Can you help me form a thesis statement and five paragraph outline on how the theme of fate plays a role in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When preparing an analytical paper on William Shakespeare’s play about the rivalry between the Montagues and Capulets and how that rivalry doomed two young lovers to death, one need not look far for indications of the importance of “fate” to the story.  While generally referred to as “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s original title for his play was “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet,” leaving no doubt as to the emotional atmosphere in which the story that follows will transpire.  Further, in setting the stage for his story, Shakespeare employed the classic narrative device of a “Chorus” to establish the theme and introduce the audience to the theme of the play.  As the play begins, Shakespeare’s Chorus enters and proceeds to announce:

“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.  From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;”

So, we know from the start that “Romeo and Juliet” is a tragedy, and that fate determines that the two young lovers die.  The mystery lies, therefore, in the chain of events that lead up to those deaths, the manner in which the deaths occur, and the impact of those deaths on their respective families.  In this sense, the easiest part of a paper on “Romeo and Juliet” is the thesis statement.  The outline that follows begins with recognition of the play’s original title, and with the prophesy of doom provided in the play’s opening seconds.  The body of the outline can include a paragraph in which the audience is provided examples of the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets, such as the conversation between Samson and Gregory, both of the Capulets, regarding their hatred of the Montagues (“A dog of the house of Montague incurs my kick”), the fight between servants of the respective clans that follows, and when Romeo, son of Montague, and his cousin, Benvolio, discuss the former’s unrequited love for Rosaline, a Capulet.  Shakespeare’s play is filled with indications of the intensity of the hatred between these two families. 

Another paragraph could discuss the role of fate in robbing Romeo and Juliet of free will, in effect, that no matter what their desires, and no matter what their actions, they are destined to meet a tragic ending.  “Romeo and Juliet” wrote the book, so to speak, on twists of fate such as occur late in the play when the two lovers plot to overcome the divisions between them and seek remedies that are destined to contribute to the inevitability of their demise. 

Yet another paragraph could discuss the theme of fate in terms of the reconciliation that occurs between the Montagues and Capulets following the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet.  During the scene near the end, when the lovers are dead and their families are left with their grief and regrets, Prince Escalus, receiving from Balthasar the letter Romeo penned before taking his life, and who has long determined to end this bitter feud, points out to the heads of the families the folly of their ways:

Prince: “Give me the letter. I will look on it. Reads.

Where be these enemies? Capulet, Montague,

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,

That heaven finds means to kill your joys with . . .”

To which responds the grieving parents:

Capulet: “O brother Montague, give me thy hand.

It was my daughter’s will that we be joined.”

Montague: “And I will raise a statue of pure gold

In honor of my son’s beloved wife,

So while Verona by that name is known,

All will admire faithful Juliet.”

Lady Montague: “If only we had seen the wisdom of such love

While yet our dearest children were alive.”

One of the tragedies of the play is that it took the deaths of two young people, dearly loved by their families and who deeply loved each other, to conquer the divisions between two powerful clans, thereby enabling the city of Verona, where the play takes place, to heal its wounds and move forward. 

Finally, a paragraph of the outline could focus on smaller, less conspicuous but still telling indications of the tragedy to come.  Most prominent of these indicators could be Mercutio’s curse, following yet another confrontation between Montagues and Capulets in Act III, Scene I: “A plague on both your houses!”  From the beginning, though, in Act I, Scene I, it is made apparent that the parents of Romeo and Juliet prefer not to be overly engaged in the affairs of their children, thereby ignoring warning signs of trouble to come.  “We’ve begged the boy to give us hints or clues,” laments Montague to Benvolio regarding the matter of Romeo’s depressed state.  Then, in resignation, with Benvolio requesting Romeo’s father remain aloof, the elder man states to his nephew and to Lady Montague, “I would thou wert so happy by thy stay, To hear true shrift. Come, madam, let's away.”  And, with that, he departs, washing his hands of the whole matter.

Romeo’s inability to confide in his parents of the nature of his feelings toward a Capulet is a precursor of difficulties to come.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In another of his plays, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has a character named Cassius tell Brutus, 

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. (1.2.140-141)

Indeed, in many cases, it is not so much fate that determines one's actions as it is one's own faults and proclivities. In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, the "star-crossed lovers" are not fated to meet and fall in love; they choose to do so. Although Romeo cries out in Act III, "Oh, I am fortune's fool!" after he slays Tybalt, it is his impulsiveness and anger that effect this death, not fate. Likewise, it is the lovers choice to marry and because of that choice, Juliet finds herself in the quandary that she does when her parents order her to marry Paris. It is true, however, that fate plays a role in their lives when the banished Romeo in Mantua does not receive the message from Friar Laurence that Juliet is alive. Nonetheless, his actions to purchase poison and visit Juliet's grave are of his choice. Truly, Romeo and Juliet seem more propelled by their impulsiveness and their passionate actions and violent love than by fate.

Perhaps, then, a thesis could examine to what extent fate plays a role in contrast to free will in Romeo and Juliet. That is, how much is really in "the stars" and what is in their natures?

Wiggin42 | Student

For forming a thesis and outline, try using this model: 

Through _1_, _2_, and _3_, Shakespeare demonstrates/shows/illustrates/argues/conveys the important role fate plays in his play Romeo and Juliet

1, 2, and 3 are your evidence/points. For instance, they can be things like: Puck's meddling, or the influence of supernatural elements like fairies and Oberon/Titania

The body paragraphs can be organized in this way: 

I. Main Idea (Puck's fateful error with the lovers)

A. Puck causes Lysander to wake up and fall in love with Helena

    1. Hermia/Helena clash 

B. Puck tries to make amends and causes Demetrius to fall in love with Helena

     1. Helena is convinced Lysander and Demetrius are mocking her. 

...and so forth. 

Good luck with your paper!

tyler-k | Student

Shakespeare begins the play with foreshadowing: he clues the reader into the fact that Romeo and Juliet do not have a happy ending. This is the most obvious evidence of their "fate." When writing your thesis statement, it is important to include the main points you will talk about in your paper and have what you will discuss.