’s character is the obvious contrast to Benvolio, who is a peacemaker whereas Tybalt is aggressive, causing unnecessary friction between the families and is always up for a fight. He, more than anyone else, kept the hatred alive between the two families and is continuing the feud unnecessarily when many other family members are willing to move on. For example, in Act 1, Scene 5, Tybalt tells Lord Capulet that there are Montague boys at the party: “This, by his voice, should be a Montague…Now by the stock and honour of my kin, to strike him dead I hold it not a sin”. Throughout the play, Tybalt initiates fights and in Act 3, Scene 1, where Benvolio and Mercutio encounter Tybalt and Petruchio, Tybalt tries to pick a fight with Romeo yet he refuses: “I do protest I never injured thee”. However, he fights and kills Mercutio and this is the beginning of Romeo’s downfall and banishment. Although Mercutio also was a party to the fight and antagonised Tybalt, if Tybalt himself had not challenged Romeo to a duel, if he had tried to let the history between the families rest and helped to keep peace in Verona, then perhaps he would not have found himself dead and Romeo would not have been banished.
Friar Lawrence is the one person in the play whom both Romeo and Juliet can turn to in the play. Everyone speaks well of him, he is dependable, kind and a likeable figure. However he is also quite self-important and unworldly, so he does not know of the problems his actions may cause. Friar Lawrence’s plans contribute significantly to the downfall of Romeo and Juliet, as none of them turn out as planned. Firstly, although Friar Lawrence is shocked that Romeo has forgotten Rosaline so quickly: “Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear, so soon forsaken?” he believes that the marriage may be the one thing that will bring the two feuding families together: “For this alliance may so happy prove, to turn your households’ rancour to pure love”. However, this hope does not solve any problems; in fact it causes more strife for both families; Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, Juliet lies to her families and both Romeo and Juliet die as they believe it is the only way they can to be together. In Act 4, Scene 1 we see another one of Friar Lawrence’s plans that goes horribly wrong when he suggests to Juliet that she should take his potion and fake her death: “A thing like death to chide away this shame, that cop’st with death himself to scape from it”.
He believes that if Juliet follows his plan, she and Romeo can escape to Mantua and start their lives together. Juliet follows his plan exactly, and all the Friar must do now is to inform Romeo of his plan. Friar Lawrence sends a letter with Friar John notifying Romeo of his idea; however, as luck has it, the letter never reaches Romeo and Romeo hears from his loyal servant that his wife and love is dead, prompting him to take his own life. If Friar Lawrence had been more careful and delivered the message to Romeo himself, then this last attempt to save Romeo and Juliet may have been successful and they would have escaped and lived happily together; however this was not to happen and the mixed messages resulted in tragedy. Friar Lawrence was the only adult who knew about Romeo and Juliet’s situation, and he should have acted like an adult. He should never have married them in secret without talking to their parents, particularly Juliet’s and he should have advised Romeo further before he made such rushed decisions, so in many ways he is the most to blame for their deaths due to his impractical plans and spontaneous ideas.
The Nurse is Juliet’s closest friend in the play who brought Juliet up and has looked after her since she was a baby. The Nurse loves Juliet as if she was her own and is compassionate, garrulous and fun-loving. We do not ever learn the Nurse’s name, which represents the fact that her job and Juliet are the main things going on in her life, so she cares a great deal about them. In the beginning of the play, the Nurse is quite a comical character, due to the fact that she is quite vulgar, extremely talkative, scatterbrained and not very bright; she is Juliet’s equivalent to Romeo’s Mercutio and we do not see her character develop very much. The Nurse’s attitude changes over and over in the play and she alters her opinion of people very rapidly. For example, when Tybalt dies, she raves against Romeo as deceitful, yet when Juliet recovers she helps to bring Romeo to her. Also, when Lady Capulet is on the way to Juliet’s bedroom, she helps Romeo and Juliet, yet tells Juliet that Romeo is a ‘dishcloth’ compared to Paris. This shows her simple-mindedness as she is never quite sure what to believe. Like Friar Lawrence, the Nurse helps the lovers sneak around and get married secretly and encourages Juliet’s romantic ideas. In some ways, she should have let Juliet’s parents know what was going on as Juliet was just fourteen years old, naive and still needed guidance. Also, she put pressure on Juliet to marry Paris, although she knew fully that she was already married to Romeo.
Lord and Lady Capulet do not care about neither Juliet’s feelings nor the fact that she has not met Paris, never mind love him. They are strict and want their daughter to marry the ‘proper’ man, from the right class and family and do not mind if she has no say in the matter. Lord and Lady Capulet should have paid more attention to Juliet’s wishes and listened to her opinions, she was just fourteen years old and did not want to marry Paris, yet this was forced upon her although she made her views perfectly clear: “I wonder at this haste, that I must wed ere he that should be husband comes to woo”. Juliet believes that this proposal is happening too fast and tells here mother and father that she does not know Paris and that they cannot marry before they courted.
Paris is the opposite of Romeo’s character; he is calm and decorous, whereas Romeo is passionate and impulsive. Paris does everything the ‘correct’ way, asks Lord Capulet for his daughter’s hand in marriage and is always polite and well-mannered whereas Romeo has never met his wife’s father and is sneaking around behind his back. Although Paris is not the unpleasant character we might expect the hero’s rival to be, he does quite forcefully encourage the nuptials and coerces Lord Capulet and Juliet into a quick marriage. When they meet at Friar Lawrence’s cell, Paris calls Juliet his wife and wants her to admit that she loves him: “Do not deny to him that you love me”. Although he is not directly involved, Paris does contribute to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths as their impending marriage is another reason why Juliet feels she must run away, or worse, take her own life.
Prince Escalus could have done more to help end the feud and keep peace on his streets of Verona. If he had acted earlier and more forcefully, then perhaps Romeo and Juliet’s marriage would have been a celebration and wonderful love story, instead of a tragedy. There are many other small roles that play a part in Romeo and Juliet’s downfall, for example Friar John and Balthasar. However, much of these characters’s involvement is due to due to fate, mistiming and bad luck.
There are many circumstances and coincidental events in the play that lead to the downfall of Romeo and Juliet. Their destiny is foretold in the stars, as stated in the prologue: “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life…Do with their death bury their parents’ strife”. This quote means that Romeo and Juliet’s fate is written in the stars in order to end the feud and bring peace among the families. This quote is also a metaphor, describing the lovers as ‘stars’, whose love stands out against the harshness of their backgrounds. They are not responsible for their fates; their problems are simply an awful succession of mistimings that destroys them. The entire play takes place over the short space of just four days, which is an extremely short space of time for all of these tragic incidences to happen in and if any one occurrence had been different, all may have turned out well.
Aside from the fact that Romeo and Juliet feel so completely in love in such a short space of time; there are an extraordinary amount of coincidences in the play, all of which are unfortunate and lead to the demise of Romeo and Juliet. Firstly, the fact that Romeo should fall in love with an enemy’s daughter is a tragic central event. Also, the fact that Paris asks for Juliet’s hand in marriage at the same time is unlucky, as if he had asked perhaps a few weeks earlier, then he would have found himself a happily married man. There are continuous, ominous suggestions that Romeo and Juliet are fated to die; even before Romeo has met Juliet he says: “Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars. Shall bitterly begin his fearful date…By some vile forfeit of untimely death”. This statement is correct and as soon as Romeo sees Juliet, they know that their love is a tragic one and could end in disaster due to their families’ hatred. However, once they meet and are married there are more disastrous incidents awaiting the star-struck couple. The fact that Tybalt kills Mercutio, although this is expected for a while, is the beginning of a growing number of problems. When Romeo kills Tybalt, he exclaims: “O, I am fortune’s fool”, meaning that he is a victim of fate.
Fate and mistiming are now Romeo and Juliet’s main setbacks. With Romeo banished and Juliet distraught over the death of her cousin and the thought of possibly never seeing her husband again, Friar Lawrence’s plan to give Juliet a potion to fake her own death seems like a loophole where Romeo and Juliet can live happily together; however this plan is not to succeed. Juliet takes the potion and the plan seems to be working, Friar Lawrence sends a letter with a messenger informing Romeo of his plan and arrangements for a funeral are made. However, Romeo and Juliet’s destiny ensures that this plan does not go accordingly. Romeo’s servant and friend, Balthasar, hears of Juliet’s ‘death, rushes to tell his master and Romeo replies: “I defy you stars!”, meaning fate, and that Juliet’s death was foretold. Friar John, the messenger with Romeo’s letter, is held in quarantine and does not emerge in time to deliver the letter to Romeo.
These events lead Romeo to the Apothecary’s where he buys a poison, to end his life without Juliet: “such soon-speeding gear as will disperse itself through all the veins that the life-weary taker may fall dead”. More tragedy is to come; Romeo kills Paris who stands in his way of the tomb. Once inside, Romeo says a last goodbye to Juliet and drinks the potion: “O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die”. Just a she sees Romeo fall, Juliet awakes from her long sleep, but she is too late, another misfortune of fate and she takes Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself. If she had awoken just minutes earlier, the plan would have worked and the two may have lived ‘happily ever after’.
In conclusion, there are many people and events which build up and lead to the final demise of Romeo and Juliet, and their tragic end cannot be put down to one solitary event. Although some people play a more significant and obvious role in their death, for example Friar Lawrence, if one single event had been different and their plans had worked out, then perhaps Romeo and Juliet could have run away together and would not have had to take their own lives. However, though it seems that other people’s influences are the main contributors to their problems, Romeo and Juliet’s fate is written in the stars and chance and coincidence are the dominant themes surrounding their deaths.