Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Fate and Free Will

By William Shakespeare

Fate and Free Will

Prologue

                                 Enter Chorus
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 misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. (Prologue.1-14)

Just before Romeo heads over to the Capulet ball, where he falls in love with and meets (in that order) Juliet, he tells us that he has a funny feeling—like something "hanging in the stars" (something destined to happen) will get moving. Uh-oh. We have a feeling, too—a bad feeling.

Act 1, Scene 4
Romeo

ROMEO
I fear, too early, for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels, and expire the term
Of a despisèd life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
(1.4.113-118)

Just before Romeo heads over to the Capulet ball, where he falls in love with and meets (in that order) Juliet, he tells us that he has a funny felling – he fears that something "hanging in the stars" (something destined to happen) will be set in motion that night. Romeo's premonition seems to be in keeping with what the Chorus tells us in the Prologue (see above quote).

Act 1, Scene 5
Juliet

JULIET (gesturing towards Romeo)
What's he that follows here, that would not dance?
NURSE
I know not.
JULIET
Go ask his name. The Nurse goes. If he be marrièd.
My grave is like to be my wedding bed.
(1.5.146-149)

Juliet foreshadows her own death – her grave does become her wedding bed.

Act 3, Scene 1
Romeo

ROMEO
O, I am fortune's fool!
(3.1.142)

Immediately after he kills Tybalt in a duel, Romeo declares he is "fortune's fool." This seems to suggest that fate or "fortune" is responsible for Tybalt's death, not Romeo. But, really? Should we let Romeo off the hook for fighting and killing Tybalt, or should we hold Romeo responsible for his actions? Isn't this a little like a teenager yelling that everyone hates him and slamming his bedroom door?

Act 3, Scene 5
Juliet

JULIET
O, think'st thou we shall ever meet again?

ROMEO
I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve
For sweet discourses in our time to come.

JULIET
O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art below,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.
Either my eyesight fails or thou look'st pale.
(3.5.51-57)

When Juliet says she has "an ill-diving soul," she means that she has a premonition of Romeo's death. This, of course, foreshadows how she will see Romeo for the last time: with her in her tomb (5.3). (Tip: try thinking positive thoughts, Jules!)

Act 5, Scene 1
Romeo

ROMEO
Is it e'en so?—Then I defy you, stars!—
(5.1.25)

When Romeo hears from Balthasar that Juliet is dead (well, fake-dead), he declares "I defy you, stars!" True, he does have a plan to make sure that he and Juliet end up together despite the stars. Too bad it involves suicide.

Act 5, Scene 2
Friar Laurence

FRIAR LAURENCE
Who bare my letter, then, to Romeo?

FRIAR JOHN
I could not send it—here it is again—
                                                        Returning the letter. 
Nor get a messenger to bring it thee,
So fearful were they of infection.

FRIAR LAURENCE
Unhappy fortune!
(5.2.13-17)

Friar Laurence blames "unhappy fortune" for preventing Romeo from receiving a letter explaining that Juliet isn't really dead. (We usually blame AT&T, but that's just us.)

Act 5, Scene 3
Romeo

ROMEO (to Juliet in the tomb)
I still will stay with thee
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again. Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chambermaids. O, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh!
(5.3.106-112)

Poor, dumb Romeo. He's convinced that he'll one-up the "stars" by killing himself, thus ensuring that he spends 4EVA with Juliet. But, in fact, taking fate into his own hands just means he ends up killing himself for nothing—and ensuring that Juliet dies for hear. If you're looking for textual evidence that Romeo brings about his own "fate" (by making a decision (of his own free will) to kill himself, then this is the passage for you.

Friar Laurence

FRIAR LAURENCE
Romeo! O, pale! Who else? What, Paris too?
And steeped in blood? Ah, what an unkind hour
Is guilty of this lamentable chance!
(5.3.148-151)

There's a lot of finger-pointing in Romeo and Juliet, but we get the feeling that none of the fingers are pointed in the right direction. Here, instead of, you know, taking some of the blame on himself, Friar Laurence just blames "fate."

FRIAR LAURENCE
I hear some noise.—Lady, come from that nest
Of death, contagion, and unnatural sleep.
A greater power than we can contradict
Hath thwarted our intents.
(5.3.156-159)

When Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead, the Friar tells Juliet that a "higher power"—either God or fate—has ruined their plans. Hm. It seems like the Friar doesn't want to take any responsibility for the part he played in the couple's tragedy. After all, Friar Laurence (a grown man who ought to know better) is the one who (1) facilitated the secret marriage, and then (2) came up with the idea for Juliet to drink the sleeping potion that would make everyone think she was dead. We're pretty sure that, when the Prince says that some will be "punished," he's looking straight at this guy.

Juliet

JULIET
O Fortune, Fortune! All men call thee fickle.
If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him
That is renowned for faith? Be fickle, Fortune.
For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long,
But send him back.
(3.5.60-64)

Juliet feels pretty helpless when she says goodbye to her new husband, Romeo, after the couple's one and only night together. Fortune (or Dame Fortuna, goddess of fortune and fate) is often portrayed as a "fickle" (unpredictable and unreliable) goddess because she could raise men up to great heights or cast them down at any moment with the spin of her wheel (a.k.a. the wheel of fortune). Juliet begs "fortune" to be kind to Romeo and reasons that since Romeo is so "faith[ful]" (as in not fickle or unreliable), then "fickle" fortune should want nothing to do with him. Sure—seems like sound logic to us.