In “Romeo and Juliet” Shakespeare uses the contemporary superstitious beliefs and plays on them using the main characters Romeo and Juliet. For the duration of the Elizabethan era, people rested on their beliefs on God, superstition and fate to get through their everyday lives. They contemplated the fact that the world, in general, had had a stability of both good and evil. There are many specific examples which illustrate how the subject of fate had impacted on the public at that point in time. For instance, Religion was varied in England during the Elizabethan Age. There was much conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics. Elizabeth restored the Protestant service but kept many features of the Catholic religion.
She hoped this negotiation would produce unity, but instead the Catholics revolted. In the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, Catholics were cruelly persecuted and many were put to death. The people of England believed in many supernatural artifacts, including ghosts, witches, and magic. For all of these signs of wickedness, the community were certain that only one thing could trigger all these events to either take place or not – fate. In a comparable manner, Romeo and Juliet are witness to seeing fate as having a significant amount of control over many of the key events of the whole play. I will now discuss the role that Fate plays whilst referring to the following scenes: prologue, Act 1 scene 4, Act 1 scene 5 and finally, Act 5 scene 3.
The prologue in Romeo and Juliet contains a number of references to fate, which tells the audience that Romeo and Juliet are in for a terrible future ahead. As the play commences, the audience’s attention refers directly to the prologue. Shakespeare has already told the audience of how he decided the characters’ lives to be like. This action taken is very akin to what people expected life to be like for them during the 16th century. The audience can easily match up Shakespeare to being a God-Like figure, as he holds the supremacy to map out Romeo and Juliet’s lives individually from the start. Audience in Elizabethan era had thought that in this exact way, God had the power to control all human inhabitants, and simultaneously depict their lives from their birth.
An important quote in line 9: “the fearful passage of their death marked love” tells the audience that these two lovers’ relationship will end up in death. Interestingly, the audience can observe that the word “death-marked” bears out the reality of Romeo and Juliet’s lives as cursed since the day they fell in love. In addition to this Romeo and Juliet are seen as a pair of “star-crossed” lovers. The word “star” is essential as the audience are aware that the stars authenticate a possible destiny for individuals. We know that in combination with the word “crossed” Romeo and Juliet are in for an ill-fated future ahead. Generally, we can see how fate is proving to be tragic for both Romeo and Juliet. The sense of fate right from the start makes the play more effective as we, the audience, know what is to come.
Act 1 scene 4 is when Fate slowly begins to show it’s presence in the play more frequently. Before he goes to a party, Romeo feels a sense of foreboding of what is going to happen. Whilst doing this, he says:
“…For my mind misgives, some consequence yet hanging in the stars”
Shakespeare’s work here have made the audience acknowledge that even the characters of the play seem to notice that something bad is going to happen to them in the future. Furthermore, Romeo also is aware of his death when he says:
“expire the term closed in my breast”
Another key point is made when he says:
“But he hath the steerage of my course”
Here the audience recognizes that Shakespeare is controlling Romeo’s life, and even Romeo himself comprehends that he is unable to be in command of his life. Shakespeare’s motive here is to make the audience themselves, as well as the characters realize that God and fate will always have the advantage over their lives. After taking Act 1 Scene 4 as a whole, one can determine that Shakespeare’s use of language have a striking effect over both the characters and the audience. In this scene, the pair is convinced that Fate has caused them to act the way they are.
It is in Act 1 Scene 5 that Fate’s existence is felt the most as it is everywhere – both in language and action. During the party, Romeo is caught sight by Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, who is first to decipher Romeo as being a member of the Montague Family. Immediately, he passes this message to the Capulet Servant. Surprisingly, Capulet says to “let him alone” and “he shall be endured”. This angers Tybalt, and regardless of his numerous protests, Capulet refuses Tybalt to bring violence into the party. The ability for Shakespeare to put controversy is very effective as Fate takes place in the play and it makes the play more exciting. Capulet peculiar and contentious decision to resist Tybalt’s desire for aggression paves the way for Romeo to meet Juliet. In their initial conversation, fate is factually intwinned in language. Together, Romeo and Juliet form a sonnet; the way they speak in this conversation is very diverse as they make rhyming couplets.
