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Even despite of the fact that their own actions lead to these calamities, the audience feels considerably sorry for both Romeo and Juliet because this is a natural emotion felt for anyone who is suffering. However, this compassion and understanding is jaded somewhat, especially for Romeo, by their devilish misdemeanours like the murders carried out by Romeo.
It is also vital to consider the perception Francis Herbert Bradley had of the play. Bradley was an English philosopher who lived from 1846 to 1924.
He said of ‘Romeo and Juliet’: “it was a story of human actions producing exceptional calamity. The calamities of tragedy do not simply happen nor are they sent; they proceed mainly from actions and those the action of men,” meaning he placed the blame of the tragic events on the bad luck of not being able to foresee the consequences of human actions. His opinion was based around the idea that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was a play created around a series of events that take place in a chain reaction which nobody can stop.
Throughout the play there are many, seemingly small, events that by themselves are quite meaningless, but when thought about in the context of the play, actually have the effect of causing the catastrophic climax. For example, if it was not for the interventions of Friar Lawrence when he suggested the idea of Juliet feigning suicide amalgamating with the falsely delivered letter that Romeo would not have committed suicide. Also if the prince had not banished Romeo then he would not have been misinformed as to the health of Juliet.
In addition to the opinion of Bradley, Harley Granville-Baker blamed the plays events on, “tragedy of mischance.” Harley Granville-Baker lived from 1877 to 1946. He was an English author, actor, and producer, who was instrumental in bringing 20th-century ideas and concerns, such as social criticism, to the English stage. He echoed the ideas of Bradley by blaming the events on mere unfortunate occurrences which in turn led to their deaths. Both Bradley and Harley Granville-Baker believed that Romeo and Juliet were not fated; meaning that their destiny was not a pre-fabricated map of which they had absolutely no control, but it was determined by actions which they or other characters in the play had complete control over. Harley Granville-Baker’s theory fits directly into ‘Romeo and Juliet’ because there are many examples of unfortunate events that could be conceived as ‘mischance’ such as the failed delivery of Friar Lawrence’s important letter to Romeo, “I could not send it, here it is again.” This is a quotation from a conversation between Friar John and Friar Lawrence. The fact that the letter could not be delivered, was something misfortunate to say the least.
However, there are many contrasting views to this matter. One example of someone who believes that fate is to blame for the events in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a prolific English novelist and poet by the name of Thomas Hardy, who lived from 1840 to 1928. He said, “The worthy encompassed by the inevitable.” In relation to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ this meant that the protagonists were the worthy people and were overtaken by the inevitable events unfolding around them. We know that Romeo and Juliet are considered worthy in this theory because of quotes from the play such as, “It is the east, and Juliet is the Sun.” Here Juliet is described as the sun by Romeo, and considering that the sun is the giver of all live and, especially in Shakespearean times, the sun is considered the most precious and worthy thing imaginable. Romeo later describes Juliet as a saint, “O then dear saint,” a saint being someone who has done something remarkable in their life which makes them worthy even though they are now dead.
To be related to somebody who has done something so amazing that their name lives on through history is a very worthy thing indeed; showing the fact that Juliet fits into Thomas Hardy’s theory. It could also be conceived that this relation with a dead person is Shakespeare’s way of alluding to the ending of the play. This is because a saint is dead, it may be understood that Juliet is associated with a saint in this way signifying that she is dead or in this case will die. By stating, “encompassed by the inevitable,” Thomas Hardy is implying that the worthy are helplessly overwhelmed by the inevitability of fate, and are powerless to do anything about it. He is of the opinion that they are unknowingly being dictated to by fate itself and cannot help or prevent the play’s events.
In addition to this, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ has numerous examples of Shakespeare laying emphasis on fate; one of the major themes of the play. From the outset Shakespeare’s language is riddled with such imagery as stars and death which immediately signifies the premise of fated death. We know this because of the widespread association with the path of the future being written in the stars. This association between the scientific nature of stars and the philosophical notion of predicting the future comes from astrology. The idea is that the voyage of your life is written in the stars; a theory which is believed by many open-minded people.
