Fate in Romeo and Juliet
In modern times, and in the Elizabethan era, fate plays an important
role in people's lives. Many people believe it to be written in stone, and
unchangeable. Many others believe it to be controlled by a person's own
actions. In Romeo and Juliet, fate is one of the main themes, described as
having power over many of the events in the play. Fate is often called upon,
wondered about, and blamed for mishaps. However, where fate is blamed in the
play as the ultimate cause for a mishap, there is always an underlying action,
or combination of them, on the part of human beings that decides the
consequences. Human weakness, the loss of self-control, is always the direct
cause of a bad choice or mishap, and not fate itself.
One of the most noted instances where fate is blamed for a mishap is
when Romeo cries out the he supposedly is fortune's fool. He claims that fate
has brought on Mercutio's death, and has lead him to kill Tybalt in revenge.
In Act 3, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo is seen to be upset at
Mercutio's death and predicts that the "days black fate on more days doth
depend." (III, I, 118) Tybalt then re-enters and Romeo becomes more upset that
Tybalt is triumphant with Mercutio being dead (III, I, 121). As Romeo becomes
overwhelmed with Mercutio's death and Tybalt's joy over it, he suddenly
declares that either he or Tybalt must die with Mercutio (III, I, 128). Tybalt
responds predictably and threatens Romeo (III, I, 129). Romeo takes the threat,
then fights Tybalt until Tybalt is finally killed. When Tybalt dies, Romeo
suddenly comes to grips with what he has done, and, unable to believe that he
did this of his own will, cries out that he is fortune's fool (III, I, 135).
While many people may say that Romeo's grief caused him to kill Tybalt,
this still places no responsibility on fate. Romeo, being a peaceful
individual, should have kept as much of his cool as possible when dealing with
the situation. Leaving was a choice that Romeo had, and would most likely have
spared Tybalt's life and the consequences of his death. Benvolio also had the
choice to take Romeo away while he was in despair, and so it was in part
Benvolio's choice not to that led to the tragic results. Romeo's comment on
black fate is a thought that foreshadows ill events in the future. Since he
realizes that these events will take place, he should try to control them as
much as is possible by keeping a cool head and not letting his emotions rule
him, as is seen to be the case. This would give Romeo control over his future,
taking away the element of fate.
Capulet is viewed as a man who enjoys control. His decision to have Juliet
marry Paris is the reason for Friar Laurence's plan to fake Juliet's death. In
his plan, the Friar tells Juliet to go back to her father and allow herself to
marry Paris (IV, I, 89-90). While fate is viewed to have played an important
part in Juliet's death, it is instead Capulet's weakness in loss of control,
and the Friar's weakness to stay true to the cloth that causes her death.
Act 5, Scene 2 introduces the event that is perhaps viewed as the
greatest indicator of fate in the play. The scene starts with Friar John
entering to see Friar Laurence. Friar Laurence is happy to see that his aide
has returned, but is soon disappointed to learn that the letter to Romeo that
he sent with the aide did not make it because Friar John had taken up added
duties along the way and had been suspected of becoming ill. When Friar John
tells that he went to visit the sick first (V, II, 7-12), Friar Laurence
realizes the grave consequences of what may happen. As a result of Romeo not
getting the Friar's letter, Romeo comes to believe that Juliet is dead and then
While at first it seems as though Romeo missing the letter is pure
misfortune, it is actually Friar John's choice not to go directly to Mantua, as
ordered by Friar Laurence (IV, I, 123). Whether or not Friar John's choice was
for better of worse has no bearing on the fact that it was his choice, and
weakness not to carry on as directed, and not an act of fate that resulted in
Romeo missing the important letter.
Perhaps the final element of supposed fate surrounding the deaths of
Romeo and Juliet is in the Capulet family tomb when Juliet awakens. Friar
Laurence is with her at the time. As Juliet regains consciousness and asks for
Romeo, the Friar hears the approach of the watch and leaves Juliet on her own.
"I dare no longer stay" were the final words from the Friar before he left.
Obviously the Friar feared what might happen to him if the watch found him
there. The Friar is a holy and respected man and should have stayed with
Juliet, knowing that she was in no condition to deal with Romeo's death. Thus
his weakness caused him to choose to leave, with no help from fate, and the
death of Juliet.
The play Romeo and Juliet brings out a theme of fate, which turns out
only to be surface deep. Behind each instance of ill fate is an underlying
weakness on the part of one or more persons that dictate the results. Finally,
almost all of the 'ill fated' instances are easily traced to Friar Laurence,
who himself represents the idea that fate does not exist, giving the conclusion
that human weakness, the loss of self-control, is the force behind ill mishaps,
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Roy, Ken. Toronto.
Harcourt Brace, 1987.
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