“Romeo and Juliet ” is a play more generally known for being a love story, exploring how the passion between two people can over come the complications of political disagreements between their families. However, fate is undoubtedly involved in their meeting and falling in love, and is a pivotal part of the story. The playwright, William Shakespeare, makes this apparent from the very beginning of the play in the chorus. He does this to create a sense of expectation from the audience, which makes us feel more involved in the play, as we develop a sense of pathos for the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
The play begins with a chorus in the form of a sonnet. Shakespeare deliberately chooses to summarise the play in this way to illuminate two of the main themes that run throughout, and to allows the audience to identify subtle details in the dialogue later on in the play, which otherwise may have gone unnoticed, increasing our understanding of the dramatic irony within it. In traditional Greek tragedies, a person would narrate to the audience at appropriate intervals to explain exactly what was happening. In contrast, a sonnet, aside from being a concise method of telling the story, is stereotypically a poem based on love. Therefore, the audience become aware that the play is a tragic love story.
Line six of the sonnet “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” shows how Romeo and Juliet’s lives are governed by destiny, as we associate the phrase “star cross’d” with astronomy, and fortune telling, the idea that they are not in control of their lives but that they are already written in the stars. The repetition of the word “death” in lines eight and nine “Doth with their death, bury their parent’s strife…The fearful passage of their death mark’d love” enforce the fact that only the death of Romeo and Juliet can put an end to the feud between the two houses of Capulet and Montague which is destroying the society of Verona (the town in which the play is set). This is stated again in line eleven “Which but their children’s end, nought could remove”. The word “nought” suggests a finality about the tragic situation of the two lovers, and reinforces the reality that there is no alternative event that could finish their families’ feud. This surely means that these two children were born to die. This is a complex and most unjust idea, which Shakespeare uses to force the audience to accept the iniquitous nature of the feud and that the sacrifice of Romeo and Juliet, although distressing, may be necessary to end it. This creates a sense of dramatic tension.
The idea of using Romeo and Juliet as a sacrifice does have religious connotations which is built upon in Act 1 scene 5 when Romeo uses many references to light (which we associate with angels) when describing Juliet. The fact that Romeo and Juliet are portrayed in such a pure and innocent way increases our sense of loss and tragedy, as well as our anger at the lack of control that they have on their actions.
Shakespeare uses chance to great effect throughout the play in order to support the points he made in the Chorus, saying that fate meddles in the lives of Romeo and Juliet. The events leading up to the meeting of the lovers at Capulet’s party in Act 1 scene 5 are clearly structured and follow a clear progression, each coincidence being linked to the next. This leads us to believe that some sort of greater force is carefully planning everything that goes on in their lives to ensure that they meet and fall in love. This is plainly demonstrated in Act 1 Scene 2 when Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio “happen” to bump into a servant from the house of Capulet sent to give out party invitations. Again, this servant just happens to be illiterate “God gi’ good e’en. I pray, sir, can you read?” and so Romeo and his friends manage to trick the servant into believing their names are on their list and each obtain invites.
This scene also has a certain amount of dramatic irony in it as Romeo replies to the servant’s question by saying “Ay, mine own fortune is my misery”. He is of course referring to the unrequited love he suffers from. However, we as an audience take this piece of dialogue to have two meanings, the second being that fate and bad fortune will lead to his misery, which is true as it is fate that leads to him falling in love with Juliet, which in turn leads to him killing Tybalt and committing suicide. Shakespeare is constantly reminding us of the fact that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die. He does this to increase the dramatic tension amongst the audience, so that when something comforting happens (like the meeting of Romeo and Juliet), we are filled with both contentment and dread that something terrible will follow. He then cleverly manages to balance the two themes of love rising victoriously over hate, and fate dictating love by having the fight scene in Act 3 Scene 1, where Mercutio and Tybalt are both killed succeeding the love scene of Romeo and Juliet in Act two Scene 2.
Romeo believes himself to be desperately in love with a girl named Rosaline at this point in the play (a cousin of Juliet’s) and, although he is at first unenthusiastic at the prospect of going to the party, his friends convince him to do so in order to catch a glimpse of Rosaline “At the same ancient feast of Capulet’s sups the fair Rosaline, whom thou so loves” The party is a masked ball, and so when Romeo and Juliet meet, each others identities go undetected until Juliet’s nurse intervenes.
All these events are so interdependent that it seems unlikely that they are simply coincidental. If Lord Capulet had stopped to think that his servant may be illiterate (as many servants would have been at that time), he would not have chosen that servant to do run the errand of delivering invitations for him and Romeo and his friends would not have been able to trick him. If Romeo had been on his own and had bumped into the servant, he probably would not have persuaded the servant to give him an invite as he was reluctant to go to the party in the first place. It was also pure chance that Romeo and his friends were in the same part of Verona as the servant at the same time. If Romeo had not have been in love with Rosaline at the time, he would not have agreed to go to the party where he met Juliet and forgot about Rosaline instantaneously, and finally, if the party had not been a masked ball, Romeo and Juliet would have recognized each other to belong of the opposite families of the feud, and may have been able to control the attraction they felt for one another due to political restraints. As it was, by the time they found out who each other was, they had succumbed to their emotions and could not control their love, as their love was already controlling them.
