Most of Shakespeares plays are based on either tragedy or comedy. A typical Shakespearean tragedy involves love, a breakdown of order, and a hero who must fail due to some human limitation. The play Romeo and Juliet satisfies two of these elements, but it does not portray Shakespeares traditional tragic hero. In its place Shakespeare points out how chance can manipulate peoples lives. There are some instances that can be related to chance, and these instances affect the plot to form a connection between Romeo and Juliet and chance.
For example, Romeo is affected by chance throughout the play due to the incidental encounters he has with Juliet, a servant, and Tybalt. In addition, Mercutio is also a victim of uncertainty because of the events that led up to his death. Finally, chance and timing have an immensely significant influence on the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. There are a number of random meetings during the play that cause unforeseen events to take place. For example, Romeos first involvement with chance is when a servant inadvertently happens upon Romeo and asks if he knows how to read.
Romeo reads a guest list for the Capulet ball. After finishing the list, the servant out of appreciation invites him to the ball if he is not a Montague. The servant coming across Romeo was by pure accident, and if this improbable event had not taken place, Romeo would have never been able to meet and fall in love with Juliet. In addition, Juliet is subject to chance in very much the same way as Romeo. Juliets relationship with Romeo also transpires as a result of happenstance because if Juliets father did not give Paris permission to marry her, there would have been no reason for the party.
Furthermore, when Romeo meets Juliet for the second time, the meeting occurs as a result of an unplanned excursion by Romeo because he abandoned his friends and happened to wander into the Capulets orchard while Juliet just happened to be on the balcony. Just like with Romeo, it is circumstances out of her control that draw her into the forbidden relationship. Chance not only causes certain characters to meet, it also sways some of the characters to react beyond their control. For instance, when Romeo stumbled into Tybalt at the party and Tybalt says, This, by his voice, should be a Montague.
If Tybalt did not know Romeo was at the party, there probably would have been no confrontation between them in the street the next day. In addition, Romeo does not want to fight with Tybalt, but Mercutio decides himself to fight him. While Mercutio is dueling with Tybalt, Romeo attempts to intervene, and this causes Tybalt to stab Mercutio. Although Mercutio made the wrong choice to fight, some of the responsibility for the altercation may be placed on chance because in Romeo and Juliet’s time Verona was a fair sized city and inadvertently seeing an acquaintance was unlikely.
Whether one deems Mercutios death as the result of misfortune or a conscious decision, it is clear that their meeting materializes as a result of chance. Chance and timing play the largest role in deciding if Romeo and Juliet would live or die. Friar Laurence had two chances to deliver the message to Romeo regarding his plan. The first and most practical method of sending the message was through Balthasar. His alternative plan was to send the message with Friar John. Timing was an important factor because Friar Laurence had just missed his opportunity to send the message with Balthasar and reverted to sending it with Friar John.
As chance would have it, Friar John was locked up in a condemned house because of the plague and was not able to deliver the vital message. Upon learning this Friar John states, Romeo Hath had no notice of these accidents, and futilely tries to inform Romeo of his ruse. As a result, Romeo receives information from Balthasar that Juliet is presumably dead, which will lead to the tragic reuniting of the two lovers in the tomb. Romeo enters Juliets tomb and discovers Paris mourning over Juliet. Unfortunately, Paris arrives before Romeo and loses his life.
If Paris had not been there, Romeo would have beheld Juliets miraculous awakening, and they would have fled the bitter feud that made their love impossible. Moreover, when Friar Laurence finally finds Romeo, he is too late because Romeo could not bear to see his beloved Juliet in the tomb and has already drunk the deadly poison. Friar Laurence states What unkind hour / Is guilty of this lamentable chance. If the Friar had entered the tomb sooner, he could have confided his scheme to Romeo and no harm would have come to anyone.
Furthermore, the friar left the tomb when he heard the call of the watch and this gave Juliet the opportunity to snatch Romeo’s dagger. If the errant watchmen had entered the tomb seconds earlier, they could have prevented Juliet from taking her own life. This astonishing ending alone is enough to suggest that the entire plot has an emphasis on chance. Whether you believe in chance or you think you control your own destiny, the plot of Romeo and Juliet is heavily influenced by chance, as opposed to the actions of the characters.
For example, an illiterate servant sets off a chain of events that culminates in Romeo and Juliet being thrust together by an unexpected interaction. In addition, Mercutios death is brought about by the chance meeting and the conflict between Romeo and Tybalt. Finally, chance has a powerful influence on the incidents that led up to Romeo and Juliets dramatically ironic deaths. Chance has such a substantial role in Romeo and Juliet that it not only affects nearly all of the characters, it changes the overall outcome of the story because if chance and timing were on the side of the characters the play could have easily been a comedy.