William Shakespeare is one of the most famous authors of all time. His intelligence, imagination, creativity, and many other skills are applauded by readers until this day. Shakespeare’s plays are traditionally organized into three groups: Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. Shakespearean tragedy usually depicts a central character in the play that falls from grace and dies, along with a fair proportion of the rest of the cast. In other words, it is a drama with a necessarily unhappy ending. Shakespeare wrote tragedies from the beginning of his career: one of his earliest plays was the Roman tragedy Titus Andronicus, and he followed it a few years later with Romeo and Juliet.
This is possibly one of his most recognized plays in modern times. Shakespeare shows his dramatic skill freely in Romeo and Juliet, providing intense moments of shift between comedy and tragedy, and weaving plots and subplots to paint a clearer picture of the story. It is mainly a romantic tragedy, based on the lives of two teenagers; madly in love with one another. It is cased on the rivalry between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets, and how that led to quite complicated circumstances for both of them. Unknowingly, other characters such as the church Friar and Juliet’s Nurse contributed to the tragedy in one way or another, and finally resulted in their deaths. The two families are left distorted and dismayed in the end, with no choice but to accept the facts and make peace, although at a hefty price; the lives of their two young children. The epic tragedy in the play may have been avoided, if it weren’t for the hasty decisions and recklessness of some of the characters.
Blame; this word means “to hold responsible”. Quite a few of the characters share the blame for the deaths but which of them were “prime suspects”? Was it Friar Lawrence, whose careless thinking caused the situation to worsen? Or was it the Nurse who didn’t play quite an important role in the play but encouraged Juliet in her romantic ideas? Or was it Romeo, whose impetuosity cost him, as well as others, a hefty price? Last but not the least; was it just simple fate that led to the unfortunate scene? These accusations will be closely examined in this essay. It will then help you to find out what role they played in the deaths and could they have been avoided?
Some characters have very little to do with the plot but they have the plot revolving around them. Friar Lawrence is one such character. As a member of the Order of St. Francis, a group of wise and generous priests, Romeo and Juliet trusted Friar Laurence completely, turning to him for advice, and solutions. Romeo approaches the friar in Act 2 scene 3, to get some guidance about Juliet. Romeo greets the Friar “Good morrow, father”, and Friar Lawrence responds by calling Romeo “young son”. It is not just the exchange between the priest and the penitent. The Friar also stands in for Romeo’s own father since there are no scenes between Romeo and his parents. Father and son relationships at this time may not have been strong and also, religion was quite important in the upbringing of the children at this period. The Friar is the only person to whom Romeo turns for advice, and he is the last person to whom Juliet turns after all others have forsaken her. In this sense, he is father to them both and responsible for their actions. He is suspicious of Romeo’s sudden change of heart.
He knows that Romeo has been craving for Rosaline and he tells Romeo that Rosaline did not return his love because she could tell that it “did read by rote, that could not spell”. By this, he meant that he was never really in love with Rosaline and that he was just repeating empty words he didn’t really understand. This made him even more doubtful about Romeo’s newly found “love”, and he was right to do so, considering Romeo’s thoughtless personality. Nevertheless, he decides to marry Romeo and Juliet, hoping to end the feud between the two families. Through his words, Friar Lawrence demonstrates the he is a good intentioned, yet sometimes short-sighted, man who is not afraid to take risks to help others;
“But come, young waverer, come, go with me,
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancor to pure love.”
Although it was unintentional, Friar Lawrence’s decision was the spark that made these unfortunate events to slowly unfold. At the same time, the Friar recognizes that the use of the tradition of matrimony in such an evasive manner may very well have terrible consequences. He worries that this will definitely result in a sad ending;
“So smile the heavens upon this holy act,
That after hours with sorrow chide us not!”
Shortly after that, in the next act, Tybalt is “slayed” by the angry Romeo. Thereafter, he rushes to the Friar’s cell hoping to find a way out if this horrible situation.
“O deadly sin! O rude unthankfulness!
Thy fault our law calls death; but the kind Prince,
And turn’d that black word “death” to “banishment…” – (Friar Lawrence)
Friar Lawrence is astounded by Romeo’s actions and tells him that he is lucky to have not been sentenced to death. Instead of telling him to flee from Verona, as he has already been banished, the Friar advices him to go spend his honeymoon night with Juliet, before he can leave for Mantua. Although, he knows that the marriage will be ended unless the couple consummates their vows with each other, this act of his proves to be most dangerous for Romeo as well as Juliet. Going to the Capulet home was risky before Tybalt’s death, after his banishment, being discovered at the Capulet home is a certain death sentence for Romeo.
