The idea of destiny has been connected to the notion of stars, which some believe control human life. This gives rise to the idea of “star-crossed” lovers—those for whom a sorrowful fate seems inevitable. In the play Romeo and Juliet, the characters suffer a tragic ending: death. However, many argue that it is not destiny that causes this downfall, but the choices that both Romeo and Juliet make throughout the play. Although this can be true, destiny has a greater impact on the characters and their final demise.

Romeo and Juliet are described as “star-crossed lovers” at the start of the prologue. This references fate because the stars predetermined their destiny, and their relationship is doomed to fail. Shakespeare coined the term star-cross lovers based on people’s belief that astrology controls human destiny. Predestination is a common theme in Shakespeare’s tragedies, presenting that they are meant to die despite a character’s action or attempt to change fate. Shakespeare already states that fate will play a role in Romeo and Juliet’s density as they “fearful passage of their death-marked love”. (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Prologue) In addition, Shakespeare mentions an “ancient grudge” about the Capulets and Montague’s family feud. A centuries-old feud that leads to nothing but violence between the two groups and results in civil unrest. “Doth with their deaths bury their parent’s strife.” (Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Prologue), reinforcing that the untimely death of Romeo and Juliet ends the feud. The family feud acts as the main dictator for the characters’ choices, leading to their deaths, which is out of Romeo and Juliet’s control.

In Act I, Romeo is still sad because a person he loves named Rosaline has rejected him, and his cousin Benvolio tries to convince Romeo to forget about her. During that time, Lord Capulet gives his servant a letter with a list of people to invite for the masquerade ball. Fate allows the servant to come across Romeo and Benelivo, asking them to read the list because the servant is illiterate. The servant asks Romeo and Benvolio to read him the names; he then tells them that his “master is the great rich Capulet, and if [there] are not of the house of Montagues, I pray, come and crush a cup of wine.” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 5) Inviting them to the party, Benvolio uses this opportunity to convince Romeo to go to the mask party since there will be other women, so he will forget about Rosaline. This is a small but portentous action because, by having the servant meet Romeo and Benelivo, fate sets the play’s motions by having Romeo go to the party to meet Juliet and fall in love.

Later, Romeo has a bad dream about going to the party. When Romeo, Benvolio, and their friend Mercutio go to Lord Capulet’s house for the masquerade party, Romeo brings up his dream. While Mercutio laughs at him, Rome states, “I fear too early, for my mind misunderstands. Some consequences are still hanging in the stars. Shall bitterly begin his fearful date. With this night’s revels, and expire the term of a despisèd life closed in my breast by some vile forfeit of untimely death.” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 5) His death is foreshadowed by this. A theme of lamentable events occurring in a short period starts when Romeo mentions consequences happening “too early.” Hanging in the stars is another reference to how Romeo and Juliet’s fates are star-crossed, meaning they are doomed. But Romeo is shown to trust what Fate has in store for him as he compares himself to a ship and fate as a captain steering his course. This shows that even though Romeo chooses to still go to the party, he has already been set for his unfortunate events.

Fate allows Romeo and Juliet to meet at the party, and Romeo manages to steal a kiss from Juliet through smart wordplay. After the party, Romeo now completely forgets about Rosaline and feels compelled to go back to the Capulet estate because that’s where his heart is. Around the Baloney scene, Romeo is making a rash decision. Tybalt, a Capulet at the party who is shown to be a tyrant, is enraged that Romeo was at the party and swears that he will get Romeo the next time he sees him; therefore, a conflict would arise if Romeo was caught. Juliet asks him how he got here, knowing his danger. Romeo states, “With love’s light wings, did I o’erperch these walls, For stony limits cannot hold love out; and what love can do, that dares love attempt. Therefore, thy kinsmen are no stop to me.” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 2) Fate, in the form of Romeo’s “love” for Juliet, is what prevents him from getting caught and what allows his meeting with her. On the balcony, fate makes it possible for Romeo to be at the right time where Juliet is when she confesses her love for him when she states, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 2), openly declaring her love for him, which led to their conversation about getting married.

