Who is to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?  

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mercut1469 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is an often-considered question and you should definitely check out the link below for further discussion. I consider myself somewhat biased in this analysis because I always felt as though Juliet portrayed such maturity and loyalty that she did not deserve to be mixed up with such a childish young man as Romeo. She was only thirteen years old, yet the adults around her and the man she chose to love let her down. In my opinion, then (and it simply comes down to a subjective analysis), Romeo is most at fault for three reasons stemming from his inability to listen to the truth.

First, he should have listened to himself. In Act I, Scene 4 after Mercutio's narcissistic Queen Mab speech, Romeo tells the audience in an aside that he feels whatever comes next (he's on his way to Capulet's party) will lead to his death. He says,

I fear too early, for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despisèd life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
Romeo is right. He will meet Juliet at the party and set in motion a tragic sequence of events. He does have, however, two more chances to listen and act accordingly.
In Act II, Scene 2, the balcony scene, Juliet urges Romeo to go home and think about things before going any further. She thinks she has been too forward and their love has moved too quickly. She says,
Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, 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.
Of course Romeo doesn't listen to her and jumps into his proposal of marriage. Juliet is too smitten not to agree. She is in love, probably for the first time in her life, and is easily led. Romeo has one more chance to listen as he seeks out Friar Laurence.
Three times Friar Laurence advises Romeo to slow down and not get carried away by his emotions. In Act II, Scene 3, after he has unwisely agreed to marry Romeo and Juliet, the Friar says,
Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.
The Friar sends mixed messages but is again pleading with Romeo for patience during the marriage scene, Act II, Scene 6. He says,
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.
Romeo is deaf to the Friar's counsel. He is impetuous and carried away by his love for Juliet.
Romeo shows his true lack of maturity after the violence in Act III, Scene 1. After killing Tybalt, he hides at the Friar's cell and is distraught when he is told he has been banished. He whines and throws himself on the floor until Friar Laurence calms him down. The Friar wants Romeo to be patient, go into exile, let things get back to normal and then allow the Friar to announce the marriage. The Friar believes that all will end happily if Romeo can only show some resolve. He says in Act III, Scene 3,
But look thou stay not till the watch be set,
For then thou canst not pass to Mantua,
Where thou shalt live till we can find a time
To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,
Beg pardon of the Prince, and call thee back
With twenty hundred thousand times more joy
Than thou went’st forth in lamentation.
The Friar's good intentions are dashed in the end. His plot for Juliet to fake her death is foiled by circumstance (Friar John is delayed) and Romeo's typically emotional response to hearing the news of Juliet's death.
Romeo had three chances to step back, analyze the situation and act as an adult. He should have heeded his instincts and listened to his own misgivings about his future. He could have listened to Juliet and not rushed into marriage in the heat of his infatuation for her. Finally, he should have listened to the Friar and loved "moderately." Instead, he acted without thinking throughout the course of the drama, and it cost both his life and Juliet's.