William Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet presents two young “star-crossed” lovers separated and victimized by fate. They lose their lives through suicide after a misleading and tragic set of circumstances because their families are immersed in an ongoing, long-term mutual hatred, which negatively impacts the lovers. The short response to the question posed is their desire to be united in death. A more thorough reply requires an examination of the circumstances and motivations surrounding the tragedy.
The themes Shakespeare introduces in this play provide the background for the ultimate deaths of the couple. Within the context of the drama, perhaps the most important theme is love. Their spiritual relationship is an ideal, pure, perfect one. They are devoted to one another and interact sensually as young, passionate partners. The couple’s marriage is not “arranged,” like those commonly forced upon others at the time or the one proposed by Juliet’s father for his daughter and Paris.
Nor is this relationship a fake relationship, like Romeo’s professed love for Rosaline. As a result, Shakespeare sets the scene and foreshadows the couple’s tragedy. Romeo and Juliet are ultimately condemned by their idealized love. It is impossible for them to realize their perfect commitment to each other in the reality of the world in which they live. For them, only death brings everlasting unity.
Hatred is another powerful motivation for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Introducing this theme, Shakespeare demonstrates how the animosity between the Montague and Capulet families directly impacts their children, leading to their deaths. Violence begets violence.
Another cause of the loving couple’s tragedy reflected in the play can be traced to prevailing attitudes of “World Order" during the Elizabethan era. Shakespeare infuses the concept of fate into the drama. It is not simply by a series of coincidences that Romeo and Juliet lose their lives. The Christian philosophy applied to the plot requires that the Montagues and Capulets be punished for their “sins.” Because of the hatred they have cultivated, “the sins of the fathers” must be avenged:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished,
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Romeo and Juliet died because fate (or Divine Power) controlled their lives. Their sacred love was destroyed by the hatred spewed by their families. In the end, through their deaths, the feud between the families is finally resolved. Love conquers hate, and the catalysts of that hate are punished with the loss of their beloved children as sacrificial lambs.