According to Deseret News, 69.55% of people believe in some form of fate or destiny. A study that the publication ran revealed that society likes to believe “things happen for a reason,” even if they do not believe in G-d or a higher power that put fate in place. Pop culture believes in fate as well, and the idea has been shown throughout a number of TV shows, movies, books, musicals, and songs. One powerful demonstration of fate is seen in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, where lovers from rival families kill themselves to be together. Shakespeare employed fate as an agent of doom in Romeo and Juliet, as is evident throughout the play by the chorus who introduces the characters, the characters who mention their predetermined deaths, and numerous events that can be perceived as results of a higher power.
At the very beginning of the play, the chorus that presents the prologue makes it clear that Romeo and Juliet were not destined to grow old together. When introducing the setting and the characters, the chorus says, “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/a pair of star crossed lovers take their life” (Shakespeare 1.Prologue.5/6). Literally, “star-crossed” means opposed by the stars. Even from the very start, Romeo and Juliet were not meant to be. Their love was never supposed to work, a harsh reality that the audience learns even before they meet the characters. Someone or something who lives in the stars did not want Romeo and Juliet to live “happily ever after,” and everyone knows it. From the moment the audience is introduced to them to the moment they die, Romeo and Juliet’s love was opposed by the universe.
Throughout the play, Romeo and Juliet both reference their impending doom, as if their fate has already been made clear to them. Before attending the party where he meets Juliet, Romeo reveals to his friends that he has a bad feeling about their plan. “Some consequence yet hanging in the stars/… by some vile forfeit of untimely death,” he warns (Shakespeare 1.4.13-18). The stars are not on Romeo’s side, and he knows it. His visions of death alert the audience to the fact that his death was planned out a long time ago, and there is not anything he can do about it, especially if he goes to this party. Attending the masquerade ball is just the beginning, like a shove that sends a ball rolling down a hill, destined to crash and burn. Juliet also alludes to her tragic destiny, telling Romeo, “Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low/as one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (Shakespeare 3.3.53-55). This line tells us two things, the first one being that Juliet is not very good at handing out compliments. It also tells us that Juliet is aware of her impending doom, and has been for the duration of the play. Romeo and her deaths are like a scheduled event on a calendar, because they are going to happen eventually no matter what they do to try and prevent it. Some god or universal “decision-maker” marked the lovers’ death on the calendar a long time ago, and the date is not flexible to change. When Romeo and Juliet mention their deaths, they are showing that the calendar date is visible to them, and they are aware that their deaths are looming.
There are many events throughout the play that could be perceived as accident, but are meant to be interpreted as fate by the characters and the audience. Near the end of the play, Friar Lawrence sends Friar John to deliver a letter to Romeo, warning him that Juliet is not actually dead. However, Friar John is not allowed to leave the city, as officials believe he has caught the plague. “Nor get a messenger to bring it thee/so fearful were they of infection,” Friar John cries to Friar Lawrence (Shakespeare 5.3.15/16). The skeptic of fate might say that it is just a coincidence that the town health officials decided to investigate John. It was just a stroke of luck that John’s friend was visiting the sick, and then visited John. On the other hand, the believer of fate would suggest that all of these events were planned out in advance by an all-knowing being with an agenda. Friar Lawrence would be on the believer’s side. “A greater power than we can contradict/hath thwarted our intents,” he tells Juliet after Romeo’s death (Shakespeare 5.3.158/159). Friar Lawrence makes it clear in this statement that he attributes this tragic end to Romeo’s life as the cause of fate, or rather “a greater power” that controls the lives of Romeo and Juliet. Their intents, being happiness and love, have been contradicted by a powerful opposer of their marriage. Friar Lawrence believes Romeo and Juliet’s futures are not theirs to control, but rather the determination of someone else who does not agree with what they want.
Although it may not be the case in real life, Shakespeare created the impression that Romeo and Juliet were led to their deaths by some sort of fate, destiny, or mighty power. Most of the characters believed in fate, and referenced their deaths as if they were an event on the calendar. The chorus that presented the prologue also believed in fate, and called the lovers “star-crossed”. By including fate in his play, Shakespeare could have been trying to convince people that what is meant to be will always find a way. The fact that Romeo and Juliet’s deaths eventually reunite their two families promotes the position that fate knows best, and showcases Shakespeare’s view that things will always work out to benefit the greater good. However, an opinion piece that was published in the New York Times called “Does Everything Happen For A Reason?” explored the idea that believing in destiny can cause problems in society, and can create the illusion that our world is a fair place. “The events of human life unfold in a fair and just manner only when individuals and society work hard to make this happen,” the piece reads. If fate causes so many problems, why do people still let it play a large role in their lives? Why is destiny such a prevalent theme in pop culture? Perhaps people feel comforted in thinking that they are being watched over. If an individual’s actions no longer dictate the outcome of their life, it allows them to disassociate from their poor decisions, and gives them someone else to blame when things go wrong. Additionally, adding fate to a story makes the story more interesting to an audience, because cosmic powers are involved and the piece is more dramatic. Romeo and Juliet might appeal to so many people because of the messages it holds about fate. Even if one isn’t a part of the 69.55% that believe in fate, by attributing the outcome of Romeo and Juliet to destiny, Shakespeare interested all audience members.
- Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed.Barbara A Mowat and Paul Werstine. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2011.
- Dallas, Kelsey. ‘When it comes to fate, even non-believers believe.’ Deseret News, 5 Dec. 2014. Deseret News, www.deseretnews.com/article/865617028/Study-Believers-and-atheists-alike-believe-everything-happens-for-a-reason.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2019.
- Banerjee, Konika, and Paul Bloom. ‘Does everything happen for a reason?’ The New York Times, 17 Oct. 2014. The New York Times www.nytimes.com/2014/10/19/opinion /sunday/does- everything-happen-for-a-reason.html. Accessed 21 Feb. 2019.