I need help starting an essay I'm writing in response to the following prompt: Romeo and Juliet are referred to as "star cross'd lovers." Discuss the concept of predetermined destiny and how it...
I need help starting an essay I'm writing in response to the following prompt:
Romeo and Juliet are referred to as "star cross'd lovers." Discuss the concept of predetermined destiny and how it relates to the play. Identify specific examples that show fate's hand in the development of the story.
I think you might start by discussing two key issues of context. The first is astrological. The notion of "star-crossed" lovers has to do with the idea that stars, because they are part of the superlunary heavens (part of the Heavens beyond the orbit of the moon rather than merely part of the mutable human world), are in some way close to God and can be examined to learn of the future he has predestined. This synthesizes pagan astrology (which saw the stars as signs of the gods' will) and Christianity. A good starting point might be this article on astrology and superstition in Shakespeare. I'd strongly recommend as well E. M. W. Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture, a short book available on Kindle or in cheap paperback editions that gives a very readable account of the chain of being and other elements of Shakespeare's world view.
After you have addressed astrology, your next big issue is that of predestination. Because of the synthesis of Aristotle and the Bible in Christian doctrine by the Scholastics, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, the question of free will and predestination is often formulated in terms of the issue of future contingents. The Prologue says:
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
... Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
Since this comes at the start of the play, we know that the play ends with the lovers' deaths. If this information is indeed prior to the actions of the lovers, then the lovers appear to have no free will at all; they are fated to die. This causes a major problem for Christian morality. If all our acts are fated (by God), it seems unjust that God punishes us for acts over which we have no choice. On the other hand, if we have free will, that seems to contradict the notion of divine omnipotence. The official position of the Church of England (the official religion of England in Shakespeare's period) is set out in the Thirty-Nine Articles; in your paper you might want to look at Articles X and XVII which discuss freewill and predestination as a context for interpreting this issue.