What is the role of fate in the play Romeo and Juliet?

In Romeo and Juliet, fate plays a huge role in bringing the two titular characters together, and it plays an equally huge role in separating them again.

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Fate plays an enormous role in Romeo and Juliet. In fact, it's almost like a character in its own right. Fate has conspired to ensure that that Romeo and Juliet, these two young people from warring families will meet, fall in love, and get married.

Sadly, fate is...

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Fate plays an enormous role in Romeo and Juliet. In fact, it's almost like a character in its own right. Fate has conspired to ensure that that Romeo and Juliet, these two young people from warring families will meet, fall in love, and get married.

Sadly, fate is also responsible for their deaths. At one point in the play, Romeo expresses his exasperation at being “fortune's fool”, implying strongly that he is the mere plaything of fate. How else to account for his extraordinary bad luck, whose latest manifestation is his killing of Tybalt in a duel?

And in the Prologue, Romeo and Juliet are described as “star-crossed lovers,” meaning that the stars are working against them and their love. In Shakespeare's day, it was widely believed that the course of one's life was determined by the position and movement of the stars. Astrology was very popular at that time, and people would often consult astrologers in the hope of finding out what fate had set down for them by the stars.

We don't need an astrologer to tell us what fate lies in store for Romeo and Juliet; it's all there in the Prologue. The line “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life” indicates, furthermore, that the precise manner of their deaths was also fated.

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In the prologue that precedes act 1 the audience is straight away made aware that fate will play a huge role in the play. We are told that "from forth the fatal loins" of the Capulets and Montagues there is born "a pair of star-crossed lovers." The word "fatal" has two meanings here. First, it suggests death, and second, it suggests fate. The implication is that from these two families there has been born two people who were fated to become "lovers" but also fated to die. These lovers are also described as "star-crossed," which again implies that they were fated to love one another. At this time, in the Jacobean period, many people believed that one's fate was determined by the position of the stars on the day of one's birth.

In act 3, scene 5, when Juliet is watching Romeo climb down from her balcony, she imagines that she sees Romeo "as one dead in the bottom of a tomb." This vision is one of several indications that fate will not allow Romeo and Juliet to be together for very long. Juliet's vision is indeed prophetic, as this is the last time she will ever see Romeo alive.

Another indication in the play that Romeo and Juliet's relationship is fated to end in tragedy can be found when Friar Laurence compares their relationship to "fire and powder." In act 2, scene 6, for example, Friar Laurence warns Romeo and Juliet that their love is "like fire and powder." The image conveyed here is of a lit trail of gunpowder. The audience can imagine for themselves the inevitable explosion at the end of that trail. This image serves to remind the audience that just as a lit trail of gunpowder will inevitably end with an explosion, so too will Romeo and Juliet's relationship end in tragedy.

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Fate, or the belief that a power greater than man guides and controls the lives of men, plays a tremendous role in Romeo and Juliet, in fact, it is infused throughout the play, to the point that the characters are even aware of it, seeing omens in many situations.  Fate works in all aspects of the lovers’ relationship from start with Romeo falling instantly in love with Juliet at a party he never should have attended in an attempt to see another girl.  Juliet is the daughter of the enemy of his family, yet love blooms instantly in spite of the feud; here is an excellent example of fate intervening in the relationship.  Romeo pursues Juliet quickly and relentlessly, driven by love (or lust whichever is more likely in a teenage boy of his age) to propose marriage, and Friar Laurence’s reluctant agreement to perform the ceremony, once again demonstrate fate.  Perhaps the saddest, yet best example of fate in the drama occurs at the end when Romeo misses Balthasar, who carries news of Friar Laurence’s plan and Juliet’s feigned death, only to arrive and kill himself in a cruel twist of fate because he thinks she is dead only moments before she awakens and kills herself because he is now dead.  The whole play is one huge example of how cruel fate can be and how events, small and large, work together to make or break any given event, even a potentially great love, such as that of Romeo and Juliet.  Maybe it all happened to teach the feuding families a lesson. 

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Well you could say that fate played a very big role in Romeo and Juliet. It was fate that Romeo decided to crash Juliet's party and that she was the woman he fell in love with. SHakespeare plays with the idea of fate/fortune and how it ultimatly rules one. This is obvious in this quote, that Juliet says after Romeo leaves. In the end, she is saying, everything is left up to fortune.

"O fortune, fortune! all men call thee fickle:
If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him
That is renown'd for faith? Be fickle, fortune;
For then, I hope, thou wilt not keep him long
But send him back"
(V, ii)

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Perhaps "fate" is contrasted with "faith" to reveal something about the nature of the love between Romeo and Juliet. As Jamie notes, Juliet addresses fate, or fortune asking for help:

O Fortune, Fortune, all men call thee fickle;
If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him
That is renown'd for faith? Be fickle, Fortune:
For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long,
But send him back.

I wonder whether an Elizabethan audience might see this as yet another example of misplaced faith. If Juliet had as much faith as her love, would she not request help from God or even Romeo's god, Love? This passage seems to suggest that she thinks Fate (and not Love) is in control of their lives. Perhaps in devoting themselves to one another, and making each other the gods of their idolatry, they have become pagan and subject to pagan gods and pagan rules (one of which is that fickle fortune's wheel will turn).

If this is the case, then the "star-crossed lovers" are star-crossed in every sense of the word. Their love has blinded them and left them vulnerable.

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References to "fortune" and the "stars" throughout the play see Romeo and Juliet as helpless victims of fate. The Prologue to Act I refers to them as "star-crossed lovers". Other examples include Romeo's inability to stop the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt and Friar John's delay in being able to get the Friar's message to Romeo. Even the way the couple meets could be considered fate. Romeo crashes the Capulet party to see Rosaline; instead, he meets and falls in love with Juliet.

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Fate is one of the predominant themes of the play. As the analysis here at eNotes indicates, Shakespeare places relies heavily on the "Elizabethan concept of Fortune or Fate."

For example, "upon learning of Mercutio's death, Romeo exclaims, "This day's black fate on more days doth depend, / This but begins the woe others must end" (III.i.119-120). In Act III, scene v, Juliet addresses Fortune (or Fate) and implores its aid.

O Fortune, Fortune, all men call thee fickle;
If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him
That is renown'd for faith? Be fickle, Fortune:
For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long,
But send him back.
(ll.60-64).

Fortune (or fate) is fickle: it is improbable that so perfectly matched a couple should be barred by a senseless family conflict (the cause of which is never mentioned and cannot be recalled); it is only through mischance that Romeo takes his own life in the mistaken belief that his love is dead, causing her to follow suit."

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