In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, passionate love between the two protagonists is vividly portrayed by the author’s masterly handling of language and imagery. Shakespeare also illustrates the tragic end of this fervent love. Although it has often been speculated as to the true cause of their demise, it is on the whole difficult to reach a sole conclusion. Some say it is Fate, whilst others say the main cause of their deaths is due to the “ancient grudge” between the Capulets and the Montagues. I will reflect on potential causes to the dreadful ending of the lovers, essentially focusing on the involvement of Fate and the belief that Fate determines our lives.
In the prologue we are given a hint of the intrusive role of “Fate” and the tragic outcome of the play as the narrator speaks of the couple as being “A pair of star-crossed lovers” as well as calling their love “death-marked”. By the term “star-crossed” it is meant their love is ill fated from the start and the stars reveal this. As we continue we read: “Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.” The death of Romeo and Juliet ultimately ends the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues, a feud that had been going on for quite a while serving as an essential theme of the play.
As the plot of the play unravels we learn of Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline and how he is advised to forget her. At the Capulet feast Fate intervenes as Romeo feels the somewhat ominous presentiment in his heart, when he says: “my mind misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars” (I, IV) Once again Fate is being referred to the stars, and this time it is being described as the intuitive feeling of Romeo which serves as a premonition. Romeo’s feelings prove to be true as he encounters Juliet for the first time, hopelessely falling in love. Somewhat later foretelling Romeo and Juliet’s tragic end, Romeo says: “By some vile forfeit of untimely death” (I, IV). This phrase is a good example which illustrates the genius of Shakespeare and the richness of his language. It illustrates how Romeo and Juliet’s love sadly comes to an end; it was “untimely” which means that their demise was both premature and unfortunate. The eloquence and power of the line more than well serves its purpose, namely to foreshadow future events.
The majority of the foreshadowing in the play often comes from lines spoken by the protagonists themselves. It is often a dream, a premonition or simply a feeling of
uneasiness, similar to the foreboding feeling Romeo experienced before encountering Juliet as earlier pointed out. Another one of these feelings are present in the play’s second act just moments before Romeo and Juliet are to be married. Romeo longs to marry Juliet and together with Friar Lawrence they await her arrival, but Romeo’s words have an ominous tone as they discuss the imminent marriage. Romeo feels that he can tackle any sorrow after having spent some time with Juliet, even going as far as saying: “Then love-devouring Death do what he dare, It is enough I may but call her mine” (II, VI) The personification of Death as being love-devouring is very expressive and typical of Shakespeare. It is also a very dark approach of unfolding the sinister forces responsible for the death of the lovers.
Apart from being an apparent revelation of future events, Romeo’s lines further imply that he is of a defying nature, meaning he intends to defy and challenge Fate, a point that I will further develop below. After their wedding night in the third act, Romeo and Juliet bid each other farewell by reason of his banishment from Verona. Romeo leaves Verona into exile and inevitability as Tybalt lies slain. There is no turning back and Juliet realises this. Before Romeo’s departure she speaks: “Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (III, V) Here, Juliet has a vision which reveals much of the impending events. She compares the way she sees Romeo to someone lying dead in a tomb. Ironically this represents what will eventually happen and one could also interpret this as a faint trial to change the future and defy what Fate has in store for the lovers.
Romeo and Juliet often struggle to break free from the chains of Fate in the play, a struggle that ultimately fails. The first time any of the protagonists try to challenge Fate is right after the death of Mercutio. Realising what has happened to Mercutio and before engaging in battle with Tybalt, Romeo says: “This day’s black fate on moe days doth depend, This but begins the woe others must end” (III, I) Romeo fears that the evil outcome of Mercutio’s death lie in the future, a future lying in the hands of another man. Therefore Romeo tries to shape his own future by defying Fate and avenging Mercutio. Blinded by his fury he slays Tybalt, and it is but afterwards that Romeo understands the consequences of his actions. In this great turningpoint of the drama Romeo cries out in despair: “O, I am Fortune’s fool”, he realises the chains of Fate cannot be shattered. Perhaps the most obvious example of Romeo’s defying character is found in the fifth act. When Romeo is notified regarding Juliet’s death, when he attempts to challenge Fate one last time by killing himself to be with his love in the after-life. He cries: “Then I defy you, stars!” (V, I)
In conclusion, in my opinion, the tragic end of the lovers is caused by the vile and sinister “Fate”. Although the protagonists make various attempts to shatter the chains of Fate, they are all in vain for their love is condemned and “star-crossed” from the very beginning.