Romeo and Juliet- Literary Essay: Fate and Free Will

Literary Essay


  • How does Shakespeare present the hand of fate in his play Romeo and Juliet?

“Everyone has their fate and the more people try to avoid it, the more trouble they get into.” Most people defined fate as destiny. But what really is fate? Fate is a development of events throughout one’s life that is out of his or her control. Like his other book Macbeth, William Shakespeare showed on instant circumstances the idea of fate in his tragic play, written in the late 1500’s — Romeo and Juliet. References of fate and sometimes, free will, had been mentioned throughout the whole play and this was done through the use of metaphors, different coincidences in plot events, the prologue, premonitions, and even the dialogues of the characters.

William Shakespeare uses a variety of metaphors to present ideas of fate and free will in the play Romeo and Juliet. By the use of metaphors, he attempts to relate Romeo’s life as a voyage. In Act I, Scene 4, Romeo talks about his dream about an “untimely death” that’ll happen after the Capulet’s party where he meets Juliet. Later in the scene he says, “He that hath the steerage of my course, direct my sail…” where Romeo refers himself as a vessel. Shakespeare portrays this through the use of the language ‘course’, ‘steerage’, and ‘sail’. By the use of the capital H”, we know that the “He” was referring to God. This means that Romeo surrenders his life in God’s hand, and will follow the path that is fated to him. Later on the play on Act V, Scene 3, he extends the metaphor and says, “Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on the dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark…”, indicating that God had failed him which led to his life’s destruction.

Another example Shakespeare had used to show the idea of fate was by using different coincidences throughout the play. There are scenes at the play where by chance, the characters meets a person and that the ‘accidental encounter’ would lead to the next scene. On Act I, Scene 2, Romeo and Benvolio coincidentally met Capulet’s servant at street. The servants asked them to read the list of invitees where Romeo discovers that Rosaline was going to be in the party. Stuck in his one-sided love, he decided to go to the party because of the fact that Rosaline is attending where he said, “I’ll go along no such sight to be shown, but to rejoice in splendour of mine own.” But then he meets Juliet on the party and fell in love with her, forgetting his real reason on why he agreed to attend the party of their rival family. This coincidence was directly connected to fate because if the servant met a different person, then the two lovers would have not met each other. Another example of a coincidence was later in the play in Act V, Scene 2, when the plague stopped the messenger to deliver Friar Lawrence’s message to Romeo. This caused Romeo not knowing on Juliet’s fake death which led to the two lovers killing themselves. The coincidental occurrence of the plague was believed to have been a reference of fate because according religious beliefs back in that time, God was the one who gives diseases to people.

“What is past is Prologue.” The prologue was another indication of fate in the play. In the prologue, even before the play started, it already talked about how ‘a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,’  which referred to Romeo and Juliet. Through the Prologue, Shakespeare had already given the audience a foreshadow of the play, quoting, “A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows doth with their death bury their parents strife,” indicating that only Romeo and Juliet’s death would stop their family’s grudge with each other. The phrase, ‘star-crossed lovers’  which meant frustrated by the stars was used by Shakespeare in the Prologue to portray that Romeo and Juliet’s love was doomed to fail, because according to those who believe in astrology, stars control human destiny. The Prologue connects to the idea of fate because even before the two lovers met, their destiny was already been decided by someone with a greater force than the characters, that no matter how hard and willingly they try to change it, they would always end up with the same ending, which was their suicide.

Shakespeare also used premonitions to portray the idea of fate. Premonitions are early warnings or a strong feeling of a person that something unpleasant is going to happen in one’s life. Shakespeare made the characters dream of future happenings such as death. He tried to give a prefigure of the death of the two lovers by making them see the death of Romeo in the future. On Act III, Scene 5, as Romeo leaves the Capulet’s house, Juliet had a view of seeing Romeo dead. On the scene, she quoted, “O God! I have an ill-divining soul! Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb. Either my eyesight fails, or thou look’st pale.” The phrase, ‘as one dead in the bottom of the tomb,’ pertains to Romeo being dead below Juliet’s tomb before she woke up on Act V, Scene 3 in the play. Shakespeare also gave Romeo a premonition through giving him dreams of what exactly was going to happen at the end of the play. On Act V, Scene 1 where he said “I dreamt my lady came and found me dead, (Strange dream that gives a dead man leave to think!),” directly related to his death inside the Capulet’s vault where he was dead and Juliet finds him as she woke up. Premonition had been a reference of fate in the play because death had always been unknown, and you don’t know when or where you will die and having almost the same vision of their death seemed like all had been planned beforehand.

The idea of fate was also directly shown in dialogues of the characters in the play. Throughout the whole play, direct references to fate had been mentioned as dialogues written in metaphors. During Romeo and Juliet’s time, the head of the family arranges her daughter to marry a guy, and it was actually rare to decline the guy your father has chosen to marry you. Juliet had declined her parent’s offer to marry Paris and on Act III, Scene 5, Lady Capulet quoted, “I would the fool were married to her grave,” saying that if she doesn’t want to marry Paris, then she might as well marry her grave. The dialogue had been a direct reference of fate because Juliet married Romeo, which was the reason of her death, therefore, we could say that she really did actually married her grave.

A person’s fate may sometimes be inevitable but through free will, you can change that fate allocated to you. However, in Romeo and Juliet’s case, they may have tried to change their fate, but they still ended up facing death. Nevertheless, their death was the cause of something bigger, which was the two families reconciling. They may have not had the happy ending like how books was supposed to end, but at least more lives were saved because the ancient grudge of the two families had finally came to an end.

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