In the play Romeo and Juliet, what conclusions can be made from Shakespeare's use of dreams and premonitions?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Fate is certainly a very dominant theme in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In fact, an underlying question is whether or not Romeo and Juliet died due to fate or due to their own personal choices. Dreams and premonitions are related to fate because both dreams and premonitions have been believed to be ways to predict or prophesy one's fate.

We particularly see references to dreams and premonitions in Act I, Scene IV, when both Benvolio and Mercutio try to persuade Romeo to crash the Capulet ball with them as a means of trying to cheer Romeo up. Romeo at first refuses, stating, "I dreamt a dream to-night" (53). Later in the scene, he relates a premonition he has that his life will be taken from him early, showing us that he relates the dream he had earlier to his premonition, as we see in the following lines:

I fear, to early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
of my despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (113-18)

However, Romeo can be proved wrong in his belief that his death was caused purely by fate. He still had the choice to refuse to crash the ball with his friends, proving he was very unwise to give in to his friends when he felt crashing the ball went against his better judgement.

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juanamac | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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Romeo and Juliet begins with a premonition, in a way.  The prologue tells us exactly what will happen in the play, outlining in 14 lines exactly what will occur, setting the stage for how other premonitions and dreams will play out.

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-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
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, nought 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.

When deciding to attend the Capulet party, after Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, Romeo proclaims:

I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.

He already has portents of death by going to the party itself.  However, he goes anyway.

Following the blow that causes his death, Mercutio issues a premonition of doom:

A plague o' both your houses!

This in turn echoes over the rest of the play, separating Romeo and Juliet. It is also felt when the fake death and message to Romeo never get through to him.

When Juliet and Romeo prepare to part after their night together, Juliet has a premonition of his demise:

O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art below,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb:
Either my eyesight fails, or thou look'st pale.

While in exile, Romeo dreams of the future:

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand:
My bosom's lord sits lightly in his throne;
And all this day an unaccustom'd spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead--
Strange dream, that gives a dead man leave
to think!--

All the portents of the future keep re-inforcing to the audience or the reader what they already know.  Romeo and Juliet are doomed to die.  They are star-crossd lovers who must take their own lives because it is fortold in the prologue.  The play is a tragedy of the most tragic sort; we all know the outcome before it begins.

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