What caused the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet was one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Written in 1596, it is now known worldwide as the greatest love story of all times. The two lovers sacrificed such passionate love and happy lives, which ended the ‘Ancient Grudge’ between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s, that had been causing disturbance in the streets of Verona. This essay will be exploring how due to their immaturity, their identities, their destiny and fate, and the hatred and expectations in society around them, these ‘Star-Crossed’ lovers lead themselves to their own tragic deaths.

In the Elizabethan era, when the play was first performed, people strongly believed in superstitions, fate and fortune. People believed that they had no control over their lives, as it was all already planned out for them. During the first act of the play, we are already introduced to the concept of fate, and how it will affect Romeo’s destiny. After the fight between Benvolio and Tybalt, Romeo enters, feeling sorry for himself and complaining about his unrequited love for Rosaline.

Benvolio tries to persuade Romeo to forget thinking about Rosaline, and ‘Examine other beauties’. He informs Romeo about a party being held at the Capulet’s later on that day. Romeo is first unsure about going, but soon gives in. Although he agrees, before the party Romeo mentions ‘I fear, too early: for my mind misgives Some consequences yet hanging in the stars’. This clearly shows that Romeo already knows that something will go wrong for him from that night, and that he’s destined a misfortunate future.

Had it not been that Romeo attended the party, he would never have met Juliet, which wouldn’t have led to their ‘death marked love’, as mentioned in the prologue. Fate is not only set in motion in the beginning of the play, but is continuous throughout, and plays a very big role towards the end of the play in Act 5. When Balthasar comes to see Romeo in Mantua, it was a matter of fate that Romeo had not yet received the letter from Friar Lawrence.

Balthasar informs him of Juliet’s supposed death, and Romeo’s reply strongly blames fate ‘Is it even so? Then I defy you, stars! Romeo’s exclamation symbolises his hatred for fate, as he forcibly curses his destiny. He is expressing his self-reliance by saying that he alone is in charge of his own life and that it will not be led adrift by a series of unfortunate events. In addition, in the last scene of the play, it is a matter of fate and timing that each character enters the churchyard right after one another. Although they are all there at around the same time, they miss each other by a few minutes – either not realising the presence of one another, or in desperation of getting there in time.

Soon after Romeo had entered Capulet’s tomb, Friar Lawrence came running across the churchyard to see Balthasar, who informed him that Romeo had just gone inside. Friar’s response was full of worry as he anxiously stated ‘Fear comes upon me: O, much I fear some ill unlucky thing. ’ Just by reading this, we can tell how distressed he is, yet he claims this as if he already knew what was going on inside the tomb. The tension was built as the audience hopefully watched all this action happen – people entering, people exiting, all in such a little amount of time.

When Romeo kills himself, it is as if though the tension is broken, and we are hit with a sudden rush of sorrow and grief. The fact that Friar Lawrence entered just minutes after Romeo had drank the potion, confirms that it was fate alone that had controlled their lives, leading to this tragic ending. Another one of the main causes of the tragedy were the identities of Romeo and Juliet. Such passionate love didn’t survive over the strong hatred caused by the names of both families. In the famous balcony scene, Romeo stands unnoticed beneath Juliet’s balcony, listening to Juliet question why Romeo had to be a Montague.

Whilst Juliet is thinking aloud, she ponders ‘O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? ’ This is probably the most famous quote in the entire play, in which Juliet is expressing her feelings for Romeo, questioning him on why he had to be who he was. The fact that she repeats Romeo’s name twice shows how distraught she is towards him being from the family of the enemy of her own family. Using the word ‘wherefore’ shows how perplexed she is, as Juliet is asking the purpose of Romeo being Romeo. She asks Romeo to ‘Deny thy father and refuse thy name’.

Juliet, in this line is pleading Romeo to abandon his family name for the sake of their love. She then goes on to saying ‘Or, if thou wilt now, be but sworn my love, And I’ll no longer be a Capulet. ’ Juliet declares her determination to disown her family and get rid of her name, if it could mean that she could stay with her true love. Furthermore, the mention of the issue of identity right at the start of their love, shows that it is an important and major obstacle in the way of their love.

Later on, Juliet talks of ‘What’s in a name? She tries to explain that no matter what Romeo’s name may be – whether Montague or not, it is his inner identity that truly matters. For the reason that Romeo was a Montague, Juliet was not allowed to associate with Romeo – although if he had any other name, it wouldn’t have been a problem and the two wouldn’t need to be so secretive with their love. Right at the beginning of the play, in Act One, when Romeo and Juliet first meet, Romeo asks the Nurse about Juliet’s identity. When he finds out that Juliet is a Capulet, Romeo cries ‘Oh dear account!

My life is my foe’s debt! ’ We can tell that he already feels that he cannot live without her and he knows that there would be a heavy price to pay for this love to live. On the basis that Romeo decides to go on with this love, it shows us just how passionate and desirous this love actually is. In a similar way, when Juliet finds out that Romeo is a Montague, her reaction is no better, ‘My only love sprung from my only hate! ’ Juliet realises that it is now too late to do anything as she is already deeply in love with Romeo.

