In Romeo and Juliet, what idea does Shakespeare develop regarding the impact of individual choices?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the tragic tale of two beautiful and passionate lovers, Shakespeare depicts the impetuousness of youth and the violent path that unbridled passions take, whether they are the passion of love or of hate.

That Romeo is impulsive is certainly exemplified in several of his actions:

  • He pines for Rosaline and speaks in despairing tones and oxymorons, yet when he sees Juliet for the first time, he suddenly falls in love, rushing to hold her hand and speak to her in the words of courtly love.
  • Late in the same evening, that he meets Juliet, Romeo recklessly climbs the orchard walls of his enemy and stations himself under the balcony of young Juliet in hopes of seeing her again. Again, the romantic young man speaks in courtly terms,

As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night,
Se, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek! (2.1)

  • On this same night, Romeo proposes, then rushes to the cell of Friar Laurence to ask him to perform the marriage rites. The friar cautions Romeo that "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;" (2.3)
  • Later the friar warns Romeo, "These violent delight have violent ends" (2.6), but his warning goes unheeded, although it certainly foretells the future.
  • Romeo seeks his friend Mercutio after he and Juliet are married, but he walks into a heated fray between his friend Mercutio and Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, and inadvertently causes Mercutio to be gravely wounded as he acts rashly in his speech to Tybalt and his positioning himself so that Mercutio is harmed.
  • Retaliating with a violence, Romeo kills Tybalt because he has slain Mercutio. Afterwards, Romeo cries, "O I am fortune's fool!" as he senses how violence and passion have taken control of him.
  • Fleeing to Mantua, Romeo experiences banishment, and Juliet despairs with her lover/husband gone. When her parents think that her marrying Paris will alleviate her sorrow for Tybalt's death, Juliet reacts with impetuous emotion and flees to Friar Laurence, who gives her a potion that will make her seem dead because the priest hopes that the parents will be so overcome by the thought of losing her that when she is restored, they will allow Juliet to tell them of Romeo and accept her marriage to him.
  • As it turns out, however, the choices that Romeo, Juliet, and Friar Laurence take are hasty, passionate, unwise and fatal. Furthermore, the violence of their actions precipitates the tragedy that follows. After Friar Laurence rushes out of the catacombs for fear of being caught, Romeo finds Juliet "dead" and in despair he kills himself.
  • The passionate Juliet awakens and discovers her lover and husband dead; impetuously, she kills herself.

Certainly, in Romeo and Juliet, there is a turbulence of impetuous and unbridled passion which produces violence and death. Romeo and Juliet's choices, always formed upon passion and the violence of impetuous action are fateful choices, for they lead to the tragedy of the loss of young lives that leave their parents bereft: "All are punished."

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Romeo and Juliet

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