Explain how Shakespeare explores the idea of ‘fate’ in Romeo and Juliet through his use of language and/or literary devices.
THE FATE OF ROMEO AND JULIET through literacy/language devices.
Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare is acutely significant to literature today as it signified the beginning of the theme of fate and love at first sight. Fate is the idea that no matter what, someones or somethings future will be pre-determined by an unavoidable force. In Elizabethan society it was very much believed that all actions were under control by higher powers such as god and the stars. To emphasise the impact of fate in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has used a variety of different language and literacy devices. He has used dramatic irony, the idea of coincidences (acts of god) and dreams to portray that the ‘two star-crossed lovers’ have no control over their own fate. The ‘star-crossed’ expresses that their relationship will be influenced with bad luck by these higher powers. Fate is inescapable for Romeo and Juliet.
The theme of fate in Romeo and Juliet is portrayed by the idea of a higher power such as god controlling the ‘coincidences’ that occur. In Shakespearian time the idea of god controlling and making everything happen for a reason was common knowledge as majority of people were religious. Shakespeare uses the plot and it’s ‘acts of god’ to create the inevitable fate Romeo and Juliet face. In the script Friah John quotes “Where the infectious pestilence did reign, seal’d up the doors, and would not let us forth,”, he is referring to the plague and how he was quarantined in a house for caution. This is when Friah John was on his way to deliver the letter containing the plan behind Juliet’s fake death to Romeo. The plague and any kind of sickness was believed to be an act of God, therefore it was merely fate that Romeo did not receive the letter. Friah Lawrence’s reaction, ” The letter was not nice but full of charge, of dear import, and the neglecting it may do much danger.”, tells us that the letter was a vital piece to Romeo and Juliet’s future that now will be endangered. A further example of how their fate was controlled by the acts of god was in the early part of the script. Capulet’s servant cannot read and asks Romeo (the first person he sees) “God gi’ god-den. I pray, sir can you read?”, Romeo responds with ” Ay, mine own fortune in my misery.”. It was coincidence that Romeo was the first person the servant met who could read. The meaning behind Romeo’s reply is that although he lucky to be able to read, in his case he is deeply depressed about Rosaline. I think it is possible that Romeo also meant that when asked if he could ‘read’, he answered as if he could read his fate/fortune which is heartache(and death). Shakespeare wanted to illustrate that God’s uncontrollable forces had set up the whole scenario.
Fate is portrayed by Shakespeare in his use of dreams, prophecies and premonitions in the play. Shakespeare has used multiple examples of characters dreaming and/or prophesying Romeo and Juliet’s fate. The idea of dreams is used especially because in that time it was thought that dreams were a sign of real events that were to occur/ have occurred. The use of these premonitions and such is another of showing us that they have no control over their fates and that although they don’t think much of what they’re saying, they’re sub-consciously foreseeing their future. Before the Capulet’s ball Romeo quotes “I fear too early, for my mind misgives some consequences yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin his fearful date.”. Romeo has doubts about how this ball will affect his fate (‘hanging in the stars’) and how such a night could be the start of his death (‘fearful date’), this premonition is correct as this is night he meets Juliet. Later in the play Romeo once again speaks of his future, “If I may trust the flattering truths of sleep, my dreams presage some joyful news at hand…I dreamt my lady came and found me dead…And breathed with such life with kisses in my lips. That I revived and was an emperor.”. This dream is accurate as he dreams of good news coming; Juliet’s fake death and plan (but does not make it), Juliet does in fact wake up to find him dead and does kiss his lips before killing herself.It is ironic that when he found her ‘dead’ he kissed her to then take poison and die, so in a way she breathed not life but death into him. Because it is impossible that someone could be revived from the dead, this is another reference to heaven (emperor) and their inexorable death.
Dramatic irony is a technique used by Shakespeare to make the audience understand the inevitable force of fate and feel powerless as we know that more than what the characters do yet we can do nothing about it. The dramatic irony is created in Romeo and Juliet by the prologue as it tells us the fate that awaits the two ‘star-crossed’ lovers, “a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life…”. This is so when we read the play we find it ironic that a character would blindly say their fate without knowledge. “I’ll go to the Friah to know his remedy, if all else fail, myself have the power to die.”, a quote by Juliet when she fears of marrying Paris. Juliet is stating that if Friah Lawrence cannot help her be with Romeo and get out of marrying Paris, that she will have the mean to kill her self. The dramatic irony here is that she is telling her self her future without knowing as she does in fact kill her self when she realises Romeo is dead. Furthermore, Juliet doesn’t really have the ‘power’ to kill herself as it was destined to happen and is fate. The famous line by Romeo “I defy you stars,”, he is screaming at fate (stars) and its cruel ways after he hears of Juliet’s ‘death’. The reference to stars is because it was thought that the stars influenced fate. To defy means to rebel against, so in this quote he is referring to his suicide that will ‘defy’ fate. The irony is that his way of rebelling against fate (his suicide) is actually fulfilling the destiny that lies ahead.
Shakespeare’s use of language and literacy devices has made it extremely clear that Romeo and Juliet are both under fate’s control. Once explained it is obvious that he has continued to portray Romeo and Juliet as puppets for fate, with no control over their actions. All of the events that took place in the play triggered the predestined fate of both Romeo and Juliet’s suicide, this created a domino structure throughout the entire play. The idea that we as people have no control over our fate is questionable in todays society yet it is obvious why in a time such as Elizabethan it would be themed as influential. It suggests that we are bound to a certain future and that nothing we do do can exceed what was originally destined for us. We should live by our actions and not rely on fate to guide us.