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How far do fate and destiny play their parts in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?

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“Romeo and Juliet”, is one of the greatest love stories of all time. Romeo and Juliet come from feuding families, the Montagues and Capulets, but they defy the feud and fall in love. Many events take place during the five short days that they share their love. Romeo’s and Juliet’s love finds a tragic way to overcome the differences between their families. The story revolves mostly around Juliet while she grows up and falls in love, only to have fate keep her from complete happiness.

The power of fate is introduced in the Prologue of Romeo and Juliet when it states,

“A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.” (Prologue Line 6)

From the first lines of the play the audience is made aware of the ultimate deaths of the lovers. Instantly aware that fate is at work the audience know the outcome is inevitable. However, the rich imagery in the text is used well, so one can not help but hope that Fate will be thwarted. Fate, rather than being personified as in earlier times, is given power and substance through cosmic imagery. So from the outset, fate deals the lovers its worst and ends as predicted, with death. Fate is the force that predetermines events, but since the story takes place in a Christian context, fate can also be interpreted as Providence, or God. In Romeo and Juliet, fate is the biggest force opposing Romeo and Juliet. It is more powerful than the hate between the families because the lovers found ways to combat the hate, but there is no way to evade a predestined death. Some might call these events coincidences, but it is written as fate in the Prologue.

William Shakespeare begins his play with the Prologue to make it clear that the fate of the lovers is not their fault; they are not entirely responsible for their misfortune. The Prologue directs our attention to the important part which fate plays in the lives of the two young lovers, who are to some extent the victims of their parents’ strife. The Prologue states,

“The fearful passage of their death-mark’d love,” (Prologue Line 9)

This implies that the fate of their love is death. The first coincidence is that Romeo and Juliet shared the unfortunate fate of being from feuding families. It is not very likely that of all the people to fall in love with, they had to choose each other. Without the fate of the young lovers, the story would not have existed. There are many smaller details of fate that leads to the couple’s demise, but none as important as the fact that the end is stated in the beginning.

The first act of fate comes when Capulet’s illiterate servant asks Romeo to help him read the guest list for a party that night. When Romeo sees his love Rosaline’s name on the list, he decides to crash the party, disguised with a mask. Romeo becomes a pitiful puppet in the hands of fate when on the way to the party he says:

I fear too early; for my mind misgives

Some consequence yet hanging in the stars

Shall bitterly begin his fearful date…

By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (Act 1 Sc 5 Line 106)

The line “Some consequence yet hanging in the stars” suggests that there is an event that will happen, which he cannot avoid. Romeo also backs up the idea of fate choosing his path when he says “But he hath the steerage of my course”. By this he means that there is a greater power, namely fate, that is leading him, and that he does not have any free will.

This proves that Romeo feels uneasy about going to the Capulet party but he does not follow his instincts. At the ball, Romeo sees Juliet and immediately forgets all about Rosaline. The fact that the servant asked Romeo and Benvolio for help is definitely a coincidence that affects the entire story. If he had not known about the ball, he may not have met Juliet. Theoretically, if Romeo had found Rosaline and she returned his love, he may have passed Juliet by to be with Rosaline.

The antagonism of fate is discussed again in the wedding scene, this time by Friar Lawrence. He warns the couple of their destiny when he says,

“These violent delights have violent ends.

And in their triumph die like fire and powder,

Which as they kiss consume.” (Act 2 Sc 6 Line 9-11)

He knows the situation is unwise, but he marries them because he thinks it will end the feud. After Mercutio dies, Romeo seeks revenge and kills Tybalt. Feeling helpless because he has killed his wife’s cousin, Romeo claims that he is “Fortune’s fool.” After their wedding, when Juliet learns that Romeo has killed her cousin, Tybalt, she is more loyal to her husband than to her family,

“My dearest cousin, and my dearer lord?” (Act 3 Sc2 Line 66)

What if Romeo and Mercutio hadn’t been in the street when Tybalt showed up? If these three characters had had different timing and not come in contact with each other, there would not have been a fight. Tybalt and Mercutio would not have died, and Romeo would not have been banished. Another work of fate in this act is that the Prince decides to banish Romeo rather than kill him, which is the usual punishment; since Tybalt murdered Mercutio the law would have taken his life in forfeit. Romeo only did what the law would have done.

