Who or what killed Romeo and Juliet (besides themselves)? And why is this person/thing most responsible for the tragic death?
If possible, please narrow the answer down to one person or thing (e.g. romeo, fate) in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare.
If one is going to "point the finger" at any single character in "Romeo and Juliet" as a conduit to the tragic demise of Romeo and Juliet, Friar Lawrence is that character.
For one thing, Shakespeare, whose knowledge of Catholicism was adequate since his father was Roman Catholic, portrays Friar Lawrence as a flawed character: Lawrence is not a priest, but a friar, similar to a monk. In the Catholic Church, a monk is a man who has withdrawn from the world for religious motives and is bound by vows of humility, poverty, and chastity. While there are minor differences between monks and friars, the rejection of the secular world is common to both. So, Friar Lawrence is guilty of breaking his vows when he becomes so intricately involved with the secular lives of Romeo and Juliet. Knowing his sin may be why Friar Laurence runs away from the tomb in the final act rather than staying and explaining what has happened. For, if he were to assume responsibility in the relationship of Juliet and Romeo, he would also admit to violating his vows.
While Friar Lawrence's intentions may be well-meaning, as an already flawed character his short-sighted actions that influence the lives of the young couple certainly are pivotal to their deaths:
- Friar Lawrence secretly marries Romeo and Juliet, a violation of Church law that demands the posting of bans for usually six months. This action complicates the conflict of Juliet with her father, Lord Capulet, who demands that she marry Paris, a nobleman. It is because she has been made a wife by Friar Lawrence that she becomes involved in the desperate plan to escape bigamy.
- The marriage of Juliet and Romeo also complicates the conflict that Mercutio has with Tybalt. For, whereas Mercutio was merely bantering with Tybalt before Romeo came, he becomes enraged by Romeo's statement,
Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee/Doth much excuse the appertaining rage (III,i,50-53),
and draws his sword, saying,
Oh, calm, dishonorable, vile submission!(III,i,61-62).
Then, Romeo who is now Tybalt's relative because of the friar's having married him to Juliet, comes between Mercutio and Tybalt as he tries to diffuse the situation. Instead, Mercutio is mortally wounded.
- In order to prevent Juliet from committing the mortal sin of suicide, Friar Lawrence seeks a solution in providing her the vial of sleeping potion. But his secretiveness regarding the Capulet family causes them to believe that Juliet has died, so they entomb her. Then, his failure to get word to Romeo leads to Romeo's false assumption that his bride is dead and his and Juliet's consequent suicide.
Ironically, it is the poorly planned and mis-timed efforts of Friar Lawrence, who cautions the youths against impetuous acts, that effect the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
I believe the central conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues sets up the events that lead to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The secrecy of Romeo at the party where he meets Juliet; Romeo's scaling her wall to profess his love for her and to arrange a marriage, knowing he would be killed if caught by a member of her family; and the secrecy of the marriage of Romeo and Juliet all demonstrate the fear associated with their respective families' knowledge of these events and the possible consequences of this knowledge.
Secrecy led Juliet to visit the Friar to obtain the potion that would render her "as if dead", again because of her fear of her parents,and the consequences her marriage to Romeo would bring. Romeo fears telling his friends about his marriage to Juliet, as well as Tybalt, Juliet's cousin. He fears the consequences that would ensue between the families, as they are still at war. The families disregard the warnings and consequences of continued fighting made by the Prince to the Capulets and Montagues. The consequences of death or banishment mean nothing to the warring families, especially to Tybalt and Mercutio.
Because of the intense conflict and Romeo's eventual banishment from Verona, Juliet chooses to fake her death to avoid marriage to another man. Her fear of telling her family of her marriage to Romeo eventually leads to her untimely death, as well as Romeo's. Both families lose loved ones because of their unending, petty rivalry. The central conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets is the culprit.
In my mind, social conventions and familial loyalties played a very large role in killing Romeo and Juliet. Their love could have been fated, but outside of that, the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues that tore apart Verona as well as both of the lovers proved to play a role in the tragic condition of Romeo and Juliet. When social perceptions and attitudes severely impact what human beings can or cannot do, these elements play a role in their fate and predicaments. Conceivably, the relationship between Romeo and Juliet would not have been so difficult if it did not have to bear the burden social weight brought on by "divided households." If Lord Montague and Lord Capulet had been able to put aside the quarrels of their homes in the names of their children, then the relationship turns out differently. In a larger sense, if there had been some element of reason in which the leaders of the houses attempt to broker out some peace, the tragic condition of Romeo and Juliet is averted. It is very idealistic, but if we are to assess blame for the "star crossed lovers," it does not lie in the stars, as much as it lies in both houses' inability to put aside rivalries for the promising and liberating notion of peace in Verona.
It was adolescent infatuation that killed Romeo and Juliet. It is most responsible for their death because they couldn't be with one another in the eye of society and wanted to run away on a history of a few days. They couldn't see themselves living without the other and that inevitably killed them.
It was the influence of their family and friends that ultimately caused Romeo and Juliet's premature deaths. Because the families and friends did not get along, there was undo pressure placed upon Romeo and Juliet. Also Juliet's parents, and moreso her father, wanted to control her life as well by having her get married to someone whom she did not want to be with.