There are many reasons why Romeo and Juliet died. It could be said that Capulet, Lady Capulet, Montague, Tybalt, Mercutio, Benvolio, Nurse or Friar Lawrence caused the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. In my opinion all of the above characters had a part in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Their deaths could also be down to fate, coincidence or choice. Again I think that it is a combination of these.
In this essay I am going to explore the reasons for their deaths. I will discuss which characters and which themes played a part in their deaths.
In Elizabethan London when Shakespeare wrote the play theatre going was very popular. The theatre became a meeting place for friends as people had to get to the theatre an hour or two in advance because it was so popular. They could get a bite to eat and a drink while talking with friends before the play began.
People of all classes enjoyed the theatre. The lower classes would have to pay a penny to watch the play from the open yard area. They would have to stand and look up at the actors on the one and a half metre high stage. The middle classes would be able to watch the play from the seats, which surrounded the yard. There was also roofing above the seated area. This came at a price though, two pence extra. The upper classes could sit in the enclosed room seats but these did come at a high cost. (A penny was approximately one twelfth of a skilled workman’s day wage.)
The stages consisted of three levels and were quite large in comparison to the small theatre. This was so actors performing soliloquies could touch the hearts of the audience easily. Also on the other extreme, battles could be enacted using real cannon fire, loud music and thunder and lightening.
There was no painted scenery so the audience had to use their imagination to picture the locations and environment for each scene. Shakespeare made sure that the actors or narrator put across detailed indication of the scenery. The lack of scenery meant that scene changes were very quick so it was easy for the audience to follow.
When the play begins fate is quite a main theme. Fate in Shakespearian times meant that people thought that their destiny was written in the stars. They believed that the stars controlled what happened to them.
Romeo and Juliet were described as ‘a pair of star-crossed lovers’. This means that they met by fate as their stars had crossed. Fate also works by dramatic irony, which gives the audience an insight into what may happen.
“I fear, too early; for my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But he that hath the steering of my course
Direct my suit. On lusty gentlemen.”
In this paragraph by Romeo fate is the main theme. He fears that something bad may happen “yet hanging in the stars”. Even an “untimely death” may come. What will happen will happen because someone or something is controlling his life.
In the play coincidence works by what we now call fate. It was coincidence that Capulet gave the invitation list to a servant who could not read. Also it was coincidence that Romeo happened to be there when the servant needed someone to read the list for him.
“God gi’ god-den. I pray sir can you read?
Ay, mine own fortune in my misery
Perhaps you have learned it without book
But I pray can you read anything you see?
Ay, if I know the letters and the language.
Ye say honestly; rest you merry.
Stay fellow, I can read”
As Romeo could read he invited himself to the Capulet mansion for the feast.
It is coincidence that Romeo catches sight of Juliet when there were so many attractive young girls at the feast.
“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight,
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”
When Romeo sees Juliet he falls in love with her straight away because she is so beautiful and stands out from the crowd.
It is coincidence that plague struck in Mantua whilst Romeo was banished from Verona and does not get word of Friar Lawrence’s plan
“Where the infectious pestilence did reign,
Sealed up the doors, and would not let us forth…
Who bare my letter then to Romeo?
I could not send it…”
An outbreak of plague meant that Friar Lawrence’s letter could not get to Romeo so he had no way of knowing that Juliet was not dead but had drank a potion.
It could be said that each character in the play brought about the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. I think it was a mixture of all of the characters.
The two feuding families brought about the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. As the two families fight nearly every time they see each other, it puts strain on their relationship. Romeo had to sneak around Capulet’s mansion in order to avoid a fight. Romeo and Juliet understand their problem and Juliet says she will change her name.
“Deny thy father, and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”
As her love for Romeo is so strong Juliet says she will go against her father’s wishes and segregate herself from the family name.
Capulet could be blamed as it was at his feast where Romeo and Juliet met.
“O she doth teach the torches to burn so bright.”
This is the point where Romeo sees Juliet at the feast for the first time.
He also gave the guest list to someone who cannot read so anything could happen.
“…I am sent to find those persons whose names are here writ, and can never find what names the writing person hath here writ. I must to the learned, in good time.”
There were not many servants at the time who could read so Capulet could be blamed because he should have given the list to someone who could read.
Lady Capulet and Capulet could be blamed as they were trying to get Juliet to marry Paris, thus making it very difficult for Juliet to see Romeo. This forced Romeo to sneak around in order to see Juliet.
“I hear some noise within; dear love adieu.”
When they hear a noise from inside they have to end their conversation abruptly and this puts strain on their relationship.
Tybalt and Mercutio caused the deaths because when they fight and Mercutio is killed Romeo becomes angered. He then gets revenge for Mercutio’s death by killing Tybalt.
“Romeo away, be gone.
The citizens are up and Tybalt slain.”
These actions consequently get Romeo banished.
“And for that offence
Immediately we do exile him hence.”
Benvolio could also have contributed to the deaths as he convinced Romeo to go to the party where he met Juliet.
“With all the admired beauties of Verona.
Go thither, and with untainted eye,”
If Benvolio had not done this Romeo would not have met Juliet.
The Nurse’s main job in the play is to pass messages. She doesn’t do this very well, as she never tells anyone the whole story. She also mixes up her opinion in the messages to Juliet. This consequently confuses Friar Lawrence’s already complicated plans.
“Then hie you hence to Friar Lawrence’ cell,
There stays a husband to make you a wife.”
Friar Lawrence complicates the plans between Romeo and Juliet, which contributes to their deaths. He tries to contact Romeo when he is banished to tell him about Juliet but he fails. When Romeo comes back he thinks Juliet is dead and kills himself.
“Here’s to my love! (drinks) O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die!”