One main identification that the audience can spot from the speeches is that not only is it related to fate, but their conversation embodies the extended metaphor of a pilgrimage. In Romeo’s view, he describes Juliet as a “shrine”, and later, “an angel.” The use of a metaphor gives the audience an idea that Romeo, who describes himself as a “pilgrim”, has been searching like the love he has for Juliet his whole life. Just as pilgrims find their shrine. In addition, a pilgrims aim is to get what it most wants.
Equally, Romeo has gotten what he wants – Juliet. Viewers can see that Shakespeare has drawn a parallel line between both the Pilgrim and Romeo. The phrases used by Romeo were made by Shakespeare to indicate the high extent of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. The very use of the word “angel” clearly hints to the audience that Juliet doesn’t belong here and that she should be in a better place. Fate is taking place here because later on in the play these two die and go to heaven, a place regarded by almost all people to be better than Earth. Due to Shakespeare’s intellectual use of language and regular use of fate the aftermath of Act 1 scene 5 gives the audience a sentiment of dramatic tension as they watch this tragedy unfold.
It is in Act 5 Scene 3 that fate becomes more prominent. As the scene begins Romeo refers to a dream:
“He told me Paris should have married Juliet, Said he not so? Or did I dream it so?
Romeo’s reference to a dream tells us how he does not know if he is in a dream or not. The way Romeo speaks delivers information to the audience that Shakespeare doesn’t give him an option of what he can and cannot do. Shakespeare’s other underlying principle for referring to a dream was to familiarize with the audience; Elizabethan people considered dreams as being portent. What’s more, Shakespeare had placed dreams as being one of the main themes in the whole play. This reference to a dream is remarkably similar to the quote in Act 5 scene 1, where Romeo says:
“I dreamt my lady came and found me dead” (line 6, Act 5 Scene 1)
This line is very important as Romeo appears to have some sort of premonition that Juliet will find him dead. In this case, Shakespeare is playing on Elizabethan ways by virtually planning out Romeo and Juliet’s future.
Moreover, later on in the scene Romeo commits murder. Subsequently he discovers that it was Paris who he killed, the man Juliet should have married had it not been for fate’s part in the play. (Line 82), “one writ me with sour misfortune’s book” expresses his frustration in killing Paris. We can learn from this sentence that Romeo makes out Paris as both being equivalent to each other. This was primarily due to the fact that Paris has been, to some extent, captured into Romeo’s bad fate. Along with this, Fate, as a consequence, has also made Romeo believe that Juliet is dead. However the truth in fact was that Juliet was still alive. Coincidentally, Romeo still believes that Juliet’s looks are so divine; she does not resemble a person who is dead. Shakespeare has not allowed Romeo to change his view about Juliet, who described her beauty as “too rich for earth too dear” earlier in Act 1 Scene 5. This implies to the audience that in Romeo’s prospective she is perfect and will not decay after her death. Poignant over Juliet’s death, Romeo notifies all the dreadful effects fate has caused. Incensed, Romeo says he is angry for
“the egg shaking the yolk”
This quote is of high relevance to the audience, as they could probably wonder if their destiny may or may not be altered if it was mapped up from the start. As a concluding valediction to Juliet, Romeo kisses Juliet whilst saying:
“my sin is purged” (line 106)
This means that he had got rid of his sin by saying he had purged it. This had supposedly passed on bad luck to Juliet. However, Romeo specifies clearly to the viewers that he takes the curse back by kissing her again –
“”thus I kiss u and I die”.
All in all, Act 5 scene 3 proves to be one of the most important events in the play as the audience can relate the ending to the prologue and see how accurate it was in foretelling the plot.
Overall, the audience can see that Fate has immensely affected virtually all of the outcomes of the plot. It has had a major influence on the main characters of the play, Romeo and Juliet, and their respective families who had ultimately ended their feud. Fate plays a vital part in this play and it is fate that has given the story a deep sensation of both drama and calamity, which made the play dramatic and entertaining. Most importantly though, it makes the audience as well as the characters stranded over the question of how their future is decided if it is at all.
Courtney from Study Moose
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