After Romeo kills Tybalt, signaling the crisis of the play, the prince exiles Romeo from Verona. Juliet is later mourning for Romeo, but fate plays a role in dramatic irony because the Capulets and Paris believe that Juliet is still mourning for Tybalt. Lord Capulet says, “Monday! Ha, ha! Well, Wednesday is too soon. A Thursday, let it be. A Thursday, tell her, She shall be married to this noble earl.” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 3 Scene 4) deciding to move the wedding to Thursday three days from now. (This is a reference to how fate is making events happen “too early,” leading the characters to make decisions that have an untimely end.) But in the play, Romeo and Juliet are already married in secret. Juliet spends one more night with Romeo before he leaves. The next day, Lady Capulet tells Juliet of the marriage. Juliet is under the threat of being disowned if she refuses. Juliet goes to seek advice from Friar Lawrence, and because of Juliet’s threat of killing herself, Friar Lawrence mentions a risky plan for her to be with Romeo. It involves making everyone believe that she consents to the marriage.

While, on Wednesday, Juliet is taking a potion that will make her appear dead for 42 hours. Her family will take her to the tomb. Friar will write Romeo a letter about the plan, and he and Friar go to the vault and wait for Juliet to wake up. Finally, Romeo and Juliet will then run off to Mantua together. Fate works through the unknown knowledge of certain characters because now that Lord Capulet believes that Juliet wants to go ahead, he moves up the wedding to Wednesday. Now Juliet is pensive because she only has tonight to decide if she wants to go ahead with the plan. Fate has made it into the stark reality that Juliet does not have much of a choice in the matter. It is up to her to go with the plan or be miserable and marry Paris, but it has been made clear that Juliet would rather kill herself before marrying Paris. Even though Juliet chooses to drink the potion, she trusts fate to decide what happens to her in the next forty-two hours.

Arguably, Romeo’s choice to murder himself is free will. He decided to buy the poison to kill himself. Romeo was acting on his famous tragic flaw of being impulsive, and instead of waiting for more news on Juliet’s death, he decided to take matters into his own hands. Romeo killing himself was free will. However, fate plays a role in Romeo’s death by preventing him from getting the letter Friar Lawrence sent. Romeo was exiled from the social status or life that he held due to his impulsive actions. He is now living in Mantua, which is a day’s trip from Verona. Fate had prevented the letter from reaching Romeo by having the messenger be in a quarantined house due to an outbreak of a plague.

Romeo hears the wind of Juliet’s death, and he states how he will “defy you, stars!” (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet Act 5, Scene 1) When Romeo believes that he is defying fate, he is rather aiding it in his death. It was fate that allowed Romeo to come “too early” to Juliet’s grave, only to see her “dead.” To Romeo, he had nothing to live for because he stated, “[tis] torture and not mercy. Heaven is here, where Juliet lives.” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 3 Scene 3) and, in an attempt to defy fate, Romeo aids fate through his actions. It was through his unfortunate destiny that Romeo heard the news of Juliet’s death early. It is fate that prevents Friar Lawrence’s letter from getting to Romeo. He states, “O, here, will I set up my everlasting rest, and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from this world-weary flesh?” (Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet Act 5 Scene 3) Even though Romeo chooses to kill himself, fate is destined for Romeo to die through his unknown knowledge. Juliet is now confused about what is going on and sees Romeo dead. Believing that they were supposed to kill themselves. In the end, fate had the final say in Romeo and Juliet’s actions, resulting in the calamity that will end their parents’ feud.

In the play Romeo and Juliet, it could be argued that free will and fate played major roles in the untimely deaths of two lovers. However, it can be evident throughout the play that fate plays a leading factor in the choices that the characters make. It was fate, not free will, that set the motions for this play by having the servant come across Romeo and Benlivo talking. It was not a coincidence that two lovers met at a ball, but rather fate brought the tragic lovers together. Divine interference allows Romeo and Juliet to meet and confess their love that same night. Despite the personal choices that the characters make, like Romeo still going to the party and Juliet taking the potion despite their uncertainty, It proves that many characters seem to rely on fate for the outcome of their circumstances. These personal choices seem only to aid the foreseen fate near the end with Romeo killing himself based on his knowledge and having Juliet follow after ending the play.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. “Romeo and Juliet.” myPerspectives. Pearson Education, Inc., edited by Pearson affiliates, 2017, pp. 391-475.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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