To what degree are Romeo and Juliet responsible for their own misfortune?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tragedy befalls those who do not accept responsibility for their actions, and Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet certainly suffer the consequences for their irresponsibility.

  • When Romeo secretly attends the party for Juliet, he acts irresponsibly, placing himself in a dangerous situation of encountering his foes.  Juliet realizes this, also, when she inquires of the Nurse his name. In dismay, she remarks,

My only love, sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me
That I must love a loathed enemy. (1.5.147-150)

  • Her instincts have been to act cautiously,--

Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract to-night.
It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden;
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be(2.2.122-125)

And even Romeo says he is "afeard"; nevertheless, in the impulsiveness of youth, Romeo and Juliet declare their passions for each other, and rush to be married.

When they arrive at his cell, Friar Laurence declares, "These violent delights have violent ends"(2.6.9), and the passions of Romeo and Juliet override their sense of security and the two marry secretly at the cell of Friar Laurence.  In this impassioned state, Romeo then enters the streets of Verona only to encounter a heated Mercutio arguing with Tybalt, Juliet's cousin.  When Romeo's offer for conciliation is rejected by the fiery Tybalt, who reaches around Romeo to stab Mercutio, Romeo becomes incensed and slays Tybalt, causing his banishment from Verona.

This impulsive act by Romeo sets in motion a series of tragic happenings:

  1. Because Juliet is so disconsolate over the loss of both her beloved cousin and her husband, her parents seek to bring happiness to their family by having her marry Paris. But, of course, Juliet cannot marry anyone since Romeo is her spouse.
  2. With the announcement that she is to marry Paris, Juliet refuses her parents, causing strife. Now in a quandary, Juliet rushes to the cell of Friar Laurence for his advice.  He suggests that she take a potion which will makes her appear to be dead.  Doing so will give Juliet some time, during which the friar hopes to ameliorate difficulties when Juliet "returns" to life. 
  3. The friar does not get his message to Romeo in time because Mantua is under quarantine. Consequently, when Romeo's servant John arrives, he reports that Juliet has died and is buried in the crypt.
  4. Believing his servant, Romeo rushes out in order to procure poison so that he can die, too, because he cannot live without Juliet.  He does not try to contact Friar Laurence, who can tell him the true state of Juliet.
  5. After impulsively killing Paris who enters the catacombs, Romeo finds Juliet still in her self-imposed trance.  Assuming that she is somehow dead, he swallows the poison he has bought.
  6. Then, Friar Laurence enters, only to find Juliet awakening. But, when he hears the guards, the fearful friar tells Juliet, "...I dare no longer stay"; unfortunately, he leaves Juliet alone to discover Romeo. After seeing her beloved dead, Juliet impulsively takes her own life rather than considering her parents' anxieties all this time and going to them.

Certainly, the two "star-crossed lovers" do not act responsibly as they make rash judgments without considering the outcomes of their decisions, and the consequences of such impulsive behavior are tragic.

gazza1771 | Student

romeo and juliet are responsible for their own deaths due to their tragic flaws, for romeo this is over passionate emotions in love and hate as well as his youthful impertuosity and for juliet this is her extreme loyalty whether it be to her family or Romeo, Romeo's fatal flaws mean that he is too quick to act and kills Paris and Tybalt as he lets his emotions get the better of him this results in his banishment form verona to manchua. this brings juliets fatal flaw which is extreme loyalty, this causes her to go along with the friars overcomplicaed plan and take the poison that made her appear dead, when Romeo hears of this he immediatly goes back to verona to see for himself that juliet is dead. On seeing Juliets dead body Romeo drinks a deadly poison to be with his beloved wife, literally minutes later juliet wakes and sees her husbands dead body and thus decides to kill herself to be with her beloved husband. Also Aristotles law of tragic theory come in to play as the two lovers where destined to die "star-crossed lovers".

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Romeo and Juliet

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