To Shakespeare’s audience destiny and fate were both accepted concepts; unlike today, when most people prefer to look for someone to blame, instead of believing that their fate is inevitable. We don’t like to think that we are not in control of our own lives.
In this play it is difficult to get away from fate. In what the characters do and in what they say. From the very beginning Romeo and Juliet are described as having “death marked love” which suggests the play is going to have a theme of fate.
Fate can be seen in the play as operating on many occasions e.g. how Romeo and Juliet happen to make eye contact and meet each other in a room full of people. Is it fate, or is it a strange coincidence that Lord Capulet should send out invitations to his banquet using an illiterate messenger? Romeo and Benvolio happen to be walking in the same place as the messenger when he asks Romeo to read the list of guests. “I pray sir can you read?” If this event hadn’t have happened, Benvolio would not have persuaded Romeo to go to the banquet because they wouldn’t have known about it.
Romeo himself feels that he is being controlled by fate. Before he goes to the banquet he speaks of his sense of foreboding about that evening events, Act 1 scene 4, “some consequence hanging in the stars” and “by some vile forfeit of untimely death”. Romeo believes that the events of that night will lead to him paying some kind of debt with his life.
Destiny appears again when Juliet says She imagines Romeo dead in a tomb, act three scene five.
“I dreamt my lady came and found me dead” Is this destiny trying to warn Romeo of the inevitable? Romeo has had a dream, he was found dead by Juliet and she brought him back to life with a kiss. At that moment Balthasar arrives with the news of Juliet’s death. Balthasar also feels fate is at work when he states he will not give in to the stars, that he believes have determined Juliet’s death. “I defy you, stars”, act five scene one.
Romeo again talks of the stars and of shaking off the burden imposed by fate. Friar Lawrence tells Juliet that there is a greater power, meaning destiny, that can’t be controlled.
It seems as though the characters just say what they want, and say what they feel. This could be controlled by fate though; Romeo and Juliet’s deaths are preordained and there is nothing they can do about it. Now, and then destiny shows its self when the characters talk of their foreboding about the future. For them destiny isn’t exactly accepted but they know that there is little point in fighting it, as it is such a powerful force.
Perhaps fate could be to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, not because it is something that has pre-destined their deaths, but because they simply believe that it could. If they had not believed that the stars controlled their fate, perhaps they would have tried to change their futures for the better. They wouldn’t have had to die.
Fate isn’t the only thing to blame, for the tragedy. People also could be blamed. We know that the main reason for the tragedy was the fact that Romeo and Juliet just couldn’t be together. It was impossible for them to have any kind of relationship because their family’s had absolutely forbidden anything like it. They had such great love for each other that they thought it was worth going against what their parents wanted.
It is such a tragedy that because of their parents feud they had to die. Even though neither of them fought with the other families anyway. After all it was an “ancient grudge” so maybe their parents didn’t even have anything to do with the original quarrel. There are individual people who could be to blame, but over all everything comes from the original argument.
Romeo and Juliet only acted the way that they did because of the impossible situation that was imposed on them by their quarrelling families. Even the prince could be blamed because he wasn’t strong enough when he warned the two households about fighting. He told them that if there was any more fighting on the streets, “Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”,but he is really giving them a second chance.. If he had been harder with them, they wouldn’t have fought again. Tybalt wouldn’t have fought with Mercutio and Romeo would never have killed Tybalt, so he wouldn’t have been banished.
Friar Lawrence is a character who has contributed a lot to the tragedy. Although he wasn’t someone who was quarrelling and arguing, he still knew the dangers that Romeo and Juliet faced. He should have dissuaded them from marrying and deterred them from having a relationship. However, he encouraged them,
“I’ll your assistant be;
For this alliance may….
Turn your household’s rancour to pure love.”
He means well but the tragedy could have been avoided if he had not meddled and made such complicated plans for them. If he felt he had to help them he should have made sure that his complicated plans were properly carried out. In fact, his carelessness cost the lives of Romeo and Juliet in the end, as he should have made sure Romeo knew that Juliet wasn’t dead but had just taken a potion.
Juliet’s nurse could be compared to Friar Lawrence. She is a character who is not directly involved in the conflict between the two households, but she also knew the risks involved in the relationship. The nurse facilitates the story, she gives people messages, informs them about what is generally happening.
Juliet is very close to her Nurse because she had been like a surrogate mother to her. The Nurse contributes to the tragedy because she encourages Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. Even though she knew how costly it could be. Unfortunately because she deeply cares for Juliet, it means her judgment is distorted, meaning she does things she shouldn’t do. She warns Romeo not to use Juliet “if you should deal double with her, truly it were and ill thing… and very weak dealing.” She also helps to organise their marriage and relays messages between them.
