To What Extent Are Romeo and Juliet Responsible for Their Own Downfall? Do the Capulet and Montague Families Share the Blame? Essay

Romeo and Juliet is the tragic story of two young lovers, longing to be together but kept apart by their families. They prove their love for each other by going behind their parents’ backs to meet, to be together and to be married before meeting an untimely death. Deciding who is ultimately responsible for their tragic end can be difficult as there are so many people who play a significant role in their lives and who have an influence on how the play unfolds. Firstly, although Romeo and Juliet are the protagonists of the play that doesn’t mean they do not share in some of the blame.

Their courtship was very brief, the play spans less than a week, so it could be argued that they rushed into their marriage without properly planning anything or taking the time to think of the consequences. It doesn’t appear they had any plans beyond their wedding night yet they certainly could not have remained in Verona without telling their families, They rushed into things without thinking, a decision that was bound to end in disaster, just as Friar Lawrence warns Romeo; “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast. ” Act 2 Scene 3 Line 94 Rushing into marriage without planning or thinking of the future was never going to end well.

In this sense, Romeo and Juliet can be held responsible for their own deaths. However, we must remember that Shakespeare needed the pay to move quickly in order to ensure that he did not lose the audience’s attention. If he were to include extra scenes with Romeo and Juliet getting to know each other or making plans, he risked losing his audience due to the lack of action on stage and slow progression of the plot. This is the same reason that Shakespeare has strong, romantic scenes written directly either side of conflicts, the juxtaposition of scenes; it captured the audience’s attention and kept them interested and watching.

If people began to leave during a performance because things were moving too slowly, Shakespeare would have lost his credibility as a playwright. With this in mind we perhaps cannot blame Romeo and Juliet for rushing into things and so cannot hold them fully responsible for their own deaths. Secondly, some people will say that the parents are to blame for continuing to fuel the feud for so long and letting it impact their children’s happiness, yet playing such a small part in their children’s lives otherwise.

Evidence of this is present in the Capulet family as it appears the Nurse is closer to Juliet than Lady Capulet and certainly knows her best; “Faith I can tell her age unto an hour. ” Act 1 Scene 3 Line 11 We can only assume that Romeo wasn’t very close to his parents by noting that they appear very little throughout the play and that Romeo tends to look to Friar Lawrence for advice. Perhaps it is because of their distant relationship with their parents that they decide they know better and disregard all the hateful propaganda they have been fed about one another’s families.

This would mean the parents could be seen as ultimately responsible for their children’s deaths by not being close enough to them to understand what it was they wanted and for seemingly not caring enough to let them find happiness with whomever they chose instead of filling their minds with hate and involving them in the feud. “And the place of death considering who thou art, If any of my kinsmen find thee here. ” Act 2 Scene 2 Line 64-65 Romeo and Juliet were obviously aware of the feud between their families, hardly surprising if even the servants are brawling in the streets.

Perhaps this knowledge also provoked them to take such risks with each other. We must remember that they are both still teenagers and teenagers are known to have a rebellious side. The fact their parents didn’t approve perhaps only made them more determined to be together, as shown by Romeo in the garden; “And what love can do, that dares love attempt. Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me. ” Act 2 Scene 2 Line 68-69 On the same point, Capulet can be blamed further for his reaction to Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris as he threatens to disown her and curses her; “And that we have a curse in having her.

Out on her, hilding! ” Act 3 Scene 5 Line 167-168 Once again, the rebellious nature of teenagers could come into play; Capulet wants Juliet to marry Paris but she remains stubborn. This is also a great example of how the parents in the play pay little notice to what their children want. In this scene Juliet makes it obvious that her happiness doesn’t lie with Paris yet her father ignores this and tells her to marry him or be disowned. However some people will step up to defend the parents and suggest they only wanted the best for their children, like any parent does.

Perhaps what was best was that Romeo and Juliet should not have met. We don’t know the full details of the feud, perhaps no one in the play does, there may be a good reason for it but there may not. Also, nowadays it is perhaps easier to say the parents are to blame for being absent as we are used to seeing parents play a much larger role in their children’s lives. This play was written in Elizabethan times when it was common for noble families, such as the Capulets and Montagues, to employ a nurse to raise their children.

