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Romeo and Juliet
Where would the audience perceive the blame to lie for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet?
As with many things it is difficult to lay the blame on one specific occurrence as even the slightest mishap, especially in this story, can mount to something far worse than ever expected. The question I am trying to answer is where the audience would perceive the blame to lie and personally I feel the answer to that question lies greatly with who the audience actually is.
A modern day audience compared to an Elizabethan one would have vastly different opinions, as would a teenager and his or her parents. Nevertheless, right from the first page in the book it becomes apparent that this story isn’t going to be black and white. The two families’ ‘ancient grudge’ is the first insight of many more under-lying occurrences to come. Each one having a small yet significant influence on the end result of the story.
A sensible approach to this question would be to firstly try and narrow down the main suspects. This inevitably leads us to fate. The prologue describes Romeo and Juliet as “A pair of star-cross’d lovers”, as though there fates had already been mapped out by the stars. Just these few words state the extent that fate will play, possibly giving the audience a biased opinion right from the very start.
The next notable indication of fate occurs when Capulets servant approaches Romeo and asks him to read an invitation. A less than sensitive audience may disregard this point, although it paves the way forward for the tragedy to occur. This holds a great deal of blame but if the audience doesn’t pick up on it then that blame is unrecognised.
Perhaps Mercutio’s curse would be seen to be the blame. Three times he chants, “A plague O’ both your houses” which may be seen by the audience to condemn all hope for the two lovers. Following this is Friar John’s unbelievable misfortune as he finds himself trapped in a house of plague on his way to Mantua. The letter is never received which allows Balthasar to unknowingly ruin the ‘plan’, by telling Romeo of Juliet’s death.
Each of these aspects of fate play an important role leading to the story’s conclusion, but without the actions of other characters their contribution would be meaningless. The well-meaning friar for example. He disregarded all sense and agreed to the couple’s marriage in a last bid for peace. His actions may have been with good intentions but, ultimately had he used common sense and said no to begin with, the tragedy may never have occurred. It is arguable however the amount of blame that can be placed on this decision for if the couple really felt that strongly they could always have eloped. Either way, it is the Friar’s actions from this point onward that really condemn him.
Knowing full well of the dangers involved he presents Juliet with a potion and continues to describe its effects.
“The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade, To wanny ashes; thy eyes’ windows fall, Like death when he shuts up the day of life” A potion strong enough to cause apparent death must have phenomenal risks attached, but still he obliviously decides to take that chance. Although the Friar’s actions were wrong, one thing that can be said for him is that they were with good intentions, only this isn’t true of all cases. In one of the last scenes of the play, for the first time Friar Laurence selfishly thinks of himself. Paris and Romeo were dead and Juliet was beginning to regain consciousness in the Capulets tomb. Had the friar stayed there at least her life could be spared. Instead the friar flees in a bid to save his skin, leaving Juliet to take her own life. His deeply felt guilt becomes clear when he comes clean at the end.
“Miscarried by my fault, let my old life, Be sacrific’d, some hour before his time” The friar feels that he is to blame, he wouldn’t feel guilt otherwise. After hearing the friar’s confession I think the audience would blame him too. There is also another character in the play that the audience may see to be a main culprit, and that person is Tybalt.
The ‘fiery’ Tybalt is aggressive and quick-tempered, he despises the Montagues with a vengeance. A firm believer in the ‘grudge’, he hates any talk of peace.
“…..Peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues and thee” At the Capulets ball he spots Romeo gate-crashing. “What, dares the slave, come hither” he says clearly aggravated. Tybalt then alerts his uncle to the problem and is astonished by Capulets calm response. “Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone” but Tybalt will not accept it and is adamant he will have his revenge,
“I will withdraw; but this intrusion shall, Now seeming sweet convert to bitterest gaul” Determined, the next day Tybalt challenged Romeo to a duel, which ultimately results in the death of Mercutio and Tybalt himself.
Mercutios death can partly be blamed on himself. His vibrant, quick-witted persona is somewhat unstable, meaning his sense of fun can quickly become something a lot more serious. For example after playfully teasing Tybalt for no reason he says, “Zounds, here is my fiddlestick” and they begin to fight. Although the fight wasn’t meant to be serious it still resulted in Mercutios death, that being the reason why Romeo intervened and ended up getting himself banished.
Perhaps a young audience, favouring Juliet’s point of view, would blame the parents. The heartless Lady Capulet turns her back on Juliet when she needs her the most “I wish the fool were married to her grave” this possibly being a premonition of what is yet to come. Had she listened then Juliet wouldn’t have had to turn to the friar for help. Then there’s her father, he forces her into a marriage she’s not ready for. Juliet is little more than a child “not yet thirteen summers have passed” and to begin with, Capulet himself was against the marriage
“Let two more summers wither in their pride, Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” Yet, his flippant personality soon changes its mind, which consequently drives Juliet to despair.
Possibly if the audience were trying to find the source of the problem then some blame could actually go to Benvolio. It was his idea to go to the ball to try and stop Romeo pining over Rosaline.
“Go thither; and, with unattained eye, compare her face with some that I show, And I will make thy swan a crow” Consequently Romeo and Juliet meet and their fates cast in stone. Looking even farther back, if we remove Rosaline from the play, would there still be a story to tell? No Rosaline, no love sick Romeo. Once again this is an arguable point as Romeo’s character is such that if he didn’t like Rosaline he would probably be lovesick over someone else.
This brings me onto the blame that Romeo himself retains. He and Juliet rushed things, in a matter of days of meeting they were married. They deliberately disobeyed their parents, got themselves into strife, and then relied on the friar to save them. Perhaps if they had used some degree of common sense their deaths could have been prevented.
There are many factors that could be blamed for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet that separately have little consequence. It is only when these factors are all put together that a result like this one can be achieved. Although there are many aspects to the story that hold blame, some elements retain more of it than others. It is these ‘larger’ factors that the audience is most likely to notice, and so blame, the largest of all being fate. Condemning the lovers right from the very beginning, fate plays a role all the way through. The terrible luck, unfortunate timing, Mercutios curse, even the slight premonitions that keep appearing, fate was not on their side.
Considering the time the play was written in fate was obviously considered to be very important in life.
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