For many years people have argued and discussed the ways in which different characters may be regarded to contribute towards the death of Romeo and Juliet. There may be many reasons for the death of these two young lovers and in this essay I am going to discuss the characters that may be considered to play a part in the tragedy.
There are a number of characters in the play that participate and contribute to the tragic events of the play. The motivation of each character, along with the involvement placed in the play, contributes to our thoughts and provides a definite answer in reaching a conclusion. We soon come to relate with the characters and see how each of them is connected to the lovers’ death.
Different aspects and fate combine to cause the death of these two ‘star crossed lovers’. This particular tragedy is about two people who died for one another’s love. Shakespeare wrote this play going against family traditions at the time, and wrote about two people who married each other out of love. Conversely, the two lovers had not thought about the consequences and as a result, they both ended up dying tragically.
Most of the characters fall in love at first sight; Romeo and Juliet, spoiling for a brawling fight; Mercution and Tybalt. Old Montague and Capulet act like adolescents in their continuing feud with one another, even getting involved in the fighting. Old Capulet orders for his lady to hand him a sword as Montague defiantly says, ‘Thou villain Capulet! Hold me not.’ The Capulets and Montagues have used their swords dishonourably by fighting against each other and staining the swords with the blood of neighbours. The nurse acts more like Juliet’s excitable younger sister than a responsible adult.
Only the prince and Benvolio, and later on Friar Laurence, show any sense of responsibility in rationalising and relaxing in certain circumstances. The prologue suggest that fate is to blame for Romeo and Juliet being ‘star crossed lovers; being born into the feuding families, but we cannot blame fate when there are people who will not stop fighting with each other. Some people consider us to decide our own fate and these two characters fight with their own free will. Furthermore, Shakespeare has created a feuding society in Verona, between the Capulets and Montagues; these two houses of society are to blame for the death to a large extent. Even before the scenes, the reader can see that the two households hated one another from the prologue in which the ‘ancient grudge’ is referred to.
Although these two families brawl with each other, no rational suggestion is made in order to stop them. Prince Escalus, who is in charge of what happens in Verona, could be considered blameworthy for the death, as he is unable to stop it. He is there to highlight and emphasise upon the political points in life, such as peace. It is only at the end that he says that he should have been firmer, ‘and I, for winking at your discords too, have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished.’ but it is the death of the lovers not his authority that reconciles the families.
Along with the Montagues, the Capulet household are responsible for maintaining the feud. Each family have authority over their household to argue with each other. Not either of them chose to stop the quarrelling. During the beginning of the play, Lord Capulet is eager to get involved in the fighting, and Lady Capulet seeks revenge on the Montagues for the death of Tybalt. She demands ‘For blood of ours shed blood of Montague’. This shows a lack of tolerance, as they are not prepared to hear the whole story as they also lack in the basic qualities of civilisation, ‘We will have vengeance for it, fear not.’
The Capulets are also to blame for the deaths as they denied the wishes of Juliet and never listened to her opinions. Unlike Lord and Lady Montague who are concerned about Romeo, Lady Capulet is a cold, unsympathetic mother, and Lord Capulet is a tyrannical figure that warns Juliet that he will drag her on a ‘hurdle thither’ if she thinks to defy his orders. This is seen when she refuses to marry Paris. Juliet has no one to turn to therefore must to rely on the nurse. It is shown that wealth over rides love in the Capulet way of life. Lord and Lady Capulet were partly responsible for keeping the feud going.
Lord and Lady Montague like the Capulets, were also responsible for keeping the feud going. If they had been more understanding, Romeo would not have felt he had to keep secrets from them. They had authority over their household, and could have stopped the quarrelling if they wanted to. They should have paid more attention to Juliet’s wishes and listened to her opinions. They were too hard on her when she refused to marry Paris.
The Nurse plays a critical role in Romeo and Juliet. Her relationship with major characters and her part in the secretive romance of the two lovers causes the play’s action to move quickly and in a powerful way. The Nurse acts as Shakespeare’s pawn to guide the events of the play in a dramatic manner.
