How does Shakespeare communicate the idea of fate and free will in Romeo and Juliet?
Shakespeare uses many techniques to communicate the idea of destiny and fate pre-determined by a higher power in Romeo and Juliet. In the “fearful passage of their death marked love” the characters Romeo and Juliet have many obstacles thrown in their course that leads to their ultimate fate and death. In this essay I will use the examples of Shakespeare’s use of the prologue, metaphors, events plotted by God and coincidence as Shakespeare’s method to communicate his idea on fate.
One way Shakespeare communicates his idea about fate in Romeo and Juliet is through his use of the prologue. At the start of the play Shakespeare gives a clear summary of all the key events in the play, this tells the audience what Shakespeare has planned for his characters. This section stands out to me as an example of predetermined fate.
“A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love
And the continuance of their parents’ rage,
Which, but their children’s end, naught could remove,”
The prologue predetermined exactly what happens in the play. It suggests the idea of fate that is pre-decided by God. During the late 1500s, it was a very religious time and people believed that their fate was determined by God before birth. It was part of society to believe that God was in control and guiding you towards your fate, but you still had a certain amount of free will.
The next example of fate in Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s use of metaphors. He uses metaphors to relate life as a journey that God is in control of. Before Romeo enters the Capulet’s party, he expresses a dream he had the previous night. A certain religious belief was that God sometimes communicated a person’s fate in their dreams. Romeo’s dream summarizes exactly what happens to him when he goes down his path of love for Juliet.
“I fear too early, for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin this fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despisèd life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
But he that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail. On, lusty gentlemen.”
Throughout the play Shakespeare refers to Stars as metaphors. In Shakespeare’s time it was believed that the stars were the heavens so his fate is “hanging in the stars” or heavens with God. Another section that stands out as fate is “He that hath the steerage of my course direct my sail.” This metaphor links up with the idea that God is the captain steering Romeo who is the ship on his journey. Shakespeare also foreshadows their death in the play – “By some vile forfeit of untimely death“. Another example of stars being a metaphor as God’s control is at the end of the play when Romeo discovers that Juliet is dead. He yells out for God to hear “then I defy you stars!”. To defy the stars it is to defy God. The only way to defy God and free yourself of his control is to take the life that God has given you by killing yourself. Just before Romeo takes his life he uses another metaphor
“unsavoury guide. Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick, weary bark.”
Romeo has decided to take control of his own destiny and end his life or crash his ship. Romeo did not have to kill himself but a string of events lead him to feel he had no choice. The idea of fate and free will is that God shows you were to look but you decide where to go. God points your ship in a direction and sometimes the course he is steering you towards is so convincing that you feel you have no choice but to go down that path. Romeo did not have to kill himself but a string of events led him to feel he had no choice.
In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare convincingly suggests that God plotted events to lead to Romeo and Juliet’s death. The main point is Romeo and Juliet’s love was strictly forbidden due to their family’s ancient feud. Way before they were born the hand of fate was already turned against Romeo and Juliet’s love, their family’s hatred would simply not allow them to be together. I think the fact their love was forbidden made Romeo and Juliet even more desperate to be together. An example of a plot event that cascades into catastrophe setting up their destiny, is that Romeo kills Tybalt Juliet’s cousin out anger as Tybalt killed his friend. Due to his actions, Romeo ends up getting banished from Verona which means he and Juliet can never be together in Verona. This happens the same day Romeo secretly married Juliet. Now after just committing to each other God has suddenly thrown extreme hurdles stopping each other from seeing each other. Juliet is extremely depressed without Romeo, and decides to go to the Friar for help, the Friar really feeds the hand of fate without meaning to as he meddles with Romeo and Juliet destiny. He comes up with a dangerous plan for Juliet to fake her death by taking a low dose of poison, this will force her into a very deep sleep for 40 hours, she will appear dead to the outside world so her family will lay Juliet in her tomb. The last step in the plan is for Romeo to wake Juliet with a kiss and run away with her. The Friar plans on sharing this plan with Romeo by getting Friar John to deliver a letter. This is where the plan goes terribly wrong. Mantua, the town where Romeo has been banished to, has had an outbreak in the plague. This prevents Friar John from passing the message on to Romeo. Romeo will never know about the plan. Romeo’s man Balthasar kills any hope that the plan will work by telling Romeo that Juliet died. He just happened to see part of her ceremony. This causes Romeo to defy God by taking his life, Romeo goes to Juliet’s tomb and kills himself right beside where her sleeping body lies, just minutes later Juliet wakes and she sees Romeo lying there and then pulls out Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself ending her life. All the barriers God put in the way of the Friars plan working caused both of them to commit suicide without needing to.
In the play “Romeo and Juliet” , coincidence plays a significant role. The main coincidence is how Romeo and Juliet meet. Right before the Capulet’s annual feast their servant, who can not read, runs into Romeo on the streets of Verona. The Servant randomly hands out an invitation to Romeo for him to read to her. The servant is very grateful for his help so she invites Romeo to attend the party not knowing that Romeo is part of the Montague family, the mortal enemy of the Capulet’s. It is at the Capulet feast where Romeo meets Juliet, this starts Romeo and Juliet’s journey to untimely death. Is this a twist of fate or is it just a coincidence? I believe that everything happens for a reason. I think Shakespeare wrote about a play suggesting how everything happens for a reason, and sometimes God has to do something terrible to cause good to happen. For example once Romeo and Juliet took their lives it ended the family feud. This was because the Capulets and the Montague’s learned how much their disagreement was hurting their family’s. Romeo and Juliet were the last hopes for the future of their family’s. Once they take their lives they end their family tree. Maybe this caused the greater good because hopefully everyone learnt a lesson from this horrible outcome, I think Shakespeare hoped that this play would be a moral story to make others think of what their actions can cause. To make people think before they act.
In conclusion, Shakespeare wanted the play Romeo and Juliet to make others really think. Perhaps, think about how a higher power acts to carve our destiny. I feel the play was written to suggest that our actions today can shape the rest of our lives. For example, before Romeo and Juliet meet they were completely oblivious to the fact that over the next few days their death would be determined just because of their rapid decisions. The play Romeo and Juliet made me really think, do I have a choice about my fate? Is there really something I can do to ensure my life ends up how I want it to, or has my fate been pre-determined by a higher power since the start of time? Only time will answer my questions but I feel there is always something I can do, yet fate will lead me to many opportunities I will make the most of what ever destiny throws my way.