Fate in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Olivia Hussey
circa 1967: British actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting join hands in 'Romeo and Juliet'. Larry Ellis / Getty Images

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare explores the theme of fate by allowing the audience to be party to his characters’ destiny. In the opening lines of the play, the audience is told what is going to happen to the lovers: “a pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.” Throughout the story, the audience is put in an omnipotent, god-like position from the start encouraging them to think about fate and to what extent our actions are free.

Because we know Romeo and Juliet’s fate from the outset we are constantly hoping that they will take a different course – perhaps that Romeo will arrive just after Juliet has woken. However, their fate is sealed and we are forced to question our own destiny and ability to make free choices.

When Mercutio shouts “a plague on both your houses” in Act 3, Scene 1, we are reminded of the protagonists’ fate. This bloody scene in which characters are killed gives us a glimpse of what fate has in store, marking the beginning of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic downfall.

Fate permeates the events and speeches in the play. Is it fate that Friar Lawrence’s plan to inform Romeo of Juliet’s faked death is not realized due to unforeseen circumstances? Is it fate that Romeo kills himself when he does?

Romeo and Juliet see omens throughout the play, continually reminding the audience of their fate. Their death is a catalyst for change in Verona: the dueling families are united in their grief creating a political shift in the city.

Perhaps Romeo and Juliet were fated to love and die for the greater good of Verona.