The nurse has an important role in Juliet’s life. She is almost a mother to her who advises her about her relationship with Romeo. However, she can often behave irresponsibly throughout the play. She influences Juliet and enables her to meet with Romeo in secrecy. She understands how little love her mother gives and encourages her to go out and have fun. “Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days.”
The nurse is a simple woman, genuinely fond of Juliet with a bawdy sense of humour. She starts off as an amusing character, but as the play progresses and finally finishes in a tragic scene, everyone questions her part in the misfortune.
The Nurse is an accomplice alongside Friar Laurence in bringing the lovers together. The Nurse is immersed in Juliet’s affairs and strives to help with her plans. The Nurse’s desire is simply to keep fourteen-year-old Juliet content. Her obstacle is her sense of duty to Lord and Lady Capulet, though this never seems to deter her actions.
Unlike Friar Laurence, the nurse doesn’t warn Juliet of the consequences when defying her parents and meeting Romeo in secret. Her only motive to get involved is due to her excitement and understanding of the meaning to Juliet. She doesn’t really know how much Juliet really loves Romeo as she only praises either Paris or Romeo when it is the right time. She praises Paris in the beginning of the play by and then admires Romeo, by describing his physical attributes, ‘though his face be better that any man’s, yet his legs excels all men’s’, but then approves of Paris when it is time for the wedding. She describes Romeo as a ‘dishcloth’ compared to Paris when she said that Romeo could not be compared to any other man. She contradicts her opinions.
After Tybalt’s death, the Nurse becomes less sympathetic and later when Capulet orders Juliet to marry Paris; she defends Juliet at first but later pragmatically suggests that Paris would not be so bad after all. When the Nurse suggests that Juliet should forget about Romeo and marries Paris, she loses Juliet’s trust and confidence. Juliet decides to seek the help of Friar Laurence; thereafter she no longer involves the Nurse in her secret plans.
Friar Laurence is a well-intentioned man who advises Romeo to be more cautious and sensible about the decisions he makes. He knows that Romeo and Juliet’s love will cause trouble and advises them ‘Wisely and slow: they stumble that run fast’ His premonition ‘violent delight have violent ends’ is proved well founded. He advises the couple to be wary and to pace themselves, but this is not executed in a practical way. . He feels that Romeo is very hasty in his decisions, having been so preoccupied with Rosaline, and states, ‘Young men’s love then lies, Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes’.
He often contradicts himself, as he does not support his point with a valid motive; he just pushes their haste. The friar is taking the lead and is dominant over Juliet as he encourages her to deceive her parents. ‘Be strong and prosperous in this resolve.’ The friar advises Juliet about the poison and soon becomes involved in the scenario. Her parents are also unaware of this situation. He is a holy man and should have respected the Capulet’s wishes and yet he ignores that image and want love to blossom in the eyes of Romeo and Juliet. He hopes that it will reconcile the families, ‘For this alliance may so happy prove, to turn your households’ rancour to pure love’.
It is ironic as it is the lover’s death, which brings about this outcome. When the wedding ceremony between Romeo and Juliet takes place the Friar still believes that Romeo and Juliet are merely infatuated with each other and are not truly in love, but he agrees to marry them anyway. He does this because he still hopes that he could help bring their feuding families together. Friar Laurence’s sense of duty here identifies him as the “peacemaker” of the play. Ironically, his intentions were never truly fulfilled because the circumstances surrounding the marriage made it almost impossible for peace to occur. It is important to remember that the Friar’s impetus for all his actions in the play are initially to bring peace, and secondly to bring happiness to Romeo and Juliet.
