God has gifted mankind with free will, the ability to choose among different courses of action and act without the restraint of fate. This blessing, however, can easily turn into a curse for those who abuse it. In the play, Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare reveals just how destructive and deadly the power of free will can be. Fate presents several of the characters with various challenges and opportunities, but it their free will that determines how they act on them.
With the power of free will, Friar Lawrence, the Nurse, and Mercutio all make decisions that dramatically impact the tragic outcome of the play.
To begin, Friar Lawrence’s decisions play a vital role in the deaths of the star-crossed lovers. Despite knowing that their families are feuding, he agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet in secret. Friar Lawrence coincides with Romeo’s request to perform the forbidden marriage “for this alliance may so happy prove / To turn [their] households’ rancor to pure love” (Act 2 Scene iii lines 92-93).
An opportunity intended to bring peace only turns out to bring problems in the way it develops a sense of desperation between Romeo and Juliet. After Friar Lawrence unites them in marriage, they become hopelessly in love with each other to the point where they can no longer function on their own. Marriage fuels an unhealthy obsession, which ultimately drives the two lovers to go to the extreme lengths of death just so they could be together. Additionally, Friar Lawrence devises a plan in which Juliet fakes her death to escape her marriage with Paris.
As part of his plan, Friar Lawrence hands Juliet a potion that will cause “each part, deprived of supple government, / Shall, stiff and stark and cold, appear like death” (Act 4 Scene i lines 103-104). At this point, Friar Lawrence’s judgment is clouded with horror and fear, as Juliet is on the verge of killing herself. He devises a plan in haste without taking into consideration the external variables, which ends up costing the two lovers’ their lives. Romeo never receives the letter outlining the plan, so he kills himself when he sees his true love supposedly dead. Juliet, overcome with dismay, does the same when she wakes up and sees death upon her husband. Therefore, Friar Lawrence sets into motion much of the tragedies that occur in the play by marrying the young couple, as well as faking Juliet’s death.
Furthermore, the Nurse’s actions regarding the lives of Romeo and Juliet drastically contribute to the play’s sorrowful ending. As a supporter of their forbidden love, the Nurse enables Romeo and Juliet to see each other in secret. When Juliet is devastated by the news of Romeo’s banishment, the Nurse offers to “find Romeo / to comfort [her]. [She] wot well where he is (Act 3 Scene ii lines 139-140). Motivated by her motherly love and deep loyalty for Juliet, she acts as the go-between for the two lovers, helping them get together whenever possible. With each visit, their need for each other grows increasingly stronger until it eventually leads them to kill themselves for eternal life together. Had the Nurse not assisted in their relationship, it would not have been able to progress into one of obsession and desperation. Also, the Nurse, who has always shown so much loyalty to Juliet, betrays her at a desperate time of need. With Romeo impotent in his exile, the Nurse “think[s] it best [Juliet] married with the county. / … he’s a lovely gentleman / Romeo’s a dishclout to him” (Act 3 Scene v lines 2018-220). The Nurse has always been very supportive of her relationship with Romeo, so when she urges her to marry Paris, Juliet is sent over the edge. The one person she thought she could trust betrays her, leaving her in a state of emotional and mental instability. With the complete absence of hope, she threatens to kills herself, causing Friar Lawrence to spur into action with a fatal plan. Therefore, the Nurse contributes to the irreversible tragedy of the play through her initial support and later betrayal of the forbidden relationship between Romeo and Juliet.
Lastly, Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, is a pivotal character whose actions greatly impact the tragic outcome of the play. In an attempt to cure Romeo of his depression caused by Rosaline, Mercutio persuades him to attend the Capulet party where he eventually meets Juliet. Seeing as Romeo is not in the mood to enjoy himself, Mercutio advises him to “borrow Cupid’s wings / And soar with them above a common bound” (Act 1 Scene iv lines 18-19). Instead of letting him cry, he encourages Romeo to attend the party where his attention is instantly diverted from Rosaline to Juliet. They fall in love at first sight and it is their undying love for each other that gives rise to much of the tragedies that occur in the play. Had Mercutio left Romeo to weep, the two lovers never would have crossed paths and their tragic love story never would have come into existence. Moreover, Mercutio steps in to battle Tybalt for Romeo, resulting in his own death. Inflamed by Romeo’s refusal to fight, Mercutio demands Tybalt to “pluck [his] / sword out of his pilcher by the ears” (Act 3 Scene i lines 75-76). This battle changes the whole atmosphere of the play, turning it into a tragedy where death is a dark reality for several of the characters. After Tybalt kills Mercutio in combat, Romeo loses his composure and ends up killing Tybalt, resulting in his banishment from Verona. Following this terrible incident, the star-crossed lovers enter an abyss of misery where death is the only escape. Therefore, Mercutio is indirectly responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet in the way he is the cause of their meeting, as well as Romeo’s banishment.