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Tragedy Causes in Romeo and Juliet Play

By: Sadeer Nasser

Tragedy is mainly two types, Modern tragedy and Greek tragedy. Greek tragedy is down to the idea of fate and the gods. A hero defies the gods, often due to fatal flaws which is the reason behind his downfall. In Shakespeare plays, tragedy is also identified as a story that ends unhappily due to the fall of the protagonist, which is the tragic hero. Romeo and Juliet is a lot related to the Greek tragedy with the characters having many fatal flaws such as rivalry and youth as well as cultural flaws.
Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare around 1595. This play has been written among many other tragedies by Shakespeare such as, "Macbeth" and "Hamlet". However Romeo and Juliet is one of the most tragic Shakespeareans plays. In Shakespeare's other tragedies like "Macbeth" and "Hamlet", although those characters are fated to die, this type of tragedy is different, where Romeo and Juliet is the domestic type of tragedy, despite the fact that other characters influence the result of the final tragedy, however only few people are affected. Whereas, in the plays "Macbeth" and "Hamlet", the whole is affected by the outcome due to the political type of tragedy.
Tragedy has been used by Shakespeare to break down and end the rivalry and feud between the two families; Capulets and Montagues and also to bring an end to the play. Many tragedies have been presented in the play including Paris, Mercutio, Tybalt and the death of Romeo, Juliet and Lady Montague. These figures all lead on to each other, each one building up and abetting the next death or tragedy. Tragedies could have been causes for the following reasons; authority, patriarchy, codes of honour, rivalry, masculinity, rebellion, ambition and fate.
From the very beginning of the play, fate was constantly referred to by Shakespeare, starting with the prologue. "A pair of star crossed lovers take their life" here Shakespeare hints that Romeo and Juliet were meant to die together because it was their destiny. Therefore this is what fate had planned for their lives, as it was crossed through the stars. So the audience recognise even further that the tragic death of Romeo and Juliet was something which was definitely happening; inevitable. Shakespeare's job to convince the audience to believe that what has happened in the play was down to fate was easy. As the audience at that point of time would have believed in fate.
Destiny did not just made Romeo and Juliet to be with each other when were vivid, But also made them to be with each other after death. The fated death of Romeo and Juliet was revealed from the opening of the play. Shakespeare tried to deliver to us the idea that to be able to die of destiny you have to believe in destiny; Romeo and Juliet and an Elizabethan audience would have believed in destiny without any problem and so it would have been a persuasive reason to the audience for the tragic end. Romeo was shown to believe in fate through, the stars saying this just before leaving for the Capulet ball "I fear to early for my mind misgives, some consequences yet hanging in the stars shall bitterly begin this fearful date". Romeo knew that his actions were not under his control but the stars "he that hath steerage over my course, direct my sail". Romeo believes that fate was behind making his decisions.
Romeo recognised that fate was controlling his life, therefore he tried and defy and go against it but this has just made the situation even worse leading to the tragic end. The use of fate by Shakespeare was central to the progress of the play and its outcome, an example could be Romeo banishment and Paris' engagement to Juliet. 21st century audience being presented with the idea of fate would have found it nearly impossible to believe in it this is because modern society is a lot faster to blame people compared with an Elizabethan audience which would have accepted the idea without so many problems. Both a modern and an Elizabethan audience would, despite the knowledge of the plays outcome, be interested in the whole play and keep watching, Shakespeare uses the audiences knowledge as a dramatic device.
Ambition was crucial in leading to the tragic death of Romeo and Juliet. Friar Lawrence could be an example of ambitious person. He believed that by marrying the lovers the feud would stop. "in one respect ill thy assistant be; for this alliance may so happy prove, to turn your households rancour too pure love" he is alleging that the only reason he is marrying the two is to bring an end to the rivalry between the two blooded-hands families, but unfortunately because of destiny his plan did not work the way he was expecting and instead causing fighting. The Friars decision to marry Romeo and Juliet was well meaning but indicates his naivety. The Friar was really ambitious that he persuaded Juliet so quickly to agree her to take the sleepy potion and make her fake death, by doing this The Friar wanted to reverse nature to heal the feud.
The Friar was the kind of man who always looked to do positive, but usually his plans didn't work out till the end this could be due to fate. His accelerated and naïve decision making leads the play to many unpredicted directions, and usually this will lead for the worse. Unpredicted direction of events would help to keep the audience attracted as well as captivated in the play as they had an idea of what was coming next, however as the play develops they start to recognise things are not all as they seem or should work. Shakespeare has used these techniques to build up tension and make scenes more dramatic.
Romeo and Juliet both rebel against their families and the rivalry between them by marring one another. The play has presented several examples of adolescent rebellion. Juliet disobeys her father by refusing to marry Paris which makes her seem guilty as she live in patriarchy society. Juliet then makes it even worse for herself as rebels against her father by not marrying Paris and. During the scene Juliet swears that she "will not marry yet" she then adds "shall be Romeo" by doing this, she is now not only refuses to obey her parents orders, but reveals her secret and as well as showing her independence and. Both rebel against their parents by making and carrying on with their association with each other. Juliet not only refuses her parents orders, but also attempts to make Romeo to rebel against his identity "deny thy father and refuse thy name". Juliet then tries to convince Romeo that he has to forget all about his family name and his need to follow codes of honour so that they both can be together living peacefully. Romeo would find this hard to do as he belonged to the Elizabethan society and so he needs to put so pressure on himself to associate with their family's enemy; the Capulets.