“And for that offence
immediately we do exile him hence:
Therefore use none: let Romeo hence in haste,
Else, when he’s found, that hour is his last”. – Prince
Next, Juliet turns to the Friar for help and desperation because her parents are forcing her to marry Paris, the Friar formulates the daft scheme for Juliet to feign her own death. He tells her that if she has the strength to take her own life rather than marry Paris, than she should have the strength to pretend she’s dead;
“Hold, daughter. I do spy a kind of hope,
If, rather than to marry County Paris,
Thou hast the strength of will to slay thyself…
And, if thou dar’st, I’ll give thee remedy”
This reckless action of his, that he thought was the “perfect plan”, turned out to be absolutely witless as the message he sent to Romeo, informing him about their little plan, never reached him and this made him presume that Juliet was actually dead and finally resulted in his impulsive death.
The whole spectacle of the play would have been different if it weren’t for this character and his irrational verdicts. He was the only person who unintentionally but foolishly, wrote the unfortunate fate of Romeo and Juliet, as he was in control of their actions, and he could have been more sensible about what he advised them to do and not be so hasty with his decisions.
Another character in the play, Juliet’s Nurse, portrays a fine example of a typical Shakespearean nursemaid. Quite a humorous and bawdy character, sort of a comic relief role in a Shakespeare tragedy. Though she is essentially a good person and extremely devoted to Juliet, the Nurse tends to babble inappropriately, and her language is frequently filled with sexual innuendo. The nurse’s sole desire is to make Juliet as happy as possible and considers her as her own child. This is mainly because she used to have a daughter, almost the same age as Juliet, who unfortunately died along with her father, leaving her without any other relations in this lonely world. Juliet actually shares a closer bond with the Nurse, than with her own mother. Lady Capulet is aware of the closeness between her daughter and the Nurse. When Lady Capulet wishes to discusses Paris’s marriage proposal with Juliet, she first asks the Nurse to leave. But then she recalls that she need not hide anything important (concerning Juliet), from the Nurse.
“This is the matter. – Nurse, give leave awhile,
We must talk in secret. – Nurse, come back again;
I have remember’d me, thou’s hear our counsel.” – Lady Capulet
Upon learning that Romeo is actually a Montague, Juliet spills her heart to the nurse (who told her about Romeo’s family in the first place), telling her that she “love’s a loathed enemy”. Even though the Nurse’s initial reaction is not good, Juliet trusts her to act as go-between with Romeo. The Nurse does as Juliet requests, but first she wants to make it certain that Romeo is an honorable gentleman as she is very concerned about Juliet’s welfare and thinks that Romeo might be taking advantage of her youth. She does so by meeting Romeo and confirming about his thoughts to marry Juliet. The Capulets, at this point of time, know nothing about the marriage and the Nurse had no intentions to inform them so. If she had let them know what was going on, then maybe they would have accepted Romeo, for Juliet’s sake of course, and this might have ended the family feud, there and then. The nurse’s loyalty should be to the Capulet’s, yet she is happy to betray them. at this point of time, if the nurse hadn’t been disloyal to them, the tragedy would surely have been avoided.
“Then hie you hence to Friar Laurence’ cell;
There stays a husband to make you a wife:”
Apparently, she wishes only to make Juliet happy and is willing to take significant personal risks to do so.
“Hie you to church; I must another way,
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird’s nest soon when it is dark.
Shakespeare uses a large variety of poetic forms throughout the play. Here, the nurse is telling Juliet about her plan to get them married and she even arranges for Romeo to enter Juliet’s bedroom on their wedding night. This shows just how much she cares for Juliet, and even though her hasty decisions contributed towards the fatal consequences, her love for her blinded both her heart and mind.
Yet, for all her scheming, the nurse is quite simple. Though she takes part in all of these complicated ploys, she seems to believe that the romance with Romeo will soon fade away. She figures that Juliet will easily be able to forget her love once Romeo is banished and the situation becomes too difficult for her to handle. Once Romeo is banished, the nurse’s relationship with Juliet begins to deteriorate. First she upsets Juliet by abusing Romeo. Then the Nurse tells Juliet that she should forsake her love and marry Paris instead as he “excels” her first love.
“Faith, here it is.
Romeo is banished… That he dares ne’er come back to challenge you;
I think it best you married with the County…O, he’s a lovely gentleman!
Romeo’s a dishclout to him…I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first; or if it did not,
Your first is dead – or ’twere as good he were,
As living here and you no use of him”. – Nurse
After listening to the nurse’s thoughts about her beloved Romeo, Juliet turns doubtful about the Nurse. She now feels helpless and thinks to herself that unless the Friar has a solution to this; her only choice is to end her life.
“Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend! …
Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue
I’ll to the friar, to know his remedy.
If all else fail, myself have power to die.”
The nurse proved to be the reason why Juliet considered death as a resort and if by any chance, this whole episode might not have happened, Juliet would still be alive and the story would have continued. The next time she saw Juliet was on her “death bed”, and even now, she was comical about the whole situation. This was really surprising as this shows that she does not care as much for Juliet as was first thought.
“Sleep for a week; for the next night, I warrant,
The County Paris hath set up his rest
That you shall rest but little…
Ay, let the County take you in your bed…”
For the audience, she is both entertaining and irritating. For Juliet, she is mother and friend, companion and betrayer. She was in total control of Juliet’s actions, until she upset her. This was also one of the reasons that led to Juliet’s death. She molded Juliet’s faith, just as the Friar did so to Romeo.
Finally, Romeo and his impetuous behavior, openly made himself look more foolish and his rash decisions settled the tale. First of all, Romeo is preceded by his reputation as a lover. He is shown as “lovesick”, at the start of the play, and that to for a girl (Rosaline), who apparently doesn’t even know him. Once Romeo sees Juliet at the ball, the true love he feels for her completely overwhelms his obsession for Rosaline. After he boldly kisses Juliet, Romeo is ready to pursue her full throttle.
“Can I go forward when my heart is here?
Turn back, dull earth, and find thy center out”
Here Romeo refers to himself as “dull earth,” a being that is lifeless and requires its center, Juliet to feel alive. He scales the orchard wall to see her again. This act demonstrates his bravery. The threats of danger and death do not frighten him from his pursuit. This theme goes on for the rest of the play and his “bravery”, leads him “too far into enemy lines”, and in the end, proves to be his misfortune. Though motivated by love, Romeo is also the only man who kills two people in the play, first Tybalt and in the end, Paris. This shows that he can go to any extent when he is in rage. That’s how he kills Tybalt. Had he not been so reckless to do so, he would not have been banished in the first place and this might have affected what had happened in the end, as his banishment was actually the bottom-line that made Juliet drink the potion, as a result of which caused misunderstandings and made Romeo kill himself. However, the death that Romeo causes at the end of the play is under quite different circumstances. It is not as rash as Tybalt’s, but his state of mind is quite similar as it was previously. He kills Paris not for revenge, but because Paris is barring him from entering the Capulet tomb. He begs Paris to retreat and warns him of the danger. In essence he says,
“I have no quarrel with you. Don’t get in my way, because I’m here to kill myself.”
He does not wish to murder an innocent man and he tries to reason with Paris. In the short span of the play – a mere four days – Romeo experiences a lifetime of emotions. He starts out in love with one girl (Rosaline), decides he likes another one better (Juliet), marries her but doesn’t let anyone know about it, gets his best friend killed (Mercutio), kills his wife’s cousin (Tybalt), runs off, returns, kills his wife’s suitor (Paris), thinks his wife is dead, doesn’t check, and commits suicide. Eventually, the reason for which the final 3 deaths had occurred was Romeo not receiving the letter and in turn, his careless decision to commit suicide for his beloved wife. If he had thought about the situation for even a few moments and used some degree of common sense, the killings could have been prevented and Romeo and Juliet could have lived “happily ever after”. Romeo’s indecisiveness leads him to disastrous consequences, and because both he and Juliet were quite young at the time, their maturity and influential state of minds had let them down.
Even though these characters could be held responsible for the deaths, Fate also played a key role in the deaths. Condemning the lovers’ right from the very beginning, fate plays a role all the way through. The prologue describes Romeo and Juliet as “A pair of star-cross’d lovers”, as though there fates had already been mapped out by the stars. Just these few words state the extent that fate will play. Or Mercutio’s curse can be blamed.
“A plague O’ both your houses”
Following this is Friar John’s unbelievable misfortune as he finds himself trapped in a house of plague on his way to Mantua. The letter is never received which allows Balthasar to unknowingly ruin the ‘plan’, by telling Romeo of Juliet’s death. This is an excellent example of dramatic irony that occurs towards the end of the play. Each of these aspects of fate play an important role leading to the story’s conclusion, but without the actions of other characters their contribution would be meaningless.
In my opinion, Friar Lawrence’s spontaneity led to the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet. His perfect plan to possibly end the feud between the families finally put him in such a mess that he was the sole contender that could be rightly blamed for their deaths. Had he not married Romeo and Juliet without informing the families, had he not been so irresponsible to make sure Romeo got the letter and if he didn’t leave Juliet alone in her tomb to have no choice but to die, there wouldn’t have been such a tragic end to the epic love story of Romeo and Juliet.