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Romeo and Juliet: Tragic or Pathetic Figures?

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One of the most important issues in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that of choice. Do the characters have the ability to choose what they want to do, or are they simply destined to participate in death and destruction? There is ample evidence of both fate and free will in the play, and the presence of both greatly affects the interpretation of the plot and the characters.

I personally believe that Romeo and Juliet are tragic figures. The characters’ personalities, the feud, and simple bad luck cause most of the problems that arise throughout the play. Tybalt indirectly causes Romeo’s exile by attempting to incite him to a duel, which leads to Tybalt fighting with Mercutio, which in turn causes Romeo to kill Tybalt in revenge. Killing Tybalt caused not only Romeo’s exile: it also triggered a chain of events leading to the deaths of Romeo, Juliet, Paris, and Lady Montague.

Another example of an event beyond the control of either Romeo or Juliet was the hastening of the marriage by Capulet so as to distract Juliet from what he mistakes for grief over Tybalt’s demise. Juliet then drinks a sleeping potion created by Friar Laurence that gives her the appearance of death.

Friar John’s delay is the most striking example of fate in Romeo and Juliet as the cause of it was completely out of the characters’ control. Obviously, Romeo then believed Juliet to be dead, evntually causing him to kill Paris and himself.

The actions that were needed to prevent the unfortunate events in Romeo and Juliet directly contradict the characters’ personalities. Romeo’s inherent over-emotionalism eliminated nearly all possibility of a joyful ending.

In my opinion, Shakespeare clearly intended for romeo and Juliet to be viewed as tragic figures. Fate as a dominating force is evident from the very beginning of the play. The Chorus introduces the power of fortune in the opening prologue when we are told that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed” (destined for bad luck) and “death-marked,” and that their death will end their parents’ feud.

There are many such examples throughout the play pointing to this intention. Shakespeare casts fate, fortune, and the warring families as the forces responsible for the death of the characters (Romeo, Juliet, Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, and Lady Montague).

In conclusion, the characters in Romeo and Juliet are tragic in nature, and I believe it was Shakespeare’s intention for them to be viewed as such.

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