Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Why are Romeo and Juliet called "star-crossed lovers"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A pair of star=crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents" strife. (1.1.6-8)

In the Prologue of Romeo and Juliet that is spoken by the Chorus, who introduce the play to the Elizabethan audience, the term "star-crossed" would be one quite familiar to these Elizabethans. For, the stars are part of the Chain of Being. When one part of this chain is upset, as in the stars, then there is disorder and chaos. So, when the stars are taken out of their order, things go awry and fate changes the order of things.

Therefore, when Romeo and Juliet have their stars taken out of order and "crossed," they become fated lovers, lovers to whom misfortune will come. Thus, their lives contain a destiny that will prove tragic for them. In modern times, one would say that they have bad luck, such as when they meet and their families are in a feud against one another; or, when Romeo happens upon Mercutio and Tybalt fighting and he inadvertently kills Tybalt; or, when John cannot get the Friar's message to Romeo because Mantua is quarantined; or, when Friar Laurence runs out of the catacombs and Juliet is left alone to her fate.

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myl1021 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The term "star-crossed" refers to the idea that those involved will be impacted in a negative way. The term generally refers to a couple that due to some unfortunate circumstance, some uncontrollable, pre-determined fate are destined for failure.

In Romeo and Juliet, the title characters are impacted by many factors that are beyond their control, primarily caused by family feuding. The "bad-luck" that plagues the relationship from the beginning foretells a sad tale of youth, conflict and an attempt to be together despite the painful realities of their situation. In the end, the couple falls to an eternal rest; while those who love them mourn their death.

Romeo and Juliet is not the earliest example of star-crossed lovers, but it is among the most famous.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The term means that they are doomed by fate.  The whole idea of astrology (which was much more believed in back then) is that the stars have something to do with what happens to us.  Therefore, if someone is "star crossed" they have been dealt a bad hand by fate.

This has happened to Romeo and Juliet because they have had the bad luck to be born to families that hate one another.  This means that, when they fall in love, they cannot just get married like other people might.

There are numerous other instances of bad luck in the rest of the play, but this is the main one.

So -- bad luck = star crossed.

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madbohm | Student

The prologue to Romeo and Juliet refers to the two titular characters as “star-cross'd lovers” and predicts their deaths in what might today be termed a spoiler. But Shakespeare’s early reveal of the fate of the young lovers is important from a symbolic perspective. By telling us what will happen before it does Shakespeare underscores the fact that Romeo and Juliet’s ultimate death is inescapable.

In keeping with common sixteenth century beliefs, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are fated to die because of forces outside of human control. While one might read Romeo and Juliet as a tale of unfortunate misadventure, that would do it a disservice. In Shakespeare’s day (and even to some extent now) it was believed that human destiny was controlled, literally, by cosmic forces written in the stars. Thus Romeo and Juliet would fall in love and die because, not because the misfortune of a family quarrel or a misunderstanding, but because fate had dictated it. They are literally working at cross purposes to far more powerful stellar forces.

Repeatedly throughout the text Shakespeare makes reference to fate and destiny. When Mercutio is stabbed it is an occasion for anger but also for Romeo to state that:

This day's black fate on more days doth depend;
This but begins the woe, others must end.

making it clear that he has no control over the course of his life.

The fact that Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers is of primary importance to the story. Romeo and Juliet is not merely a story of a family quarrel leading to the deaths of two young people. Rather, it is about the very nature of fate itself and the fact that even when Romeo declares his defiance against that fate he can only escape the life set out for him by dying.

manutd153 | Student

what they said ^

discussion | Student

You know from the prologue that introduces the couple as "star-crossed" that the couple is doomed, hence the title "The TRAGEDY of Romeo and Juliet." By the end of the play, you see how the couple (regardless of how grand their intentions) is at the mercy of chance/fate/destiny/bad luck.