What impact does Juliet's behaviour have upon the outcome of the play Romeo and Juliet?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, the main character and narrator, Pip, remarks after a momentous day in his life, 

That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life....Pause, you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, or thorns or flowers that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.

Such is, indeed, the case in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. For, in Act II, Scene 2--the famous balcony scene--Juliet speaks with the enamored Romeo who swears his love by "yonder blessed moon," but Juliet cautions him against this oath by such an "inconstant moon" that continually changes its "orb."  As Romeo asks by what, then, he should swear his love, Juliet asks him to swear not because she is concerned that his action is too precipitative, 

It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden; 
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be 
Ere one can say ‘It lightens.’ Sweet, good night! 
This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, 
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. (2.2.124-128)

However, she suddenly changes her mind, saying that if his love is honorable, she will marry him and "follow...[her] lord throughout the world." This impulsive decision of Juliet's becomes the catalyst of the "long chain of iron and thorns" that follow in the drama:

  • Because she marries Romeo so hastily and secretly, Juliet inadvertently becomes somewhat responsible for Romeo's attempt to intervene in the quarrel between her cousin Tybalt and Mercutio in Act III, a quarrel that ends with Romeo's impulsive slaying of Tybalt and his consequent banishment from Verona.
  • Then, because she is already married to Romeo, she cannot marry Paris to whom her father has promised Juliet. Consequently, she causes the fierce argument between her father and herself that leads to her dilemma.
  • Because she has secretly married a Montague, Juliet fears telling her father of this marriage; yet, she cannot comply with his wish that she marry Paris.  In desperation she runs to Friar Laurence, exclaiming that she will kill herself.
  • Friar Laurence devises a plan to solve this dilemma; he gives Juliet a sleeping potion that will make her mimic death so that when Juliet becomes conscious again, her parents will be so elated that Juliet's marriage to Romeo will become acceptable to them.
  • Tragically, however, the plague in Mantua prevents Romeo's learning that Juliet is not really dead.  Instead, he is so grieved by her death that he wishes to commit suicide and buys poison.
  • When Romeo comes to Juliet's tomb, she is not yet conscious; therefore, he kills himself. She then awakens only to find him dead; in despair, she, too, commits suicide.

Truly, Juliet's impulsive acceptance of Romeo's marriage proposal in the garden balcony scene sets in motion the fateful results of the play.  Thus, her behavior greatly affects the actions and consequences of the drama, spurring it to its tragic end.