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What Characters and Ideas Contribute to the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet?

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet depicts the fatal consequences of Romeo’s and Juliet’s lives. Shakespeare suggests that the “pair of star-crossed lovers” decisions, contribute to their demise. Romeo and Juliet flourished during the Elizabethan era, as it was a period that allowed the arts to prosper through Queen Elizabeth I’s reign control. The play was written in the 16th century, which delineated the four senses of humor that were widespread during the Elizabethan era; melancholy, sanguine, choler, and phlegm are all utterly evident throughout the play.

Romeo and Juliet were performed when Christian beliefs were pre-eminent during the Elizabethan period, which created The Great Chain of Being known as the social hierarchy. This hierarchy created stability at that time. Therefore, Shakespeare portrays that children are ruled by their parents as shown in the Capulet and Montague households. Shakespeare also wrote sonnets of fourteen lines of unstressed and stressed syllables, referred to as iambic pentameter, and evident throughout the play to enhance the play’s depiction.

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The foremost cause for Romeo’s and Juliet’s demise is the feuding between the Capulets and Montagues. Further, Romeo is displayed as a compassionate and yet flawed character who is reckless, fickle, and hasty, resulting in a cataclysmic ending. Similarly, Capulet, Friar Laurence, Tybalt, Mercutio and the Prince share many of Romeo’s traits of being too expeditious, rash, foolish, and unduly emotional; these flaws do not help end the fate and hatred in the young lovers’ lives. Consequently, Shakespeare expresses that such inane decisions are fatal as Romeo and Juliet come upon an untimely death.

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It is important to note that although both Romeo and Juliet took their own life, their demise is predominantly caused by the intergenerational hate between their families. This conflict makes the play one of the most tragic and menacing enmities, “from ancient grudge break to new mutiny”, as written in the Prologue. The family feud is paramount in the young lover’s lives and prominent throughout the play, “be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” The star crossed lovers’ are passionate for each other, “that I shall say good night until it be morrow”, but the never-ending hatred between their families prevent them from being together. Shakespeare illustrates Capulet as a bully towards Juliet, using very sardonic language towards Juliet because of her disobedience about marrying Paris, “or I will drag thee on a hurdle”, “a peevish self-willed harlotry it is.” The way Juliet is being treated depicts patriarchal times. The repeated themes of youth mentality, pride and fate amalgamate with the rivalry between the two families and eventuate in the lovers’ catastrophe, “which, but their children’s end, naught could remove”. Whilst the Capulet and Montague’s bitterness was instrumental in the ending of the lovers’ lives, this factor alone would not have lead to the deaths of the ‘star crossed lovers’.

A significant contributing factor to the lovers’ demise, is Romeo’s poor decision-making. Romeo is presented as a character with many flaws, being discussed through epithets, “true Romeo”. Shakespeare explores the mindset of youth and its impetuousness through the antithesis of lightness and darkness, love and hate, day and night, but targeting Romeo in particular, “bright angel! For thou art/ as glorious to this night”. Romeo’s nature of being inattentive results in fatal outcomes, leaving Romeo’s and Juliet’s love doomed, “Then love devouring death do what he dare”, foreshadowing this idea. Shakespeare depicts Romeo’s love for Juliet through the use of similes and metaphors, “would shame those stars/ as daylight doth a lamp”. However, the dominance of love has a vastly toxic outcome in Romeo and Juliet as indicated in the Prologue, “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life”. During the 16th century, Shakespeare got the idea of “star-crossed lovers”, from heavenly bodies perceived as stars in the sky, representing the future. This idea is evident from the Chorus, describing that Romeo and Juliet do not have good fortune, “tempering extremities with extreme sweet”. The misfortune explored in the play and Romeo’s hasty nature combined with the miserable resolution makes it a true tragedy. In the play, Shakespeare’s Friar Laurence is a trusted, wise, caring and thoughtful character towards the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet, however the Friar’s logic and kind actions lead to a disastrous ending. Therefore, the Friar was a contributing factor in Romeo’s and Juliet’s demise as “these violent delights have violent ends”. Considering that the Friar is part of the dramatic sequence of the play by developing a plan for Juliet, the Friar contributes to the tragic resolution act, one of Freytag’s five act pyramidal structure elements. For a man following and believing in the Catholic religion, the Friar’s actions are not aligned with his devout background, and he is being duplicitous towards the Capulet family when Juliet dies “now heaven hath all”. Overall, the Friar was too preoccupied with terminating the rivalry and was not attentive enough to the dangers of Romeo’s and Juliet’s possible actions despite his good intentions.

Other significant contributors to this tragedy are Tybalt and Mercutio who are unveiled as immensely foolish with ill-considered decisions that also build tension in the young lovers’ ‘death marked love’. Tybalt is presented as a troublemaker and a tempestuous character, known to provoke others and starting a fight. However, Mercutio is presented with a great sense of humour and loyal, also a creative artist speaking in prose rather than blank verse differentiating himself from the rest. Tybalt has excessive anger towards the Montagues expressing to them that the word peace is substandard when Mercutio draws his sword, “What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word”, leading to the climax of the play. Additionally and to a lesser extent, the Prince is also another factor in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The Prince’s minor appearance in the play is when he is involved when there is conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues in the public streets of Verona, “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”. Although the Prince terminated many fights between the Capulets and Montagues, this initiated even more feuding, “thou art a villain”. In this way, Shakespeare portrays the fate of the young lovers’. To some extent, Shakespeare expresses that the Prince, Tybalt and Mercutio worsen the fate intertwined with the young lover’s fortune, through their injudicious behavior.

Ultimately, Shakespeare illustrates the character flaws in Romeo and Juliet that results in devastating consequences, yet end the violence between the Capulets and the Montagues. Romeo and Juliet concludes with tranquillity finally being restored in Verona at the cost of Romeo’s and Juliet’s lives, known as a pyrrhic victory. Through the play, there are multiple characters and factors which contribute to the deaths of the young lovers’. In Romeo and Juliet, love is distinctly powerful, but the everlasting hatred between the two families is largely responsible, and the most cardinal reason for the two lovers’ demise. Shakespeare encourages the audience to view and examine how deliberately powerful fate can be in lives as well as the repercussions of malevolence, including the dangers of obsessive love.

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What Characters and Ideas Contribute to the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet?. (2020, Nov 23). Retrieved from

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