FLE: Romeo and Juliet: Fate Versus Free Will
“...A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;/...Do with their death bury their parents' strife./ The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love,/ And the continuance of their parents' rage,/ Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,/ Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;/ The which if you with patient ears attend,/ What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.”
(Prologue, lines 6-14, p.7)
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare begins with Chorus telling the audience how the tragedy ends. He describes Romeo and Juliet as “star-cross’d” (Prologue, line 6, p.7) and their love as “death-mark’d” (Prologue, line 9, p.7), implying that the result of their love- their deaths- was fate set by the stars. However, the audience seems not to be the only one to know of this tragic ending- throughout the play, several characters consistently believe that fate is in action, though often confusing it with free will. Using diction, dramatic irony, and foreshadowing, Shakespeare compares fate and free will and connects them to the theme of responsibility.
Romeo is one of the characters who repeatedly suspects that he is being dragged along by fate. In Act 1 Scene 4, right before he meets Juliet, he claims to fear that there is “some consequence yet hanging in the stars” (Act 1 Scene 4, line 114, p.49) that would begin that night and end with his “untimely death” (Act 1 Scene 4, line 118, p.49). Shakespeare’s repetitive use of the word ‘star’ connects Romeo’s thoughts with the mention of Romeo and Juliet as “star-crossed lovers” (Prologue, lines 6-14, p.7), foreshadowing what would happen that night. This is also an example of dramatic irony; the audience knows that he would meet and fall in love with Juliet that night and three days later would commit suicide, but, since he uses the word “some” (Act 1 Scene 4, line 114, p.49) to describe the “consequence yet hanging in the stars” (Act 1 Scene 4, line 114, p.49), at this point Romeo does not know what exactly is to come but can only foreshadow his death. Still, as sharp as he intuition is, Romeo often confuses what is the result of his own will as fate. In Act 3, Scene 1, immediately after Romeo kills Tybalt, he exclaims: “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (Act 3 Scene 1, line 142, p.125). The fact that Shakespeare uses dramatic irony in the first situation but not in this one shows that Romeo was did not make the choice of meeting Juliet, but did make the choice of killing Tybalt. In addition, although Shakespeare uses diction in this example- “fortune”- similar to that of which he uses in the first example, the purpose of the word in the second example is only to show how easily Romeo confused his own will with fate.
Another character who often blames many sequences of events on fate instead of on himself is Friar Lawrence. In Act 5, Scene 3, when the Friar finds Romeo and Paris dead, he laments: “Romeo!...Paris too?/ And steep'd in blood?...