The friar could also be accused of being responsible for their death as he occasionally acted irresponsibly. With good intensions he sends Romeo to Mantua, gives Juliet a powerful drug and lies to Paris and Juliet’s family. When Juliet arises from her slumber, the friar flees, as he cannot face the tragedy of Romeo’s death, despite being accountable for the failed plan. This is a time of ‘Unhappy fortune’ as things did not go as intended. When Paris is asks the friar to preside over his wedding to Juliet the next day. This causes great conflict for the Friar, because he knows the whole story, and he is very relieved to see Juliet appear at his chamber. After Paris leaves, Juliet begs the Friar to help her in her predicament. As a religious man, the Friar is also looking for a way to avoid doubly marrying Juliet, so he helps her plan her “death”. This was the final decision made by the friar. He did not think to look at other solutions, such as maybe stalling the wedding and proceed with the ceremony later on. He acted hastily without thinking and contributed towards the death of the two lovers.
Romeo and Juliet, being the protagonists of the play, contribute to the tragic events.
They are equally to blame for their own death. Romeo shows a particular characteristic consisting of intense, passionate and impulsive behaviour throughout the play. He is engrossed by his emotions from his first appearance when he is sighing for Rosalind to his last when he kills himself for Juliet. He blames fate for his misfortune when things go wrong, most notably after killing Tybalt. ‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’
In support of Romeo’s belief that fate is to blame for everything, the prologue refers to the ‘start crossed lovers’ and their ‘death mark’d love’, suggested that Romeo and Juliet were born to die tragically and nothing could have prevented it. Such as Romeo’s impulsive, passionate nature that, not only does he fall in love at first sight, he does not think about his actions. Throughout the whole play, the theme of haste and ‘acting before you think’ is reiterated. Romeo falls into love too quickly and acts too hastily. He does not think about what might happen as a result of this speed of life as he does not think things through.
At the beginning of the play, we first see war; and now we hear about love, as Benvolio describes the behaviour of his infatuated friend. Romeo is up before dawn, walking alone in the woods and weeping; when the sun rises, he hurries home and locks himself from the outside world. These are the early symptoms of unrequited love, although neither Benvolio nor Romeo’s parents appear to recognise this.
We wait for Romeo to show us the extent of his love-sickness. He is miserable, however he enjoys his misery. What matters to Romeo is the emotion that he calls ‘love’. It makes him happy and at the same time, makes him sad. He tries to express these two conflicting states in a series of witty paradoxes- phrases, which seem absurd. These are also an ominous, foreboding sign, as they are ironic and connect with Juliet’s death, when she takes the drug; ‘still-waking sleep’.
During the balcony scene, and then after his wedding night he doesn’t give any thought to what Juliet’s family think. He would rather they find out and his ‘life were better ended by their fate’. Better to love and die than die without love; ‘than death prorogued, wanting of thy love’. This is ironic as Romeo did die for his love and ended this relationship with Juliet by departing with her through committing suicide out of love. Their engagement interprets a situation happening too quickly. Romeo shows significant queries about the sudden love between them, ‘so thrive my soul-‘. He shows us that he hopes his soul will survive but in the end, we can see that it doesn’t, but dies out along with his love for Juliet.
When Friar Laurence offers the couple advice, ‘wisely and slow’, Romeo takes no notice. His emotions overcome him and he kills Tybalt, a disastrous action, which results in his banishment. He tries to avoid getting into a fight with Tybalt, proving that he is a powerful, yet resistive character, ‘Doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting’. However, the results draw nearer to a death. He did try to prevent the fights happening on the streets and was considerate about the people of Verona, ‘forbid this bandying in Verona streets.’
Then, instead of facing upto his actions, Romeo falls into despair and wants to kill himself. He mistakes the sentence of banishment. He feels that this sentence is an easier punishment that death. He does not want to live ‘without Verona walls.’ Similarly, Romeo is contributing to his own ending. He looks at banishment as death and feels he is married to death and disruption. At the end of the play, he comes into contact with death. Finally, if Romeo had waited a few seconds longer, before drinking the poison, he would have seen Juliet wake up, but, true to his character, he doesn’t wait and tragically, this results in both his and Juliet’s death.
I feel that if Romeo should not have been so quick thinking and taken into consideration what the outcome may have been and how each of the other characters felt about certain situations. He should have listened to friar Laurence’s guidance and remained as he was without marrying Juliet.
