In the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which was written by William Shakespeare, fate plays a vital role as an amazing number of unlucky events happen to Romeo. By analysing the key themes, character dialogue and the structure of the play, I hope to find out to what extent Romeo is a victim of fate.
In Shakespeare’s days, many Elizabethans had a strong belief that stars and star signs had a great impact on their destiny. The Elizabethans believed that fate existed in order to limit people’s ambitions and pride, and to maintain a sense of order in the world. Some people appear to be approaching a state of perfection; it is the role of fate to bring that individual down, to remind people that even the greatest human are below the ‘Gods’. Fate may be described as being envious or jealous of its own position. This was a very large part of the Elizabethan’s understanding of the universe that our lives were planned out before we were born. The major way of determining our destinies was by looking to the heavens. This relates to the play because ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are called ‘star cross’d lovers’ and also when Romeo hears of Juliet’s death he say’s ‘I defy you stars’, this is extremely foolish of him because he is defying what the heavens have planned for him.
As a result of this he immediately goes, without even thinking, to buy some poison and commit suicide.
Romeo and Juliet experience numerous misfortunate events in the play, beginning with their meeting at the Capulet’s ball where the moment Romeo sets eyes on Juliet he completely erases Rosaline from his mind and falls in love with Juliet. Their love for each other grows fast in a very short amount of time but their families have an ‘ancient grudge’ against each other so the love between them is forbidden. Their ‘ancient grudge’ has gone on for many years and now it’s broken out into ‘new mutiny’. As Romeo and Juliet’s love progresses they start meeting in secret, as they do in Act 2 Scene 6, where they meet at Friar Lawrence’s cell so they can be wedded.
This then affects Romeo drastically as in the next scene, Act 3 Scene 1, Tybalt is furious with Romeo because he went to the Capulet’s party and wasn’t invited; therefore he want’s to fight. But now that Tybalt is Romeo’s cousin Romeo refuses to fight, because of this Mercutio get’s hurt and eventually killed. In the tragic ending Romeo doesn’t receive the friar’s letter. The friar’s letter was to tell Romeo that Juliet would pretend to be dead, but in reality she was only in a coma due to a potion she had taken. But the messenger is delayed and instead Romeo is told Juliet is dead. Due to this he buys poison and goes to the tomb where she lays and he drinks, just as he drinks it Juliet awakes and sees him dead so she stabs herself.
Romeo’s character in the play is very fascinating as in the preliminary scene he is negative and upset ‘ Ay me! Sad hours seem long.’ At the end of Act 1 Scene 1 where Romeo and Benvolio are talking, Romeo is upset as Rosaline does not feel the same way about Romeo as he does to her.’ Out of her favour where I am in love’. This is unusual for Romeo to be melancholy like this because in most of the play he is reasonably a happy person.
However in Act 1 Scene 5 when the Montague boys go to the Capulet ball, Romeo’s melancholy state totally changes. When he meets this ‘beauty’ Juliet and immediately falls in love with her ‘did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.’ This is very fickle of Romeo as in one scene he is entirely taken with Rosaline and then in the next he erases her from his mind and falls for Juliet. This links to the tragic ending as once he falls in love with Juliet he will do anything for her and doesn’t want to live without her, therefore when Juliet ‘dies’ he wants to die as well.
Romeo is a very passionate character, in Act 3 scene 3 when he finds out he is banished he says ‘ Tis Torture, and not mercy.’ Then he becomes rather immature as he goes on to say ‘ in carrion flies than Romeo, they may seize on the white wonder of dear Juliet’s hand and steal immortal blessing from her lips, who even in pure and vestal modesty, still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin. But Romeo may not, he is banished’. What he means by this is that a fly would now have a better life than he as they can land on her lips and ‘steal immortal blessing’. This shows a very childish side of Romeo’s character because instead of being a mature adult he is supposed to be he is being childish and self-centred and not thinking of anyone but him self.
Romeo is very impulsive as he immediately declares his love for Juliet when he hasn’t even seen her face or even talked to her, ‘ O she doth teach the torches to burn bright… For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night’. These two sentences, which are at the beginning and end of this little speech, inform the audience that he hasn’t even seen her but thinks he has never seen any one so beautiful as she. Also when he finds out that Juliet is dead he immediately buys poison and without even thinking it through to see if the friar knew of anything he goes straight ahead and kills himself. Without even realising on how it might affect any body else. I do think Romeo is a weak character because if he loved Juliet as much as he said he did, he would’ve accepted his banishment and left Juliet alone for her own good. However as he is quite selfish he couldn’t take the banishment and had to return to Verona.