Fate and the inevitable doom of Romeo and Juliet’s love does not go completely undetected. Both of the two lovers have multiple premonitions of their death at various points throughout the play, the first belonging to Romeo prior to entering the Capulet’s ball in Act 1 Scene 4:
“I fear too early; for my mind misgives some
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despis’d life clos’d in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
This premonition that he has is amazingly accurate when we compare it to what happens in the rest of the play. He says that going to the ball will begin a series of events leading to his death, which is of course true as this is where he meets Juliet. He also describes his forthcoming death as “vile” and “untimely”. His death is definitely untimely, as it occurs when he is little more than a child, and has only just found true love that has shaken him out of his stereotypical melancholy ways of a petrachan lover. Shakespeare’s use of the adjective “vile” captures perfectly the gruesome ways in which Romeo and Juliet die, and the unjust circumstances in which they do so.
Both lovers share a second premonition preceding Romeo’s departure from Juliet’s bedroom after consummating their love in Act 3 Scene 5. Juliet has a vision of Romeo dead in a tomb:
“O God, I have an ill-divining soul:
Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb:
Either my eyesight fails, or thou look’st pale.
Romeo then continues this premonition by adding “And trust me, love, in my eye so do you: Dry sorrow drinks our blood”. Shakespeare purposely makes the two characters share the same premonition to try to portray to the audience the close bond between them, just as he does in Act 1 Scene 5 (lines 92-105) at the ball where he makes them share lines of a sonnet. This again reminds the audience how very much in love the two characters are, to heighten the sense of loss and frustration we feel, when their lives are taken from them by fate at the end of the play. Due to the chorus at the beginning of the play, we already know the fate of these characters, and so this lessens the anxiety and excitement we feel as we know exactly what is going to happen. Therefore, Shakespeare uses the premonitions of the characters to maintain the dramatic tension amongst the audience. We experience the characters angst and uncertainty instead of our own, allowing us to appreciate the play to the fullest.
Throughout the play, both the two lovers and other characters have dialogue, which brings dramatic irony to the play. They often say things in passing that on some level refer to the fate of Romeo and Juliet. For instance, Lady Capulet, when having an argument with Juliet about marriage in Act 3 Scene 5 says “I would the fool were married to her grave” which is ironic as Romeo ends up killing himself thinking Juliet is dead at the end of the play. Again, in a scene between Romeo and Juliet, Juliet claims to have a thirst to hear Romeo speak “My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words of that tongues utterance”. We associate the word “thirst” with a desperate need for water. Without water we die, and so we get the impression that Juliet means she can not live without Romeo. This is ironic as Juliet kills herself as soon as she sees Romeo lying dead in the tomb. Of course, it is likely that both Lady Capulet and Juliet are simply using elaborate language and are unaware of the irony of their words. However, it is seemingly inadvertent remarks by characters like this, which makes us question how far fate goes in controlling the character’s conversations and thoughts, as well as their actions.
Fate and chance continue to play a part in the lives of the lovers after their initial meeting. If Romeo had not overheard Juliet speaking aloud of her love for him on her balcony in Act 2 Scene 2, he may not have admitted his feelings for her so quickly, and Juliet certainly would not have been the first of the two to speak of her emotions had she known he was listening. Girls in Elizabethan times were much more naï¿½ve, and played the part of a meek, adoring daughter, this increasing their marriage prospects. Girls who spoke their minds, especially when it came to relationships were seen to be fast, and so Juliet would definitely not have made the first move. However, overcoming her initial embarrassment, her confession of emotions aloud her to be much more open with Romeo and it was her, not he, who proposed the idea of marriage. This all made their relationship move more quickly than it would have done. If it had been aloud to develop at a natural pace, had the lovers not been so irrational, the tragic events that followed may not have taken place. It is this that makes many think that Romeo and Juliet were responsible for their own undoing. If they had not been so impetuous, Romeo would not have been banished which contributed to their death.
Friar Laurence fears that the lovers’ recklessness could be damaging to their relationship from the outset. In Act 2 Scene 3, He uses a flower to explain how love can be both a poison and a medicine “Within the infant rind of this weak flower, Poison hath residence, and medicine power”. He says that man must balance “grace and rude will” or there could be dire consequences, (in Romeo and Juliet’s case, death). He warns Romeo of this, but fate is the greater force and the Friar can not persuade the Lovers to show less haste.
Fate proves herself to meddle in the lovers’ lives right up until the point of their death: If Romeo had not met Tybalt on his way home from the house of Capulet in Act 3 Scene 1, they may not have duelled at all, and Romeo would not have killed Tybalt resulting in his banishment. Mercutio, in his dying words in this scene, curses both the houses of Capulet and Montague “a plague on both your houses (as it was their duelling that led to his death). It could well be fate therefore, which leads to members of both houses suffering from bereavement, as Mercutio tempted fate through cursing the houses. It is also an ironic coincidence that the reason the letter Friar Laurence sent to Romeo explaining Juliet’s apparent death did not reach him, which resulted in his own death, is because the messenger became quarantined in a house carrying the plague.
If Paris had not wanted to marry Juliet, she would not have needed to take the potion Friar Laurence gave her to feign her death, and Romeo would not have thought her dead. Lord Capulet also moved the wedding forward a day. If this had not had happened, Romeo would not have been shocked to hear of the death of his loved one, and thus would not have visited her in the tomb where he killed himself.
Fate and fortune undisputedly plays a crucial role in the lives of all characters. Even a character as small as Paris is affected by it to the extent that he dies at the end of the play. He could have fallen for any young women in Verona, but happened to fall in love with the one girl who was in love with someone else, which led to him guarding Juliet’s tomb as a mark of love and respect and Romeo killing him in order to see his wife in the tomb. Shakespeare also does this to highlight to the audience the ferocity of the family feud of Montague and Capulet, and to show just how much damage the hatred in society can do to innocent people. It is the regular references to fate that sustain the sense of dramatic tension amongst the audience, making the death of Romeo and Juliet so unbearably tragic.