On the other hand, Mercutio’s death was uncalled for and Romeo did not have to retaliate towards the Capulets household. For a moment, Romeo forgot about his new bride and retrieves his sword to attack her cousin in an act of vengeance for the death of Mercutio. Prince Escalus hears of the sequence of events from Benvolio and promises to strict justice. He lets ‘Romeo hence in haste.’ This must be done, or all civil law will break down, and a state of anarchy will result; ‘mercy but murders, pardoning those who kill’.
Due to the lack of responsibility and irrational thinking, Romeo rushed into his decisions and killed Tybalt out of reprisal. Had he thought about his actions, he would had stayed in Verona, prevented Juliet from drinking the drug; made by Friar Laurence, and be alive on this present day, living happily with his wife Juliet. They two families may have reconsidered and put away their differences. Committing suicide is Romeo’s final and most profound act in his pursuit of Juliet.
On reflection, Juliet’s action and way of thinking also contributed towards to hers and Romeo’s death. Unlike Romeo, Juliet changes and progressively matures in the play. When she first appears in the play, she is obedient to her mother. However, once she falls in love with Romeo, she becomes more organised, thinks independently and soon defies her parents. As a result of this, she felt unaided and was left to seek advice from other characters, such as friar Laurence. After the Nurse leaves she says, “Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend,” and then goes off alone to talk to the Friar.
Lady Capulet, Juliet’s biological mother only tells her what to do, and has never been personally close with Juliet. When Juliet comes of age to get married, Lady Capulet wants her to marry Paris, and does not care how Juliet feels about it. Juliet tries to talk to her mother about it, and tell her that she does not want to marry Paris, but Lord Capulet walks in and angrily tells her that she will go and marry Paris even if he has to drag her there. Juliet again pleads with her mother to delay the marriage even for a week, but Lady Capulet only responds with, ‘Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word. Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee’.
Later on in the play Juliet finally gets the confidence to stand up against her parents, when they tell her that she will be marrying Paris. Juliet tells her mother, ‘I will not marry yet, and when I do I swear, it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, Rather than Paris.’ These are news indeed! A couple days prior to this, Juliet would not have had the confidence and maturity to speak up against her parent’s wishes. For example, in Act I, scene 3 Lady Capulet asks Juliet if she has thought of marriage, and when Juliet says no, Lady Capulet says, ‘Well, think of marriage now’. Juliet does not argue at all, and tells her mother she will do what she orders. If she had listened to her parents, the death could have been prevented and instead of seeking advice from friar Laurence, Juliet would have married Paris.
Verona is a patriarchal city, which means that fathers hold absolute power over their daughters. They may give them to whomever they choose, and feel deeply insulted if their daughters dare to choose otherwise. Juliet chose to differ with her father and disobeyed his wish to marry Paris. One might imply that if she has married Paris, her father would not have cruelly commented on her, calling her a ‘green-sickness carrion’ and ‘tallow face’. If Capulet had listened to his daughter, she would not have been ungrateful.
Unlike the situation with Juliet’s parents, her behaviour towards Romeo equally contributes to the events leading upto her own, as well as Romeo’s death. Like Romeo, Juliet was too swift into rushing into marriage. She was already partly married to Paris at the time of the ball, and until then, had been happy with her parent’s choice. She says ‘tell my lord and father, madam, I will not marry yet’. She knows that this secret marriage with Romeo will upset her parents to a further point, ‘my only love sprung from my only hate’ but she still continues with the marriage in secret. If Juliet had not been so fickle as to fall in love with Romeo on the night of the masquerade, they both may still have kept their lives. Upon marrying Romeo, Juliet is quite joyous and believes her troubles are over; however, her hasty decision actually becomes the beginning of many troubles to come.
Juliet is different from Romeo in the fact that she does not blame fate for the things that go wrong, she blames her birth as we here in these rhyming couplets “Prodigious birth of love is to me, that I must love a loathed enemy.”
