Romeo and Juliet, one of the most famous tragedies in literature, written by Shakespeare in 1597, is a story about two “star crossed lovers” who end up taking their lives days after they meet. With more than five centuries of existence, the piece has been adapted into many forms of theatre, cinema, music and literature. By using the unrhymed iambic pentameter technique, many literary devices and writing in a very epic, passionate and poetic style, Shakespeare developed a very unique plot that has intrigued millions of readers and spectators around the world because of its intensity and quickness. He closely tangled the play so that every character and event played an important role in the death of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. The Capulets, Romeo and Juliet’s personalities, along with fate, greatly contributed to the young couple’s tragic demise.
Although Juliet’s family, the Capulets, were not aware of Juliet and Romeo’s relationship, they were constantly interfering with Juliet’s love life, and can be held responsible for the death of their precious daughter. To begin, Lady Capulet and Juliet had a very strained and distant relationship; therefore Lady Capulet was oblivious of Juliet’s relationship with Romeo and forced her daughter to marry the noble Paris. This aggravated Juliet’s sense of rebellion and made her agree to follow Friar Lawrence’s plan that eventually killed both her and Romeo. Similarly, Lord Capulet also contributed to the tragedy as he became furious when Juliet refused to marry Paris and shouted:
Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church a’Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face.
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me!
(III, 5, 160-163)
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Lord Capulet was very arrogant and showed little concern for Juliet’s feelings; he accused her of being ungrateful and made Juliet deeply unhappy. This gave her further reason to be disobedient and consult Friar Lawrence. Finally, Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, who was stubborn, provocative and hot tempered, incited hatred and inflamed the tension between the two rival families. Tybalt went against the Prince’s orders and provoked the brawl, killing Mercutio and precipitating a chain of actions that lead to the death of both Romeo and Juliet. As has been noted, family plays an important role in motivating Juliet’s actions, conflicts, and choices. Lady Capulet, Lord Capulet and Tybalt aggravated Juliet’s rebellion and the tension between the families; they are indirectly responsible for the deaths of the two young lovers.
Juliet’s family also was an important contributing factor, but Juliet and Romeo were the protagonists of their own tragedy. The youthfulness and the impulsiveness in their personalities lead to very poor decisions and a terrible outcome. They often acted rashly and without thinking of the consequences. In fact, Romeo’s deep capacity for love was merely a part of his larger capacity for intense feeling of all kinds. He had a tendency to be impulsive and was determined to have a relationship with Juliet no matter the circumstances. For example, Romeo reacted impulsively by taking revenge and killing Tybalt, rather than controlling his anger, which lead him to be banished from Verona and eventually caused their demise. Also, when he sees Juliet supposedly dead, he immediately takes his own life without giving it any thought. Such extreme behaviour dominates his character throughout the play and contributes to the ultimate tragedy. Juliet recognized Romeo’s impulsiveness as well; after the party, when Juliet goes to the balcony and the two lovers exchange expressions of devotion, Juliet says that their love is, “too rash, too unadvis’d, too sudden,” (II, 2, 118).
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This did not deter her from loving Romeo, instead she later asked Romeo to consider marriage, proving to be just as impulsive as Romeo. Her impatience to marry Romeo contributes to the events after their wedding and her impulsiveness after seeing him dead causes her to kill herself immediately. Lastly, another aspect of their personality that was very important on their death was their over romanticization of love. They were blinded by an extreme passion that put someone else’s existence ahead of their own. Romeo and Juliet were willing to sacrifice themselves for each other, because their love became the reason of their existence. When they saw the other no longer alive, they had no reason to keep living, so they committed suicide. When Romeo is about to kill himself with the poison, he dedicated his death to Juliet, saying:
Come, bitter conduct, come unsavoury guide!
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run out
The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!
Here’s to my love!
(V, 3, 116-119)
Romeo’s and Juliet’s personalities were guided by naivety, haste and perhaps innocence, leading them to make decisions too quickly because of an over romanticization of their passion. This caused them to take their lives in vain due to quick assumptions and impulsive behaviour.
Although there are several factors that contribute to the numerous deaths in the tragedy, readers know from the beginning that the story will end in tragedy mainly because of fate. Emphasizing fate’s control over their destinies, Shakespeare soon tells that “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their lives;” (Prologue, 6). Fate is so infused throughout the play, to the point that even the characters are aware of it. First, completely by chance, a Capulet’s servant, who was searching for someone who could read
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the guest list to the party, met Romeo and Benvolio, wondering if they knew how to read. This accidental meeting emphasizes the importance of fate in the play. Romeo claims it is his “fortune” to read and this scene prepares us for the tragic inevitability of the play. Another situation that emphasizes the role of fate is when the plague spread when the messenger was trying to deliver the letter to Romeo. Therefore, he did not receive the message he was supposed to, causing him to believe Juliet was dead. Finally, it was also fate that caused Romeo and Juliet to fall in love at first sight. Juliet is the daughter of the enemy of his family, yet love blooms instantly in spite of the feud. In order to describe their love, Shakespeare used biblical and heavenly imageries that show that it is almost a divine intervention for the couple to be together. Romeo and Juliet were trapped by fate since the beginning of the play, and the unexplainable events of finding Romeo to read the guest list, the messenger being late and their instant love only contributed to their tragic destiny: death.
To conclude, the epic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet occurs mainly because of fate, Romeo and Juliet’s impulsive personality, and their own families; although every single character and event plays a role in the final outcome. It is a tragedy that questions destiny, rashness and lack of family’s support since those greatly contributed to Romeo and Juliet’s demise. Despite of what the contributing factors were, their deaths brought about a start to Verona because like Friar Lawrence said, “Within the infant rind of this small flower/Poison hath residence and medicine power.” (II,3, 23-24)