Romeo and Juliet are forced to be secretive and hasty with decision making and which then leads them marrying so quickly which results in many other disastrous events including their tragic death. Romeo and Juliet are forced again to keep their relationship secret due to the feud and rivalry between the two families. The rivalry plays a massive part in the play and results to violence and death. The role of the rivalry between the two families was revealed to the audience through the prologue at the very beginning of the play. "the fearful passage of their death marked love and the continuance of their parents rage, which but their children end, naught could remove, is now the two hours traffic of our stage". This shows us that the play is much linked to the development of Romeo and Juliet's love and feud between both families. The violence was at small extent at first but increased as the play progressed, This is mainly because of Romeo and Juliet's marriage. Ongoing violence starts when Tybalt murders Mercutio, Romeo is inflamed by the death of his best friend and challenges Tybalt saying "Mercutio's soul is but a little way above our heads, staying for there to keep him company, either thou or I or both must go with him" Romeo took the revenge by killing Tybalt which leads to his banishment by the Prince resulting to the misunderstanding of Juliet's fake death.
The violence that occurred throughout the play was mainly because of the way Elizabethan society believed. As they believed that men should live up to the codes of honour that existed at that point of time. This shown as another important tragedy in the play as the majority of the deaths that occur are committed by characters who believe in this thought. As we clearly see when Tybalt says "now by the stock and honour of my kin, to strike him dead I hold it not a sin". Tybalt believed that there is no wrong with killing someone for revenge as he is being loyal to his family and following his codes of honour. Romeo and Juliet are much influenced in the way they behave and live as they belong to the patriarchal society which they live in. If the society was more open, then Juliet would not have to keep her marriage to Romeo secretive and so avoid the tragic end.
Juliet was put in very sensitive and vulnerable position because of the way the Elizabethan society worked. Juliet caused her father to even put her in more difficult situation as she refuses to marry Paris, this also made her father unhappy, as we see in this example "hang thee young baggage, disobedient wretch! I tell the what: get thee to church a Thursday or never more look me in the face. Speak not reply not, do not answer me". Here from the point of an Elizabethan society, Juliet would have seemed the one who was guilty and terribly wrong, where her father as right and fair this is because their society was much controlled by the male. As the society was patriarchal then the authoritative figures should have been men. And so this forced and left Romeo and Juliet with disastrous choices. Which led them to choose their freedom; death.
The Prince used his authority to do what he thinks was best for Verona, but unfortunately these choices do not help Romeo and Juliet. An example is when the Prince decided to banish Romeo, where he thought such a procedure will calm the aggressive situation between Montagues and Capulets and also to give mercy to Romeo. However the audience recognise that will be one of the events that will lead to tragic outcome. As it results in the misunderstanding of Juliet's fake death. Although of what he did with deliberation or recognition, when Romeo and Juliet come to their end he appoints at the two families as being responsible for the outcome, and largely blames them. The Prince authority was used as a technique by Shakespeare to dramatise the play. Shakespeare did that by adding limit to the authority that the Prince can use, the audience recognise that the Prince had much more power than what he used. So if the Prince was to use his power, then he could perhaps stop Romeo and Juliet's suicides by ending the feud between the rivals using his power.
Shakespeare has also used the literacy technique of foreshadowing, this is to let the audience imagine or guess of what might come next. This was done through the use of symbols. And the use of the prologue which states that "star crossed lovers take their life" as the play develops we are left with a lot of hints that assure that the death of Romeo and Juliet was unpreventable. Although the audience almost knew what would happen at the end, they were still interested to finish the play till the end. The reason for this is because Shakespeare has smartly included very action packaged scenes, an example of this is when Mercutio gets killed and then followed by Tybalt. The death of Mercutio arranged the action for the remaining of the play "a plague o both your houses". This reminds the audience of the tragedy that will be coming up. Tybalt then comes back to Romeo who kills him to take his revenge for the death of his best friend; Mecutio. By killing Tybalt, Romeo opposes his attempts to avoid conflicts and adds more tension to the scene and whole play.
Shakespeare was really successful at dramatising the whole play. Bringing the audience to a number of ideas on who or what led to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. I believe that all the factors I have mentioned had a role in forming the outcome. However I think that Shakespeare's aim was to get the audience at that point of time to believe that events were down to fate. I believe that Friar Lawrence is the responsible for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. As he marries the Romeo and Juliet, then later offers Juliet to drink the potion to fake her death, and fails to send the letter to Romeo which was his responsibility to make sure it did reach him, and finally runs away from the vault after all has ended in calamity. Finally, Shakespeare tried to deliver several aspects of human nature. One of these is when he showed us that "young men's love lie not in their hearts, but in their eyes" on witnessing how quickly Romeo forgot his love for Rosaline upon meeting Juliet. Shakespeare also tried to tell us there is fate in this world, and we should to believe in it.

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About The Author, Sadeer Nasser


Sadeer Nasser (C) 2008.

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