What caused the deaths of Romeo and Juliet: Fate or human action?What caused the deaths of Romeo and Juliet: Fate or human action?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would say that there are two primary forces that cause the young lovers deaths.  The first would be the configuration of Verona society.  The fact that this blood feud is there helps to establish that the sides are harshly drawn.  This translates into immediate negative consequences if one should cross them.  This helps to cause the death of Romeo and Juliet as they dared to cross a border than had been clearly established as something not to cross.  I think that within this arrangement, one can make an argument that the Prince is also to blame, to a certain extent, for the youths' deaths.  The fact of the matter is that the Prince, the ruler of the city, could not stop the blood feud between both families.  He is shown to be a fairly ineffective ruler, knowing well enough that there is tension between both families, blood had already been shed, and that the more the situation between both households is extended, the greater the damage will be.  I would hold the Prince as somewhat responsible for the death of the kids.

I would also support the idea that the kids themselves are to blame for their deaths.  Both of them knew very well the situation.  They understand that the other represents a definite political statement.  They both concoct this plan to fake death in order to be with one another.  All of these are premeditated actions in the name of love and the belief of being with one another as taking precedence before all else.  The fact is that both of them sought to be someone different than social expectations.  In such a strict and stratified configuration, this results in death, demonstrating that individuals who dare challenge such a reality often pay a brutal price.  I don't see it as a fated situation primarily because human action ends up being a defining element in the drama.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Honestly, this is such a subjective question, that everyone can't help but be "right."  The answer, quite literally, depends on whether or not the reader believes in fate at all.  I understand you are taking a clue from the "star-crossed lover" words within Shakespeare's play, ... but as you are asking the editors/teachers/students who make up eNotes, I would say that the deaths of these two lovers are caused by human action.

We can be even more literal, and say that their deaths are taken by their own hands.  They have both committed suicide, ... the worst type of human action.  I suppose we have to go there if we are going to discuss explicit human action.

And get in regards to implicit human action, we would have to point to everyone else in the play with very few exceptions:  every member of the opposing Montague/Capulet families, the parents themselves, the messenger who goes awry, the Friar, the Nurse, ... and I find it ironic that the only person who I can think of as (almost) totally innocent is Paris.  (Yikes!)

Fate?  No, ... just frail humanity.

hilahmarca eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It an also be argued that Friar Laurence and the Nurse are to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. They are the puppeteers behind the lovers' actions. The Friar marries them secretly, comes up with and helps implement the plan to fake Juliet's death so she can avoid marrying Paris and run away with Romeo. The Nurse knows Juiet's secret meetings with Romeo and sends him messages for Juliet. When the Friar and the Nurse saw that the situation was getting out of hand, they could've stopped it or told the parents. After all, Romeo and Juliet were just teengaers acting on impusle and emotion. Romeo and Juliet threatened to kill themselves anytime things didn't go their way. They were not mature enough to foresee the consequencs of their actions. The Friar, who acted as Romeo's father-figure, and the Nurse, who was Juliet's mother-figure, should've known better than to continue what was rapidly becoming a dangerous situation.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with all of the above posts.  Fate really has very little to do with this.  It is the actions and choices of a number of people that cause the tragic ending to happen.  Shakespeare does say that the lovers are star-crossed, but I do not really think they are.  Sure, they do have bad luck, but all of it comes out of situations that are of their own making.  You may have heard the saying that luck is a function of design -- that we make our own luck based on the situations we put ourselves in.  I think that this is what has happened in this story.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The tragedy is beyond that of just Romeo and Juliet, it is a tragedy of a community. With this in mind, I see that the deaths of the lovers are assisted by the whole community. Ultimately the lovers die at their own hands, but there is no fabric of support or understanding within Capulet and Montague society to guide the young people in to any other course of society.

Their deaths may not exactly be fate, but in the dysfunctional society of Verona at the time, they were certainly inevitable.  

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm with #3 and #6 on this one. Fate is a factor in name only, it seems to me, as several lines reference the fatefulness of the night Romeo and Juliet meet. More to blame is the terrible counsel this young couple get from the people who are supposed to be their wise and trusted advisors. The Nurse and the Friar are much to blame for the events as they transpired in this play, and that has nothing to do with fate.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Although Shakespeare describes Romeo and Juliet as "star-crossed" that does not mean they had no control over their own actions. They chose to marry in secret. Romeo chose to kill Tybalt. Juliet chose to fake her death. Although society forced their hands, the choice was theirs.
rachelmaron | Student

I think the only way you can make a case for "fate" as the cause of the lovers' deaths is if you believe that the rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues is, itself, somehow fated. Ultimately, it was this rivalry that caused the deaths.

I would steer away from the "fate" interpretation, though; it's more in Greek tragedies that you see the idea of fate and destiny (and the notion that we shouldn't try to oppose them). Shakespearean tragedy is a different animal entirely, one where tragedy is defined by tragic human flaw.

So what's the flaw in the case of Romeo and Juliet? I would say the flaw IS taking the attitude of seeing the rivalry as fate, or as something nobody could oppose or do anything to stop. Every action that brought about the deaths was, essentially, someone caving to the power of the rivalry by fearing it (the friar and the nurse), egging it on (Mercutio) or, in the case of the Prince's decision to banish Romeo, refusing to believe that either Romeo or Benvolio could have been willing to let the rivalry go and move on from it.