Shakespeare introduces this theory into ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in the prologue: a narrative prelude to the play. We hear such language as, “A pair of star-cross’d lovers, take their life,” implying that the love between Romeo and Juliet was predestined by fate. The conflict between the Capulet’s and the Montague’s is also implicated in this quote by the word, “star-cross’d.” The ‘star’ part shows the fate association whilst the ‘cross’d’ part of the word could show that their love is problematic from the beginning because the two families have previously crossed each other. Additionally, the prologue divulges the ending to the play by statements akin to, “their death-mark’d love,” exemplifying that the two lovers have a preordained death; which occurs through their love.
This unusual manner in which the ending is discovered by the audience is a dramatic technique which creates unease and dismay amongst the watching audience and it is effective in obtaining the full and undivided attention of the audience from the beginning. Yet throughout the play the audience is reminded of this theme on countless occasions. “Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear” and, “my grave is like to be my wedding bed,” are examples of where William Shakespeare has shown that he wants the audience to know the destiny of the two central characters. The first of the two quotes is a description of Juliet stating that she is too beautiful to live on earth; hinting at death as a solution. The later invokes the idea that the wedding could prove to be the death of Juliet. In saying this Juliet has unknowingly predicted her own future, an unpleasant fate which by now the audience knows of unlike the unwitting Juliet. This prediction is later echoed by Friar Lawrence, who states, “and thou art wedded to calamity,” foreseeing that their marriage will bring problems for both Romeo and Juliet.
Evidently, a man called Brooke furthers the conception of fate, placing the blame on, “wavering Fortune’s wheel.” He holds the same opinion as Thomas Hardy in that he feels that the characters of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ were unable to suppress fate and avert its consequences. The play itself fits directly into Brooke’s concept as William Shakespeare uses language throughout the play in which both Romeo and Juliet predict their own deaths. Juliet, not knowing the reality behind her statement, says, “Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing,” and in so doing correctly predicts that her love will eventually kill Romeo as her affection for him leads to him committing suicide when he hears of her death.
Romeo also predicts his own death when he says, “Live here in heaven,” saying that he will live in heaven soon when he is with Juliet. Romeo of course means it in the context of being with Juliet being utopia, like heaven. However heaven also is an idea as to what happens to you when you die therefore Romeo is accidentally saying that he will soon die, which does come true. Romeo also admits that he is controlled by fate because he says, “O I am fortunes fool.” This is his way of saying that he cannot help what he is doing and he is trying to find an escape goat for his actions and is blaming fate itself, something which critics of Shakespeare’s works have actually said themselves.
Afterwards, Romeo contradicts his previous statements in denial of fate itself in a helpless attempt to take control of his life. Quotes such as, “Then I deny you stars,” show how he wants to change what is happening to him, things that we have been told are ‘written in his stars’. In conclusion, personally I am of the belief that fate causes the atrocities of the play. I believe this because the entire play is composed of actions which, on their own are ineffectual and insignificant, but if thought about in the context of the entire play, are part of the domino effect which eventually leads to their deaths. The characters conducting these actions could not have known the consequences of them even though they could all individually be blamed for the mortality of the ending. Take the letters sent from Friar Lawrence to Romeo that never reached Romeo because they were incorrectly delivered.
In effect this means Friar Lawrence could have been blamed for their deaths. However as Friar Lawrence could not have possibly known about what his actions would cause he cannot, it is just fate causing unforeseeable consequences. Furthermore we know that the play writer himself, William Shakespeare intended the play to be understood as a play based around the idea of fate. Proof of this statement is provided by quotes from the play such as, “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,” a description of Romeo and Juliet which uses imagery of stars, objects associated with death and the prediction of the future: otherwise known as fate. Also, “But he that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail: on lusty gentlemen,” is further evidence to my point.
Romeo uses the word ‘he’ to imply God. He is therefore saying that God is ‘steering’ the course of his life; his life being the ship on which he talks about the sail. William Shakespeare uses the imagery of ships to symbolise life because people of Shakespearean times would be able to relate to it. The fact that somebody else, God, is determining the course of his life means that he is totally out of control of it himself which in turn shows us how Shakespeare wants us to understand ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
I believe that nobody can be individually blamed for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths; they were made to suffer by a vicious feud between two households that, along with many other small interventions, caused the dramatic, brutal and sadistic climax to the play. I believe that Romeo and Juliet were victims of fate.
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