She is shocked at the idea that she has fallen so profoundly in love with her enemy’s son, but like Romeo – she figures to carry on. There are many other reasons for the death of Romeo and Juliet, one of the most prominent being their immaturity. Many people question the love between Rome and Juliet to be rushed or false, leading to hasty and fatal decisions. When Romeo’s eyes first fell upon Juliet, he wondered with hope ‘Did my heart love till now? ’ This reflects Romeo’s crude nature of falling in love quite easily. He seemed to immediately forget everything about Rosaline, claiming that his love for her wasn’t true but was unfaithful.

This makes us question whether his love for Juliet was real, or if it were another of Romeo’s hasty decisions. After Tybalt had killed Mercutio, without thinking – Romeo stepped in and killed Tybalt. If Romeo had thought things through, he would’ve realised that this would surely lead to his banishment, as it did. This was yet another of Romeo’s hasty decisions. In Act two, Scene two, Julies asks Romeo to ‘Propose marriage’. Not many hours had passed since the two lovers had met, yet they had already decided on Marriage.

This was another hurried decision, as it was clearly a major reason that caused their deaths. When Friar Lawrence told Romeo that he was to be banished, he reacted really badly. ‘Ha, Banishment! Be merciful, say death. ’ Romeo severely feels that he’d rather be dead than be banished from Verona. Romeo overreacts, instead of thinking of a decent plan that would lead to their deaths. Furthermore, the plan that Friar Lawrence came up with wasn’t well thought through and although there were many possible fatal consequences, Romeo and Juliet still decided to carry out the plan.

Although the plan may come across as a good one, in reality it was very risky and there were many things that could go wrong. Juliet was overwhelmed with the whole plan and came home announcing that she was happy to marry Paris. It was very courageous of her to go against society and lie to her parents, and being scheming as it is Juliet pretended to her parents that she was happy. Dramatic irony is shown here, as we know that Juliet is only doing this so that her plan with Romeo will work out, but her parents do not know this.

What she hadn’t thought about was that Lord Capulet would be delighted to hear this. Her father decided ‘We’ll to church tomorrow’, to get Juliet married to Paris sooner. This was another large barrier, causing severe consequences in the plan. If Juliet hadn’t spoken with such enthusiasm, the wedding could’ve stayed for the set date, and the plan may have worked out. Although there were many more hasty decisions made, the most catastrophic would be when Romeo, without considering to pause – went ahead and drank the potion.

He didn’t seek counsel from the Friar, nor from anyone else, but decided that he didn’t want to be grieving alone, and wanted to stay with Juliet. If Romeo had actually waited a few minutes, Friar Lawrence would have come in and explained the situation. However, due to Romeo’s immaturity, he killed himself without any thought. On the other hand, it was not only their immaturity that steered them to these decisions. Due to social expectations, they were forced to make many of the decisions made – which resulted in many other disastrous events, including their tragic deaths.

For example, right at the beginning of the play, when Romeo is complaining about his love life, Benvolio tells Romeo to stop getting emotional and be proud of his status. Society expected Romeo to stop grieving over one girl and move on with life. This shows us that if Romeo hadn’t ever listened to Benvolio, he may have lived a happier life with a happier death. Society around Romeo and Juliet was harsh. Right at the beginning of the play, in the prologue, we are introduced to the feud between the families and the atmosphere in society around them.

The prologue uses many harsh words, ‘From ancient grudge break to new mutiny Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. ’ The brutal language used immediately brings us to feel that there was no love between any of the citizens of Verona. Juliet was expected by society to marry whoever her parents wished for her to marry, without her getting a say in it. In Act one, Sent two, Paris askes Lord Capulet for him to be married to Juliet, and Capulet agrees without getting Juliet’s opinion. When Juliet is later on told, she is informed rather than being asked.

Although she agrees to the marriage, we know that Juliet was already married, which creates tension in the audience as dramatic irony is being used. In Act three, Scene one, notions of masculinity come up when Tybalt demands for Romeo to fight him, and Romeo refuses to lay a hand on him. Mercutio deeply disapproved of this as he says ‘O calm, dishonourable, vile submission! ’ Mercutio’s bravery is shown as he encourages Romeo to be a man, and fight for his reputation. His language is passionate and intense which helps Romeo to suddenly decide to not only fight him, but kill Tybalt soon after Mercutio’s death.

To conclude, the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was caused by a number of reasons; their identities, their decisions and their expectations from society. Although there were many other reasons, the most commonly mentioned and the one with greatest effects had to be Fate. The main lesson that we can draw from this is that fate could do anything to anyone’s lives, no matter what anyone tries to do. The story of Romeo and Juliet was to be ended in this tragic way and the story will remain with us forever, ‘For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. ’

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