Fate is a reoccurring theme and motif in the drama of Romeo and Juliet. It plays an important role in the play as during the Elizabethan era fate was believed to be a factor than could not be controlled and was written in the stars. Romeo and Juliet, is a drama written in the Elizabethan Era, where “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 142). It is believed that the stars are seen as a metaphor for fate and Romeo and Juliet were destined to die. This is shown throughout the play through the prologue, use of Shakespeare’s foreshadowing effects, and Romeos constant relationship with fate as the stars, “is it e’en so? Then I defy you, stars” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 331). Romeo and Juliet never did have a chance at life because their deaths are pre-determined by fate. (Jamieson, 2018)
Firstly, the prologue shows that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die and cannot control their fate. The quote, “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 142) indicates that already, we know as the audience that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die. The phrase “star-crossed” can be used to create the idea of the stars being the supernatural being that determines their fate as they are lovers who are “crossed” over the stars, therefore writing their fate to die. Another quote is used in the prologue to create the idea that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die, “The fearful passage of their death-marked love” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 142). The phrase “death-marked love” creates a powerful image that death has been engraved into their story furthermore, creating the motif of the tragic fate of Romeo and Juliet death.
Throughout the play it seen that Romeo makes references towards the lovers destiny to die showing the audience that fate controls their lives. Romeos quote, “I fear too early, for my mind misgives/Some consequence yet hanging in the stars” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 188) shows his relationship with fate as he feels anxious that something will go wrong after he falls in love with Juliet at the Capulet ball, as if he has a bad instinct feeling, foreshadowing his death. The phrase “hanging in the stars” once again connects the stars metaphorically to fate itself, further creating the image of fate being a supernatural being of the stars that will control the fate of Romeo and Juliet.
Later, when Romeo kills Tybalt, he says “O, I am fortune’s fool!” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 259). Here, Romeo is saying that “fortune” is the reason he killed Tybalt. In this case fortune is another image of the power of fate, in this, saying that it was Romeos fate to kill Tybalt further showing his strong belief for the supernatural existence of fate controlling his actions and life. However, this phrase also foreshadows Romeos death as he, himself becomes “fortunes fool” as he was destined too, to die.
Romeo also used the phrase, referenced in the question, in scene 5 when he is informed about Juliet’s apparent death “Is it e’en so? Then I defy you, stars!” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 331). Which furthermore creates the image of the stars being the beholder of Juliet’s fate to die. In this phrase he is disagreeing with the fate the stars have chosen for Juliet as he refuses to accept her destiny to die as shown be the use of the word “defy”. Here, his own death is foreshadowed as he is saying that even though fate has taken Juliet away from him, he will make sure to be with her again, unfortunately through his own death.
Romeo and Juliet’s fate is further shown in the quote by Juliet, “My grave is like to be my wedding-bed.” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 200) In this quote, Juliet is basically saying that she would rather die than not be able to marry Romeo. The irony in this quite foreshadows Juliet’s death as her grave actually does become her wedding bed. (Shmoop, 2008) Thus, showing the motif of fate as Juliet never married Romeo due to the misconceptions of their plan resulting in her death.
Juliet also predicts their death in the phrase, “O God, I have and ill-divining soul.” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 289)This means that she predicted terrible things, things such as Romeos death as she continues in the phrase “Methinks I see thee now/thou art so low/As one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 289). The imagery created by Juliet’s quote foreshadows the last time she will see Romeo later in the play, dead in her tomb (Shmoop, 2008). Thus further expressing the theme of fate.
Fate may also plays a role in that Romeo does not receive the letter from Juliet due to the plague therefore resulting in his own suicide as he thinks Juliet is dead. This is shown in the quote by Friar Laurence, “Unhappy fortune!” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 336) The word “fortune” is used again as an image of fate. This further shows how the characters of this era believed in fate, showing that Romeo and Juliet had no control over their lives and destiny played a role in their story resulting in their death, meaning that they were meant to die and there was no way for the lovers to avoid their deaths because of the strong force of fate.
However, it can also be argued that it was not by fault of fate that Romeo and Juliet committed suicide but by the fault of Friar Laurence himself. (Shmoop, 2008) It can be seen that Friar Laurence tries to blame fate instead of taking responsibility for not getting Juliet’s letter to Romeo which would have prevented the misconceptions between the lovers and possibly resulted in a different ending, that doesn’t involve suicide. Friar Laurence can be seen blaming fate in the quote, “A greater power than we can contradict/Hath thwarted our intents.” (Shakespear, 2000, p. 347) This quote shows Friar Laurence expressing that a “greater power” was present over the time of this tragedy. The phrase “greater power” further personifies fate as a supernatural being that controls their destiny, therefore, avoiding the fact that if he has of gotten Juliet’s letter to Romeo things would be different. In addition to this, I further argue that fate still played a role in this event through the occurrence of the plague which prevented Friar Laurence from getting the letter to Romeo, determining their fate.
As a conclusion, the motif of fate played a huge role in the drama, preventing Romeo and Juliet from living on to get married resulting in their destined deaths. This is shown through characters references to the stars as an image of supernatural power that controlled their fate as well as general implications in their quotes towards fate itself. Shakespeare also uses many ironic and foreshadowing phrases that point the audience in the direction of thought that Romeo and Juliet are destined to die. Thus showing that Romeo and Juliet do not have control over their lives and are at the mercy of the stars.