Why is no one to blame for Romeo's and Juliet's deaths?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is described as a tale of two young people whose lives have been preordained by fate:

Two star-crossed lovers fall hopelessly in love despite the heated feud between their families, the Montagues and the Capulets.

In the play, audiences and readers are presented with the undeniable fact that there is nothing either of the young people could have done to change what ultimately happens to them. "Star-crossed" refers to the Elizabethans' belief in what is called the Great Chain of Being. It was a hierarchal ladder upon which each person and element was placed based on where they were created and existed in the universe; God was at the top, followed by angels, then kings, then nobles, and ultimately peasants. Each element had its place. The lion was at the head of the animal kingdom; gold was at the top of precious metals; and, the rose was the supreme flower. 

When anything occurred that disrupted the chain, the universe would be out of alignment. And until the alignment was restored, the world would be upside down. For example, in Shakespeare's Macbeth, a king has been killed, disrupting the Chain of Being (Elizabethans believed that God ordained who would be king, and if man altered that divine design, unnatural things would be happen, specifically in nature). For example, with King Duncan's murder in Macbeth, strange occurrences take place to demonstrate nature's imbalance. In Act Two, scene four, the Old Man reports of a small "mousing owl" killing the larger predatory falcon (II, iv, 12-15). Ross also describes (5-10) an eclipse that takes place. Once Macbeth is removed from the throne, the universe is restored to its balanced nature. This is a common theme in Shakespeare's plays and speaks to a belief system widely accepted at the time.

With regard to the Great Chain of Being...

...[it] was still popularly believed that the celestial order directly affected the affairs of the world.

For Romeo and Juliet, the stars are crossed against them: in other words, fate has been set in motion to make certain that whatever is done, every possible road will lead to one destination—either their separation or death, as fate (the stars) have ordained that they can never be together. In as much as the Chain of Being ordains who will be king, it also determines the sort of lives Romeo and Juliet should live. When they choose to pursue a path counter to what is preordained for them, the stars are taken out of alignment. And as is the case with Shakespeare's plays, even comedies (like A Midsummer Night's Dream), nothing will progress smoothly until the natural balance is reestablished. 

The idea of the couple's ill-fated relationship is introduced at the play's beginning:

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.

Romeo And Juliet Prologue, 1–8

The crossing of the stars may be attributed to Romeo and Juliet's refusal to cooperate with Juliet's parents' wishes for her.

Juliet's parents initially hope that Juliet will express interest in marrying Paris. When she does not, they become angered and verbally abusive. 

With the deaths of the young lovers and the others who lose their lives because of their choices (including Tybalt, Mercutio, and Paris), the imbalances in the world are seen righted and the feud between the Capulet and Montague families is ended.


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