Regarding the question of how actions impact a piece of literature, many associate the level of impact with when the action takes place. People argue that a character’s action has the most impact on a text for the specific reason that it occurred first. Theoretically, if one action does not happen, then ensuing actions are no longer a possibility. To speculate about how a character’s actions impact the text in direct relation to how they impact future actions does not give insight to either of the previous question’s answers.
The previous logic justifies any action to have the most impact on any forthcoming event, as the question does not require analysis of characters or in-depth study, but rather which action took precedent.
In Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, any character’s actions could be said to have the most impact on the deaths of the two lovers. Speculation on the what if’s does little to provide insight on which character’s actions have the most impact overall.
To analyze how one character’s actions impact the finale of the play is to question how each action influences others’ decisions and responses. Romeo and Juliet’s death is not the result of Friar Laurence’s plan or the feud between the two houses – although they play a significant and substantial part – but rather the result of their own choices and actions. Actions of others impacted or swayed the decisions or actions of Romeo and Juliet, but it was the actions they themselves committed, which mattered most in the end.
At the beginning of the play, when Romeo and Juliet’s blossoming romance is one of bliss, Juliet speaks her famous lines where she questions “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet./So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,/ Retain that dear perfection which he owes/Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;/And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself” (2.2.43-48). Although romantic and sweet at the time, there is an underlying foreshadowing of the lovers’ actions as the play progresses. This is exemplified in Romeo’s response, where he says “By a name/I know not how to tell thee who I am./My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,/Because it is an enemy to thee./Had I it written, I would tear the word” (2.2.54-57).
Albeit loving in thought, Romeo’s words are tested, for once his banishment is given later on in the play, he alters his former words: “As if [my] name, Shot from the deadly level of a gun,/Did murder her; as that name’s cursed hand/Murdered her kinsman. O tell me, friar, tell me,/In what vile part of this anatomy/Doth my name lodge? Tell me, that I may sack/The hateful mansion” (220.127.116.11). In his passionate and anguished display, Shakespeare reveals the gravity of the situation through their desperation, combatted with the calamitous situation, which they believe can only be resolved through self-annihilation. Even in the mere beginnings of the play, suicide is a constant presaged theme, and although they were influenced by others’ actions, Romeo and Juliet evoked their own death and did nothing to prevent it.
Although Romeo and Juliet hinted at death more than once throughout the play, they committed several actions themselves that would later influence and shape the trajectory of the play thenceforth. Upon marrying Romeo to Juliet, Friar Laurence gives Romeo a word of advice—one of which both foretells the fate of the couple and cautions them to be aware and careful in the actions they make—where he says “these violent delights have violent ends/And in their triumph die, like fire and powder/Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey/Is loathsome in his own deliciousness/And in the taste confounds the appetite/Therefore love moderately: long love doth so; Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow” (2.6.9-15).
Friar Laurence compares their love to that of fire and powder, whereupon ignition, both go up in flames. Friar Laurence warns to love in moderation, that too much too soon will cause them to perish, but so enraptured are they in themselves that they give him no mind. Many often blame Friar Laurence for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, referring to his failed plan and his lack of guidance for the young couple. People fail to remember, however, that his plan saved Juliet at the moment, only to be subject to death at a later date.
What was Friar Laurence to do as Juliet— distraught and in anguish— threatened to kill herself, crying “tell me not, friar, that thou hearst of this/Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it./If in thy wisdom thou canst give no help,/Do thou but call my resolution wise/And with this knife I’ll help it presently…Give me some present counsel; or, behold,/‘Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife/Shall play the umpire…I long to die/If what thou speaks speak not of remedy” (4.1.50-67)? This was the action of Juliet, to give Friar no other option but to come up with a plan on the spot unless he wanted to watch her die in front of him. Instead of maintaining composure and working out a plan that was sensible and had more of a chance of success, Juliet was irrational and acted on her feelings, predicting her own death in the process.
As well as this, Romeo’s actions impacted his and his lover’s death, for several of his actions had the direct consequence of putting their love into even more of a dire situation. Upon seeing one of his close friends, Mercutio’s, death, Romeo in a rage, kills Tybalt, the person who murdered Mercutio. Even though the prince of Verona had warned of the consequences Romeo would face if anyone acted on Capulet and Montague rivalry, Romeo, so consumed by his emotions, kills a member of the opposing house. Tybalt’s murder could be considered the turning point of the story, for not only Romeo and Juliet now must hide their marriage, but they no longer can see each other altogether.
As well as this, it was Romeo’s decision to buy “a dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear/As will disperse itself through all the veins/That the life-weary taker may fall dead,/And that the trunk may be discharged of breath/As violently as hasty powder fired/Doth hurry from the fatal cannon’s womb” (5.1.60-65). This action directly correlates to Romeo’s later death. Even after Romeo’s death, Friar Laurence continues to try to help as much as he can, as he tries to convince Juliet not to take her own life as well by saying “Come, I’ll dispose of thee/Among a sisterhood of holy nuns./Stay not to question, for the watch is coming./Come, go, good Juliet. I dare no longer stay” in which she responds “Go, get thee hence, for I will not away” (5.3.156-160). Romeo and Juliet could not control the actions of others, nor could they prevent them, but it was through their own actions that caused their inevitable death.
Romeo and Juliet is about two star-crossed lovers, who face conflict which ultimately leads to their foreseeable death. Their deaths are a direct result of actions made by characters during the play, but it was primarily the actions of both Romeo and Juliet which led to their tragic downfall. Throughout the tragedy, as the lovers’ situation grew to one of desperation and dire, their love only increased. Shakespeare often links this young love with suicidal resolve, a direct foreshadow to when Romeo and Juliet finally succumb to their suicidal impulses.
Conjointly, Romeo and Juliet’s actions played a major — if not the most important — role in their death. Romeo committed several actions which both added to the drama and conflict of the play and ultimately lead to his death. Juliet does nothing to help in the situation, as her suicidal gestures – such as clutching a dagger to her chest – compel others to make decisions or actions they would not have made originally. The actions they themselves committed most impacted their death, for in killing themselves, Romeo and Juliet accept their destined fate and liberate themselves from the conflicts that kept them apart.