While Romeo is in Mantua, Capulet decides that Juliet and Paris will be married immediately. Shakespeare makes Juliet his protagonist so the audience will feel sorry for her and want her to be happy. To have a chance of being happy Juliet goes to see Friar Lawrence for help. She receives a potion from Friar Lawrence; she knows it is her only hope to get out of marrying Paris and the only way to see Romeo.

When Balthasar mistakenly informs Romeo that Juliet is dead, Romeo yells out against the power of fate:

“Is it e’en so?

Then I defy you, stars!

Thou know’st my lodging.” (Act 5 Sc 1 Line 24)

Romeo finds Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body in the tomb and says,

“I will stay with thee and never from this palace of dim night

Depart again.” (Act 5 Sc 3 Line 104)

At the end of the play, Romeo tries to escape from his destiny by committing suicide to,

“O, here

Will I set up my everlasting rest,

And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars

From this world weary flesh.” (Act 5 Sc 3 Line 109)

Ironically he fulfils the prophecy declared in the opening prologue.

When Juliet awakens to find Romeo dead at her side, she is devastated and resolves their love by killing herself. This is undoubtedly a very important decision on Juliet’s part. She could have gone on with her life as a widow, but her loyalty to Romeo made her want to be with him in death. If she had not made that decision, the Montagues and Capulets may have continued their feud and Juliet would not have been content without her love. In short, Juliet develops from a heroine of light comedy to a heroine of tragedy.

When thinking of fate, we also start thinking of “what if” questions. The most prominent one at this point in the play is ‘what if Friar Laurence had told someone that he had married Romeo and Juliet?’ The feud could have ended right there if the Montagues and Capulets had learned of their children’s marriage. They might have been angry about it, but there’s not much they could have done after the wedding had already taken place. Unfortunately, the Friar does not announcing the wedding and the marriage remains a secret. The list of “what if’s” is very long for this portion, but it is obvious that fate controlled the actions of this segment, which led to disaster.

Another work of fate comes when Capulet orders Juliet to get married. It may seem like an insignificant detail of fate at the time, but it affects the entire story. If the wedding had not been so soon, Friar Lawrence would have had time to bring Romeo back and reunite the couple. Capulet’s orders cause Juliet to take the potion which makes Romeo believe she’s dead. This leads to the most significant act of fate when Romeo does not receive the letter that Friar Laurence sends. Fate, coincidence, and the stars – have all dealt the lovers yet another blow. The destinies of the lovers depended on the element of chance; fate denied it to them. Friar Lawrence gives Friar John a letter to Romeo explaining his and Juliet’s plan. Unfortunately, the letter doesn’t make to Mantua. Balthasar reaches Romeo and tells him that Juliet is dead. Stricken with grief, Romeo gets a potion from an Apothecary to kill himself next to his love.

Romeo’s deep capacity for love is merely a part of his larger capacity for intense emotions of all kinds. Love compels him to sneak into the garden of his enemy’s daughter, risking death simply to catch a glimpse of Juliet. Anger compels him to kill his wife’s cousin in a reckless duel to avenge the death of his friend. Despair compels him to commit suicide upon hearing of Juliet’s death.

Such extreme behaviour dominates Romeo’s character throughout the play and contributes to the ultimate tragedy that befalls the lovers. Romeo’s love matures rapidly over the course of the play, from the shallow desire to be in love, to a profound and intense passion.

Fate’s final blow allows Romeo to arrive at the tomb just minutes before Juliet awakens. If he had arrived after, the lovers would have had a chance at a happy life together. Though their physical deaths were their own decisions, fate made them want to die. The predetermination of fate led one catastrophic event into another. Fate was brutal to Romeo and Juliet, but it had its motive, which was to end the feud. It is indisputable that fate is the most dominant force in the play and it is most responsible for the devastating death of the young lovers.

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