The nurse isn’t always encouraging them though. In act three scene five, the Nurse advises Juliet to forget about Romeo and marry Paris. This may seem like the correct thing for the nurse to say, but this eventually leads to Juliet taking the potion, because she feels betrayed by her nurse and has no one else to turn to other than the Friar. Her words at this point show how desperate she is:
“I’ll to the Friar to know his remedy.
If all else fail, myself have power to die.”
The people who are most to blame are probably the heads of the two conflicting families. Lord Capulet is a short-tempered man, who changes his mind often. He first thinks Juliet is too young to marry Paris. Later on in the play he is happy for them to be married as soon as possible. He brings the date of the marriage forward; we later see that this was disastrous as it meant Juliet had to go to extremes to avoid this. Perhaps if he had listened to Juliet more, the tragedy could have been prevented. He showed rage towards Juliet when she refused to marry. He disowns her ” I’ll never acknowledge thee.” If anyone could have ended the quarrel between the two households, it could have been lord Capulet.
Lady Capulet doesn’t have a big role in the play, but she is unsympathetic and comes across as vindictive when she demands that Tybalt killer should be executed. She doesn’t seem to have a very close relationship with Juliet. If her mother hadn’t dismissed Juliet when she asked for help, maybe she could have persuaded lord Capulet to cancel the wedding. However, she hasn’t got Juliet’s best interests in mind. ” I would the fool were married to her grave”. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony here.
Tybalt is aggressive and starts fights easily. He comes across as being very protective of Juliet, as he is her cousin. At the banquet, he is ready to start a fight with Romeo, but is persuaded against it by lord Capulet who tells him “he shall be endured”.
Later on in the play in act 3 scene 1, Tybalt again looks for a fight with Romeo. He insults him in an attempt to provoke him into fighting “Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries…” Tybalt should not have fought, because he knew that the two families had been warned against street fighting. He knew the consequences of starting a brawl in the street. However, he selfishly challenges Romeo, even though he says he doesn’t want to fight. Tybalt kills Mercutio and Romeo ends up killing Tybalt, so Tybalt also has some share of the blame because he contributes to the impossible situation that Romeo and Juliet find themselves in.
Mercutio isn’t a Montague but he is a friend of Romeo. Romeo describes him as “a gentlemen who loves to hear himself talk”. Mercutio is very important in the play because he is the one who persuades Romeo to go to the Capulet’s party “nay gentle Romeo we must have you dance”. Romeo didn’t want to go but Mercutio didn’t listen and just teased him.
Mercutio should have been more responsible for his actions. He taunts Tybalt into fighting with him. “Good king of cats…” Romeo feels honour -bound to fight when Mercutio is fatally stabbed’.
Mercutio’s death is a tragedy in its self, but it also sets off a chain of events that lead to the final tragedy. Romeo is angry with Tybalt for killing Mercutio, so he kills him – Romeo gets banished so it is no longer possible for him to see Juliet.
Lord and Lady Montague both hold some of the blame. They are not as obsessed with the feud, but they still promote it. Lord and lady Montague are much more caring for Romeo than the Capulets with their family.
Romeo is another character who ignored all the risks posed by his love for Juliet. He was older than Juliet and should have been more responsible for what they did. He often blames fate for the consequences of his own actions “O I am fortunes fool”
However, he does refuse to fight with Tybalt. This might be because secretly he is related to him through his marriage to Juliet. Unfortunately, Romeo ends up killing Tybalt. This is the biggest mistake that he could have made, because not only did it result in his banishment but it also ruined any possible reconciliation between the two households.
Juliet doesn’t blame fate for everything, but she is quite irresponsible. She makes last minute decisions i.e. when she asks Romeo to marry her. “If thy bent of love be honourable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow” Romeo has friends to advise him, Juliet doesn’t. She makes most of her decisions by herself. Juliet is so much in love with Romeo that she will take great risks, “to live an unstained wife to my sweet love” she will do anything “without fear of doubt”, “O bid me leap…from off the battlements” “hide me with a dead man in his shroud” so in this frame of mind when she finds Romeo has killed himself, she is prepared to take her own life. “O happy dagger, this is thy sheath”
The intensity of their love for each other could also be counted as being to blame for the tragedy of their deaths, as neither could consider life without the other.
There isn’t one single person or factor to blame for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Everyone has in someway contributed as I have shown. Unless you believe in fate. In which case everything I have written about could have been controlled and preordained and “the fearful passage of their death marked love” as the prologue says was inevitable. The main factor to blame was the feud between the Montages and Capulets because all the actions of the individuals were driven by the feud. If the two families had got on well together, there would have been no need for Romeo and Juliet to resort to subterfuge and they would have been able to marry with their parents’ approval. There is a clue to this in that, lord Capulet says of Romeo “Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well-governed youth”
At the end of the play, Capulet and Montague both acknowledge that it is their enmity to blame.