In Romeo and Juliet, fate is introduced very early and is a key feature throughout the play. Fate is actually introduced before the first act, in the prologue. The prologue is in the form of a sonnet. In Elizabethan times it was used to settle the audience before the play actually begins. It helps to lay out the plot and predicts what will happen to the characters and it predicts the demise of the star-crossed lovers. Also ‘Chorus’ sounds like the voice of fate and is saying that Romeo and Juliet’s lives have already been written. Chorus says “A pair of star crossed lovers,” this is saying that the couple were fated to disaster as it was in the stars.
Today astrology is seen as superstition rather than factual and science. Whereas in Shakespeare’s time, Astrology was seen and treated by most as a science. Therefore to the Elizabethan audience, Romeo and Juliet being called star-crossed lovers would be seen as a serious omen to the couple. Romeo and Juliet was a very popular play in Elizabethan times because it contained tragedy, comedy, fate, suspense, humour and dramatic irony. Fate and fortune are closely related in this play. In the Elizabethan era people strongly believed in superstition, fate and destiny. People believed they had no influence in their life as everything was already planned out.
There are references to fate throughout the play. An example of this is when he talks about his belief in fate and destiny, ‘some consequence yet hanging in the stars’ (A1, S4, L107). This shows that Romeo believes that his fate has already been decided and he cannot change it. Another example oh Romeo’s belief in fate is, ‘But he that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail!’ (A1, S4, L112-3). This is suggesting that something else is controlling the fate of his life, perhaps God, and he is asking them to direct him in the right direction and away from tragedy and disaster, which he eventually encounters. He is allowing himself to become a victim of fate by almost surrendering himself to his destiny. This allows the Elizabethan audience to relate to Romeo as in the Elizabethan era they had very similar beliefs about fate and that someone like God was controlling their lives.
Rome and Juliet eventually meet at the Capulet’s ball but it’s entirely down to chance. This is because the servant the Capulet sends to deliver the invitations cannot read, ‘ I am sent to find those persons whose names are here writ, and can never find what names the writing person hath here writ.’ The servant then by chance meets Benvolio and Romeo and invites them to the ball not realizing they are Montague’s. At this time Romeo is desperately in love with a girl called Roseline and attends the party in the hope of seeing her. However he meets Juliet and falls in love with her. This is an example of Romeo and Juliet were destined to meet and destined to fall in love. It also is an example of events in the play ‘fall into place’.
Throughout the play Romeo is dramatic and constantly predicts his own death. In Act 1, before he goes to the Capulet’s ball he predicts that his death will be soon, ‘Of a despised life clos’d in my breast, by some vile forfeit of untimely death.’ (A1, S4, L110-1) He is predicting that he will die before his time, which he eventually does. It’s strange that a young, carefree man should be concerned about death. Dramatic Irony is used here, as the audience knows that Romeo will soon have an untimely death, when even though he is talking about an untimely death he doesn’t know its actually going to happen. This also leaves the audience in suspense, wondering what will occur at the ball. Another example of this is at the ball. It occurs when Romeo and Juliet first meet at the ball, when neither of them know that the other is from the opposite family and only once they are in love do they realize that they are from the opposite families. On realizing Romeo is a Montague, Juliet says ‘Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy.’ The greatest dramatic irony of the play is during Act 5 Scene 3. Romeo finds Juliet dead; this is the peak of the play. This is enhanced by Romeo’s actions and words, he says ‘Death, that hath suck’d the honey of thy breath, Hath had no power yet up thy beauty: Thou art not conquer’d, beauty’s ensign yet.’ The final speech sums up his feeling about Juliet and that he is determined to take charge of his own life and fortune as he is in control of his death.
Later in the play Juliet talks about fate, ‘Can heaven be so envious?’ (A3, S2, L40) when the nurse tells her of the death of Tybalt, however Juliet at that time thinks that its Romeo that’s dead rather then Tybalt. She then asks the nurse whether their love was meant to be. She then later on becomes completely convinced of the actions of fate. But when she learns that it is the death of Tybalt rather than Romeo, she is not so distraught. Juliet bemoans ‘O Fortune, Fortune, all men call thee fickle; If thou fickle, what dost thou with him that is renown’d for faith?’ (A3, S5, L60-3) She is referring to the fact that fate caused the fight in which Romeo was subsequently banished because of, even though Romeo would not have normally done anything to jeopardize or damage his relationship with Juliet.
It is not just Romeo and Juliet that have doubts about whether fate is on their side. It is also displayed in actions and dialogue of the other characters. For example before Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet, he says ‘So smile the heavens on the holy act’ and ‘after hours with sorrow chide us not!’ (A2, S6, L1-2) He is implying that he hopes that fate is one Romeo and Juliet’s side. Friar Lawrence’s clearly displays increasing doubt about the relationship as he appears to believe that Romeo and Juliet’s love is both destined but yet doomed, ‘these violent delights have violent ends’, (A2, S6, L9). Friar Lawrence’s judgment in agreeing to marry Romeo and Juliet, and his actions later to conceal and protect their love is affected by his desire to end the arguments between the two families, which may have clouded his judgment which may have lead him to making some very poor decisions.
Coincidence plays a large role in the play when examining destiny. The first main example of coincidence is in Act 1 Scene 2 when Capulet sends out his invitations. It’s by chance that he gives them to a messenger who cannot read, he then meets Romeo and asks him to do it for him. This then gives him access to the ball where he will meet his love. It is all coincidence that the two should meet in a crowded room full of people and fall in love. In Elizabethan times, they believed that love at first sight exists and that all ‘true love’ was planned and predetermined. Another example of coincidence is when Friar Lawrence tries to send a letter to Romeo who is in banishment. This was because friar John had not been quarantined, ‘I could not sent it-here it is again,'(A5, S2, L14-15). If the letter had been delivered to Romeo, Romeo wouldn’t have over reacted when he had heard the death of Juliet. He would have not then subsequently killed himself with poison, instead everything would have gone to plan and he would have waited for Juliet to wake.
Fate plays a large part in the play throughout. Fate gives an ongoing feel of suspense in the play. This is first created in the prologue when it talks about the fate of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare used suspense a lot in order to stop the crowd from getting bored. There were lots of distractions in the Elizabethan theatre; like food sellers, people talking and mainly heckling.
Free will is incorporated in the play. One of the first examples of free will is before the ball, when Romeo eventually decides to go to the ball even though his dreams have told him not too. ‘Some consequence yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin his fearful date.’ He is saying that something bad is in the stars and that they shouldn’t go to the ball. Even though he believes this he still chooses to go to the ball. Another indication of free will is at the end of Act 2 Scene 2 when Juliet tells Romeo that she is going to send him a message, she says ‘I will not fail.’ This is her own doing and cannot be affected by fate or destiny. The final main indication of free will is at the climax. Romeo gives a long speech, ‘will I set my everlasting rest, and shake the yoke of inauspicious stars from the world-wearied flesh. Eyes look your last.’ He sums up how he is feeling and that he is determined to out do fate and take control of his life for the last time by being in control of his own death.
To conclude, I believe that in Elizabethan times, as fate, destiny and astrology were seen as fact, that Romeo and Juliet would have been seen as victims of fate as there are so many different references to fate through out the play. Although, I believe that in today’s society, as fate, destiny and astrology are seen as superstition and not fact, that the majority of people would see Romeo and Juliet as unlucky because there were so many coincidences that went against them and not that they were victims of fate. Some people though would see them as victims of fate as some people are very superstitious and believe in fate, destiny and astrology and therefore like the Elizabethan audience would have seen Romeo and Juliet as victims of fate.