One cannot really fault the parents if, in Elizabethan society’s eyes, they were acting accordingly. On the subject of society, arranged marriages were probably common as well between wealthy families and were seen as the normal and proper thing. It would have been the parents’ duty to see their children were well-matched and that is what the Capulets were doing when arranging for Juliet to marry Paris. The behaviour of the parents and their actions are most likely what Elizabethan audiences were used to and perhaps neither the audience nor Shakespeare thought the parents could be faulted in this way.

Friar Lawrence has been a ‘surrogate father’ and also like a family member to Romeo, and many people believe he is most to blame as he was the one to supply Juliet with the potion and it was his responsibility to have Romeo informed of the plan. His motives for trying to unite the two lovers can be called into question; maybe he was acting for his own gain. If he could unite the Capulet and Montague families he would be famous in Verona as everyone knew of the feud and were tiring of it, a viewpoint voiced by the Prince after the opening brawl; “Three civil brawls bred of an airy word,

By the old Capulet, and Montague, Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets… … If ever you disturb our streets again Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. ” Act1 Scene 1 Line 88-90 96-97 If fame and recognition were the Friar’s motives it would be fair to blame him for his selfishness. But what if the Friar’s motive was merely to see these two young lovers united and happy? He cannot be blamed for helping his dear friend Romeo obtain happiness with Juliet.

Also, he cannot be blamed for not informing Romeo, he tried his best but could not have predicted that the letter would not reach him in time. The Nurse has been as much a mother to Juliet as Lady Capulet, if not more so, and cares deeply for Juliet’s well-being. Because of this, it comes as a surprise when she disregards her pleas for help in escaping her marriage to Paris. It is even more of a shock when she suggests that Juliet should marry him anyway, despite the fact she knows Juliet is already married to Romeo. “I think it best you marry with the County.

O he’s a lovely gentleman. Romeo’s a dishclout to him;” Act 3 Scene 5 Line 218-220 The Nurse knows how strongly Juliet feels for Romeo; she has listened to her pining for him, weep over his banishment rather than the death of her cousin and has helped them plan meetings and even their marriage. Yet now she is telling Juliet to forget Romeo and insults him in front of her, despite thinking of him as a lovely man before. The Nurse has always been close to Juliet and should have more sympathy and compassion for her than anyone else.

But now, when Juliet needs her most, she fails her and so Juliet is forced to turn to Friar Lawrence who gives her the potion. By this logic the Nurse can be held responsible by default. The Nurse fails Juliet yet again when she remains unsuspecting of Juliet’s sudden change of heart. She has listened to Juliet proclaiming how string her love for Romeo is before and has just witnessed her desperate attempts to escape a marriage to Paris, yet doesn’t question her sudden change of mind. “Well thou hast comforted me marvellous much,

Go in, and tell my lady I am gone, Having displeased my father, to Lawrence’ cell, To make confession, and to be absolved. ” Act 3 Scene 5 Line 229-232 But we have to consider the Nurse’s reasons for doing nothing. As a nurse it was not her place to advise Capulet on matters like this, as Capulet points out to her without hesitation; “Peace you mumbling fool. Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl, For here we need it not. ” Act 3 Scene 5 Line 175-177 The Nurse is employed by the family to look after and nurture Juliet, not to tell them how to treat her.

That choice is still the parents’ and, as an employee, she is inferior and her opinion does not count for much in such matters. She has no say and no power to influence the situation and so can only give Juliet the advice her parents would want her to hear. Mercutio and Tybalt can also be blamed, to some extent, for the couple’s death. It was bating each other in the streets that led to a fight, the fight that led to the deaths, and the deaths that led to the banishment. “His fault concludes but what the law should end, The life of Tybalt. “And for that offence Immediately we do exile him hence. ” Act 3 Scene 1 Line 187-190 It is because of Romeo’s banishment that Juliet must fake her death to be with him; the chain of events occurring as a result of Tybalt and Mercutio’s fight is what led to the couple’s suicide. Male bravado and the feud can also mean these two share in the blame; although he is a close friend of Romeo he is not actually a Capulet or Montague. It is his male bravado and desire to prove his masculinity that caused him to pick this fight with Tybalt.