People might argue that Romeo is unlucky in the play and fate had something to do with it as he is a Montague and he falls for a Capulet, two families that hate each other. This is incredibly unlucky but it would not have been the same if he fell in love with someone else because he was forbidden to love Juliet, ‘ from fourth the fatal loins of these two foes a pair of star cross’d lovers take their lives’. Before he meets Juliet, the Capulet’s servant, Peter, was sent to give out the invitations for the party. Even though it is unlikely that they would send out a servant that could not read, coincidently he just so happens to bump into Romeo and Benvolio who can read but are Montague’s. ‘Ay, if I know the letters and the language’…’ If you not the house of Montague I pray come and crush a cup of wine.’ Yet again when he is at the ball it just so happens that Tybalt is standing near Romeo and hears him speak, ‘This by the voice should be a Montague’. It is unusual that no one else recognises Romeo or even the other Montague boys. Then when Romeo kills Tybalt in a fit of anger, he is banished which is incredibly fortunate as he should’ve been put to death, ‘Thy fault our laws calls death, but kind Prince taking part, hath rushed aside the law and turned black word ‘death’ into ‘banishment”. Finally, when the friars’ letter about the plan of Juliet’s death did not reach Romeo, Romeo was then not aware of the plan and thought Juliet was dead. Without even asking the friar how or when Juliet died he went immediately to buy some poison.
Various characters in the play influence Romeo’s actions and help the outcome of the play. Mercutio is one of these people. He is portrayed as an outgoing and confident person. However, when Tybalt wants to fight Romeo, Mercutio buts in ”alla stocatta’ carries it away’, and becomes over confident in fighting for Romeo which then leads to his self getting hurt and killed. This influences Romeo’s actions and behaviour very much as once Mercutio dies Romeo is overwhelmed with anger and kills Tybalt.
Friar Lawrence also has a big influence on Romeo’s actions and behaviour because if he didn’t think that their marriage would ‘ Turn your two households’ rancour to pure love’, then they never would have got married and their love would have faded. But because of the Friars idea to marry them, which he only did for the sake of stopping the feud, Romeo couldn’t kill Tybalt because he was now his cousin. Also if the Friar did not come up with the plan of the death potion then Juliet would have married Paris and got on with her life. The Friars idea, which he did only to help Romeo and Juliet, backfired, as Romeo didn’t get any of the letters, which were telling him about the plan.
The Nurse did not have a huge influence on Romeo as she did on Juliet because she pushed Juliet to wanting Romeo more as she complimented him lots, ‘his face be better than any other mans’, and she also did not stop Juliet in to marrying Romeo. If she had stopped her marrying Romeo or even if she was very against the Montague’s than their love would not have lasted and they both would have lived.
Finally Juliet influence’s Romeo’s actions and behaviour because she sends him her nurse to tell him that she will marry, which then leads to Romeo wanting to see her more as she is now his wife. If Juliet had never sent her nurse or even if the nurse could not find Romeo than Romeo would have thought she didn’t like him that much and it was only a one nightstand and he would’ve gone looking fir another girl
Many different actors have interpreted the character of Romeo in films and theatres since Shakespeare wrote the play. In Baz Luhrman’s interpretation of the play, the viewer instantly is hit by a lot of Religious imagery and cosmic imagery. For example in the first scene you see lots of huge statues of Christ and then in the car of the Montague’s there is a statue of Christ in the background. Religious imagery links to fate and destiny as the Elizabethans strongly believed in God very much so, they thought that God or a higher power guided their fate through the stars. At the scene where the Montague boys are all meeting before the party Romeo has a vision of himself walking through a church and says ‘ I fear to early, for my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars, shall bitterly begin this fearful date’. Which you don’t see again until later, when Juliet is lying in there. He is saying that he thinks fate has something bad for him if he goes to the party which then links back to the question is Romeo a victim of fate? This premonition that Romeo has is clearly showing that he must be a victim of fate.
While Romeo is at the party Lord Capulet comes up to Romeo and talks to him but does not recognise that it is Romeo. But then Tybalt hears Romeo speak and wants to fight him there but lord Capulet disagrees and tells him he isn’t doing any thing bad. Is this fate? Also Romeo put’s his head in a bowl of water where earlier on Juliet had her head in the bath, two very similar images, this show the viewer that they will be destined together because they are doing things that are similar. In many of the scenes in this famous movie there is water in most of them. Like Romeo and Juliet are in the pool together and when Mercutio dies you can see the sea in the background. Luhrman has effectively used water to show that they are trapped and there is no way out of their tragic ending because fate has planned it out for them and you can not change it’s path.
Luhrman also uses weather well to create an atmosphere, when Mercutio get’s stabbed a storm comes along and it’s starts lightning and rain, this atmosphere signifies tension and grief. Then when Juliet is in her room waiting for Romeo, candles, crosses and lots of religious imagery surround her. Juliet then has a premonition of Romeo killing Tybalt, which he is doing at the same time as the premonition. Luhrman is effective in the way that he had Romeo kill Tybalt in front of the statue of Christ and then shouts ‘ I am fortune’s fool’, which then brings us back to the essay question, Is Romeo a victim of fate? He certainly thinks he is but it could all just be unfortunate events and bad decisions.
Romeo than goes to Juliet’s room and they have a night together, but then in the morning Romeo awakes to a flash back of himself killing Tybalt and Tybalt falling into the water. Here again Luhrman uses the water theme to create a trapped feeling towards the characters. When Juliet is saying her farewells to Romeo he then falls in to the pool where she then has a premonition of him ‘methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb’. Where later on she does see Romeo lying next to her dead.
What Baz Luhrman cleverly does is that how Romeo misses all the letters that are being sent to him; as when Balthasar comes to him, Romeo steps right on the letter and it makes the viewer hope that he will see it and pick it up. When Romeo goes to the church for the last scene Juliet is surrounded with lighted candles. What Luhrman does do in the film where it doesn’t in the play, is that he makes Romeo drink the poison just as Juliet awakes so actually she sees him drink it and die in front of her. Luhrman does this because it makes the viewer anxious and wish that Juliet had woken at least 3 seconds earlier before or Romeo had waited a little longer. He does this because he wants the viewer to feel anxious and wish. He does this ending instead of the plays’ seeing that this ending makes it more tragic as Juliet watches Romeo die then Juliet shot’s herself instead of stabbing herself.
In the play there is some evidence that suggests that Romeo was not simply unlucky, and that he could have been a victim of fate. For example when Mercutio get’s killed Romeo says ‘ This day’s black fate on more days doth depend, this but begins the woe others must end.’ What he is saying here is that fate has done worst things to him in the past few days then it ever has and others have to end these bad things happening, but what he does not know is that he and Juliet end the whole feud between the two families by both of them committing suicide.
When Romeo says ‘I am fortunes fool’ right after he murders Tybalt. What he is saying is that is he thinks he is a fool because fate has taken control of him and made choices for him and that he is a fool for believing in fate and destiny and that now he has ruined his life.
Before the Montague boys enter the party Romeo doesn’t feel comfortable to go to the party as he says ‘ I fear too early for my mind misgives, some consequence yet hanging in the stars, shall bitterly begin this fearful date’. When he says this he thinks that once he goes into the party fate will have something bad for him, and that if he does go something bad will happen. But then he meets Juliet which he thinks is wonderful but that is actually the awful thing that happens to him. But even though he says this he still says ‘direct my sail, on lusty gentlemen.’
In Act 5 Scene 1 Romeo says, I dreamt my lady came and found me dead.’ What he does not know is that, this is what happens because Juliet does find him dead after he drinks the poison. This once again is referring to a premonition about his death, which can only be fate which is trying to tell him to not go on and that Juliet and him are not made for each other.
Finally when Romeo finds out Juliet is dead he shouts ‘ then I defy you stars!’ What he is doing here is he is defying and going against what he thinks the stars have planned for him. He thinks that he should have had a good life and that he and Juliet are meant to be together but now Juliet is ‘dead’ he is going against the stars. This also emphasises the belief in Elizabethans times that the heavens controlled all the people’s lives.
In conclusion, many Elizabethans believed in fate and destiny, they would have believed that Romeo was a victim of fate, and that fate had interfered with everything and because of fate the story had a tragic ending. It was fate conspiring when a Montague fell in love with a Capulet. Fate that the servant asked for help reading the invitation from Romeo and Benvolio. Fate that the messenger was delayed in delivering the Friar’s letter. The Elizabethans believed that their lives were planned by the heavens before they were born and the premonitions could only have been fate, trying to tell both Romeo and Juliet that they are not supposed to be together hence ‘star cross’d lovers’.
Alternatively, the audience might think it was Romeo’s fault because he made foolish decisions. Firstly, knowing the families hatred for each other he still choose to go to the party. Secondly, Romeo did not even see Juliet’s face before he declared his love for her. Later, he only thought of his anger and not his love for Juliet when in revenge of Mercutio’s death he killed Tybalt. Again, he made a bad decision by foolishly not keeping to his banishment but returned to Verona. Also, he did not think of anyone but himself when he made the decision to just go and buy poison without talking to anybody first. I personally think the tragedy was caused by Romeo’s self-centred decisions and bad choices.
In spite of this Romeo and Juliet’s momentous love affair was too strong and their love was too pure that if it had lasted more than a week they would have started to fade away from each other.