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 kills himself.
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, not fate.
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Roy, Ken. Toronto.
Harcourt Brace, 1987.
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