It is the feud that gives Tybalt reason to brawl with Mercutio, as he is thought of as a Montague. The death of Mercutio’s could be seen as Shakespeare’s way of showing how dire the situation has become; a person who is neither Capulet not Montague has been killed as a result of the fighting between the families so it is obvious it has all come to far and needs to stop. This death shocks the audience as it is not expected that someone not of Capulet or Montague blood would actually be killed amongst it all, especially not a lively and humorous character like Mercutio.

At this point the audience realises that the feud has to be brought to an end as does the Prince and the Montague and Capulet families as they all suffer a loss at this point. The death of Mercutio is a pivotal point as it is what causes everyone to acknowledge the damage the feud is causing. The hate that has been passed down makes him so eager to spill Montague blood. Perhaps if the feud were resolved earlier in the play this conflict would not have taken place and Romeo and Juliet could have been more open about their love for one another. Or perhaps if they had announced their marriage the feud would have stopped.

They were afraid to tell anyone because of the feud but perhaps it could have ended it. Romeo has the chance right before Mercutio’s death but instead talks in riddles and misses the opportunity and so the blame is left on Tybalt and Mercutio. There are some people that would blame Balthasar for the couple’s death; he let the last chance anyone would have to set things right slip away. Balthasar is a servant of the Montague family and he is the one who delivered the news of Juliet’s ‘death’ to Romeo and the one who accompanied him to Capulet’s crypt. He is the messenger who delivers the news to Romeo that causes him to pursue suicide.

Also, he leaves Romeo alone in the crypt for over half an hour, knowing what state of mind he was in, and yet doesn’t go to check on him or attempt to fetch help. However, Balthasar cannot be entirely blamed; how was he to know that Juliet wasn’t actually dead when even her family believed it to be true? He was being a loyal friend and servant to Romeo when he delivered the news and acted with the best of intentions. Also, before Romeo enters the crypt he warns Balthasar not to follow; “Upon thy life I charge thee, Whatever thou hearest or seest, stand all aloof,

And do not interrupt me in my course. ” Act 5 Scene 3 Line 25-27 With Romeo in his current state of mind, Balthasar had reason to fear for his life if he were to intrude on him, and as a servant he was required to do as he was told. Finally, perhaps it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but fate’s. Throughout the play, Shakespeare makes many references to fate; Romeo and Juliet are referred to as “star-crossed lovers” in the prologue, and their love is described as “death-marked”. So we have to consider whether any of this could have been avoided or were Romeo and Juliet never meant to live happily ever after?

Was it fate or accident that Romeo met Peter and found out about the party where he would meet Juliet? Was it fate or just bad luck that Mercutio fell foul of Tybalt’s blade or that Friar Lawrence’s letter didn’t reach Romeo on time? However, when claiming that fate played a part one has to question to what extent? Was fate an element throughout the play up until their deaths or just until they met? Perhaps it was the latter and a different course of events could have led to a happier ending, which would suggest that fate is not to blame.

Or perhaps the characters could have acted against fate. When Romeo proclaims, “O I am fortunes fool! “, he is perhaps realising he is being guided down this path by fate and when he offers to stab himself he is perhaps rebelling against fate. However it could perhaps be argued that he was ‘fated’ to think that. Fate certainly is the trickiest to blame because we never can be sure how big or small of a part it plays. Every character mentioned has to accept some responsibility for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet; some more than others.

In my opinion Romeo and Juliet, although responsible to some extent, in no circumstances hold most of the blame. Their lack of planning leading to their deaths was necessary for the play to move quickly. However of all the people mentioned I believe that their families do hold most of the blame, but not all. I don’t believe any one individual is to blame. In defending one person, we blame another, and no one can be held solely responsible. I think each one of them add to the chain of events that result in the untimely deaths of Romeo and Juliet.