There are many important points in the play, where I believe fate influenced certain people to make certain choices which affect the chain of events leading to Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. Unlike the intentions of the other characters in the play, it can also be believed that the tragedy was not the fault of any one individual but happened because of bad luck. It was fate that Romeo and Juliet met and fell in love, and was a misfortune that the letter, which could have saved them, didn’t reach Romeo in time.
Fate seemed to control both of the lovers’ lives and force them together, becoming the ultimate controlling power in this play even if it is not recognised however in the prologue there is a chosen identity of starts “a pair star-crossed lovers”. A large part of the beliefs for both Romeo and Juliet involved fate, they believed in the stars and that their actions were not always there own, Romeo for example says “some consequence yet hanging in the stars…by some vile forfeit of untimely death. But hath the steerage over my course direct sail”. He is simply saying to his friends he had a dream, which lead him to believe that he will die young because of something in the stars, something that will happen. The only instance of fate managed to direct Romeo into its web like a spider.
Conversely, Romeo is continually in control of his own actions, yet he blames fate through astrological imagery. As he drinks his potion he blames fate, but he is the one who looks for the apothecary, and makes the description of what kind of poison he wants.
An example of one of the characters from the play referring to fate is when Mercutio attempts to make Romeo go to the Capulet dance. Romeo eventually agrees, but he still feels uneasy:
‘I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date’
This reference to the play shows that Romeo never felt happy with the idea of going to the Capulet party in the first place. If he had trusted his instincts and refused to go, the deaths of the two lovers may have been averted. By including these foreboding lines, Shakespeare suggests to the audience that the ultimate destiny of Romeo and Juliet was, in fact, fated.
Friar Lawrence refers to fate when he is told that Romeo did not receive his vitally important letter. ‘Unhappy fortune! By my brotherhood, the letter was not nice but full of charge’. This quotation displays the worry of the Friar as he realises the disastrous consequences that could unfold if Romeo does not receive his letter in time. Shakespeare could have phrased this sentence differently to place the blame upon the messenger, but instead he expresses it as though it was the fault of fortune.
On the other hand, an argument can be made that the conclusion of the play may have been more tragic if Romeo and Juliet had of survived and lived depressed, but without a doubt, either way, the Friar would have been involved. Extract the Friar from the story of Romeo and Juliet, and one may find that there would not have even been a story. The Friar is an extremely important character.
In conclusion I feel that each of the main characters contributed towards the tragedy consisting of Romeo and Juliet’s death. The hasty marriage, wrongful use of the potion, failure to send the letter, and selfishness of the Friar are the causes for the deaths that occurred in the play. In spite of the many coincidences and references to heaven and stars, Romeo and Juliet however, is not totally a tragedy of fate. Each character has his/her freewill and is responsible for his/her actions.
The substantial events that inspire the conclusion of Romeo and Juliet are; the Capulet ball, the quarrel experienced by Tybalt and Romeo, and Friar John’s plague. The Capulet ball influences the ending of the play by Romeo’s invitation at the ball, which creates the meeting of Romeo and Juliet. The ball also gives birth to Tybalt’s anger and causes his challenge. The challenge causes the banishment of Romeo, which produces much grieving by Juliet and Romeo. Since Friar John did not deliver the letter, Romeo thinks that Juliet is dead, sacrifices himself. Juliet seeing that Romeo is dead, slays herself also.
It could be said that fate has no part at all in the Romeo and Juliet play, that it all happened of it’s own accord, and this could be possible. Personally, I think that too many things would have had to happen consequentially for it to all happen by chance – I still believe that Shakespeare was still hinting at the prospect of justice; that wrong doings will be punished in some way or other. Basically, I think that Romeo found true love, and paid the price for trying to get everything he wanted. He was initially put into a very difficult situation, from which an unfortunate chain of events couldn’t be stopped from arising. From my essay I can conclude that from the many references to stars and from the consequential sequence of events, that I thoroughly believe that Shakespeare intended to clearly state that fate had a definite part in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet should be designated as the failure of human responsibility or human error rather than fate. Who should be blamed for this tragedy may remain long controversial, but the story of the two star-crossed lovers will remain timeless in the world of literature. “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo”