Why does Prince Escalus blame himself for the tragedy?

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Prince Escalus is a ruler who believes in a top-down hierarchy, as most people in Shakespeare's era did (see Tillyard's The Elizabethan World Picture). Therefore, he thinks his actions are vitally important for setting the boundaries of what is or is not acceptable in Verona.

At the beginning of the play, Escalus tells the feuding families that "three civil brawls, bred of an airy word ... have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets ..." indicating that he has allowed the fighting to get out of hand. Now he says, working to restore order, "your lives shall pay the forfeit." He essentially says he is tired of fooling around and the fighting has to stop or heads will roll.

However, Escalus, a wise and what Shakespeare might call a "meek" ruler, meaning merciful, clearly doesn't want to be passing death sentences on members of the feuding families: for instance, he banishes rather than executes Romeo for killing Tybalt. Tybalt is a hothead, but the fact that he is ready to go back to fighting a day after Escalus has made his threat to execute anyone who feuds means that Escalus's threat is probably not being taken completely seriously—and for good reason, as Escalus backtracks with Romeo one day after his strong words. Escalus may be reminiscent of Vincentio, the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure, who has to leave the city in the hands of Angelo to try to restore order after his lax rule.

Escalus says at the end of the play that he has been "winking" at the feud, indicating once again that he is aware that he has not taken a strong enough hand in stopping the fighting. In this play, however, the shock of the young lovers' deaths is enough to restore the peace.

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Soon after his arrival at the Capulet tomb with the discovery of the tragedy, Prince Escalus, on having listened to Friar Laurence's testimony, addresses the Capulets and Montagues expressing his disappointment. During his speech, he says the following:

"And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd."

It is not so much that the Prince blames himself for the tragedy, but he does take responsibility for not having done enough to stop the feud between the families. He says that he was only "winking" at their strife. This suggests that he feels that he had temporarily closed his eyes to their battle, choosing to, at most, ignore the ongoing dispute. The Prince essentially puts forward that he could have done more and that, if he had done so, the present tragedy would not have occurred.

He furthermore proposes that, because of his reasonably dismissive attitude, he had also suffered loss. Two of his kinsmen (Mercutio and Paris) have died. A firmer and much more hard-handed approach to end the quarrel between the two warring factions, might have prevented this unnecessary tragedy. 

One can sympathize with the Prince, for on the whole, he had intervened and had promised both families severe sanctions if they should indulge their whims and strike out at each other. At the beginning of the play (Act 1 scene 1) he had warned both families: 

"If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace."

And again, after both Tybalt and Mercutio were killed in battle, he banished Romeo and warned:

"But I'll amerce you with so strong a fine
That you shall all repent the loss of mine"  and

"I will be deaf to pleading and excuses;
Nor tears nor prayers shall purchase out abuses:
Therefore use none: let Romeo hence in haste,
Else, when he's found, that hour is his last."

He had clearly taken a tough stance, all to no avail.

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He says that he turned a blind eye to the severity of the quarrel between the Capulets and the Montagues.  Had he nipped it in the bud - had he imposed large fines or greater punishment on those involved or outlawed the feud altogether - he thinks he could have prevented an increase in hatred between the two families.  Thus, Romeo and Juliet may have had permission to fall in love, or at least not felt that death was their only option.

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At the very end of Romeo and Juliet, Prince Escalus casts a lot of blame around. He certainly blames the patriarchs of the Capulets and the Montagues for the death of the two young lovers.

Where be these enemies? Capulet! Montague!
See, what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.

However, the Prince is quick to include himself as being partly to blame for the tragedy. He adds the following:

And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen: all are punish'd.

Here, he is not saying that he is directly responsible for the six deaths that occur in the story, but he is taking some responsibility. He is implying that he thinks that if he had taken the families' quarrel more seriously, if he had been more proactive and assertive, the tragedy that occurred could have been avoided. He was well aware of the potential for tragedy in his city but was perhaps too merciful and too inactive.

The reader may think that the Prince is being unduly harsh on himself here. He did threaten punishment in the event that the families openly feuded in the streets of Verona. He banished Romeo after the slaying of Tybalt.

However, by including himself among the guilty, he may be grieving for his own lost relatives, Mercutio and Paris, who were caught up in the feud of the Montagues and Capulets. He may also be including himself because he is the leader of these people and ultimately shares some responsibility for all that takes place in his city.

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