How does the setting contribute to the theme in Romeo and Juliet?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The time of the play Romeo and Juliet is also an important contributor to the theme of Fate. For, in the fourteenth century, there was comparatively little that could be done to control disease.  So, when a "plague" comes to Mantua, the town is closed and all the residents quarantined.  Therefore, since Romeo has been banished from Verona and hides in Mantua into which the messenger of Friar Laurence, Friar John cannot come to deliver news of Juliet's being alive, Romeo makes the fatal mistake of fearing that Juliet may be dead. And, as a result of this tragic error, he purchases the poison from the apothecary and hurries to the catacombs of the Capulets in order to learn whether Juliet is dead, or not. He vows to kill himself if his love is lost.

So, when Friar John returns from Mantua and reports that he could not deliver Friar Laurence's letter to Romeo because he was not permitted within the city, Friar Laurence fears the fateful promise of this unfortunate situation:

Unhappy fortune! By my brotherhood,
The letter was not nice but full of charge,
Of dear import; and the neglecting it
May do much danger. (5.2.17-20)

He, therefore, writes Romeo again and hurries to keep Juliet company at the tomb as she will awaken in three hours. But, as fate would have it, these efforts of the priest are too late.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The biggest single factor about the setting of Verona that relates to the them is told to the audience in the Prologue:

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.

Verona as a setting from the very beginning of the play is defined by the emnity between the Capulets and the Montagues, and this closely relates to the theme of the individual against society that is so evident in the way that Romeo and Juliet fight a losing battle against the various structures of society in order to pursue their love. These structures, when listed, certainly appear insurmountable: the identity of family and patriarchal power, the force of law and order, the concept of masculinity and honour, and finally religion. The setting, as defined by the rancour between these two households, exemplifies this theme of individual vs. society by placing both Romeo and Juliet on opposite sides of this enmity and showing just how big these barriers are to their union.

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Romeo and Juliet

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