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, and 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.