The classic story line of star-crossed lovers has been replicated time and time again, but possibly the most renowned version is William Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet No matter what version is consulted, whether it be the original script or the movie rendition directed by Baz Luhrmann, this familiar plot of the age-old play ultimately ends in the tragic death of the romantic couple. However, no calamity to this magnitude merely comes about coincidentally. Rather, Romeo’s character is to blame for his and Juliet’s untimely death. Literary critic, Douglas Cole writes, “The sorry spectacle that Romeo, the romantic lover, makes of himself…points directly forward to the catastrophe”(108). In his play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare leads the star-crossed lovers to their ultimate demise through the development of Romeo’s character traits. His strong emotions and rash impulsiveness result in Romeo and his beloved Juliet’s tragic death.
Consentingly, Romeo must not assume full responsibility of his and Juliet’s deplorable collapse. However minor a role they may have assumed, other characters such as Juliet herself, Friar Lawrence, and the Nurse played their part in the journey to the final, cataclysmic outcome of the play. Nonetheless, Romeo plays a large role in bringing about his unfortunate downfall.
Romeo’s excessively strong emotions such as rage, despair, and love are contributing factors to his ultimate demise. To begin with, Romeo’s frequent display of rage and anger throughout the play promotes his untimely death. A clear instance of this severe fury is when, at the end of the play, Romeo takes his anger of Juliet’s apparent death out on Paris and kills him. This scene takes place long enough after Romeo and Juliet are well on their way to their impending doom so as not to have a direct impact on the outcome. However, it clearly illustrates a detrimental mistake resulting from Romeo’s excessive anger. Furthermore, even though Romeo fully intended to commit suicide, he could not control his extreme rage at his entire predicament and felt the need to take his feelings out on Paris. A literary critic aptly explains, “In such conditions men were naturally more excitable and more subject to sudden panic and prevailing moods,”(Granville-Barker and Harrison 165). In this time of great stress, Romeo was more prone to behaving in an excessively fervent manor. To illustrate this, Shakespeare did not grant Romeo complete control of his emotions and instilled in him a superfluous amount of anger.
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Next, Romeo’s limitless rage is evident in one of the major climaxes of the theater piece. In Act 3, Scene 1, Romeo enters a confrontation with Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin. Romeo, with Juliet in mind, does everything he can to avoid a fight. Even so, when Mercutio is killed at Tybalt’s hand, Romeo cannot control his anger and murders Tybalt in an attempt to avenge Mercutio’s death. With this, it is extremely evident that “Romeo is weakened by his superfluous amount of emotion. This excess of rage resulted in his killing Tybalt”(Nardo 122). This murderous act directly leads to Romeo and Juliet’s tragic ending. Upon committing the crime, Romeo receives a sentence of banishment from Verona. Had Romeo refrained from killing Tybalt, and therefore never been exiled from Verona, Juliet may not have found it necessary to drink the potion that would render her dead. Without Juliet’s false death the romantic couple would not have encountered the disastrous situation that they would soon be facing.
Additionally, Romeo’s grief for his seemingly dead Juliet causes him to take actions that contribute to his demise. This is evident in the last scene of the play when Romeo commits suicide after seeing Juliet lying as though in death. One Shakespearean critic proclaims, “When Romeo perceives Juliet to be dead, the grand romantic lover’s emotional state deteriorates to the point of suicide”(Cole 108). Romeo was completely and uncontrollably overcome by anguish and mourning. Without his surplus of uncontrolled emotion, he would not have immediately digressed to suicide. This would have given him the time to discover that Juliet was in fact, not dead. In short, the couple would ultimately survive. Furthermore, immediately after receiving the news of Juliet’s supposed death, Romeo is already overwhelmed by his grief and he instantly speaks his suicidal thoughts:
Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight.
Let’s see for means. O mischief, thou art swift
To enter in the thoughts of desperate men! (Rom. 5.1.36-38)
With this, Romeo is already plotting ways to take his own life. Had Romeo kept control of his emotions and investigated the matter for himself, he would have discovered soon enough that Juliet was not dead after all. He may even have come in contact with Friar Lawrence who would have been able to dispel the entire plight. Clearly, “This catastrophe is hastened by Romeo himself who, when he hears the false report of Juliet’s death, reveals…a despair that turns instantly to thoughts of suicide…and he perishes miserably”(Cole 108). Obviously Romeo’s utter grief for the apparent death of his beloved contributes to the unfortunate outcome at the end of the play.
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Also, Romeo’s deep and passionate love for Juliet is instrumental to his downfall. Over the entire duration of Romeo’s relationship with Juliet, he is obviously completely infatuated with her. One instance that shows Romeo’s undying love for Juliet is when he kills Tybalt. Romeo murders Tybalt while his thoughts are elsewhere, specifically on Juliet. His passion for her is all consuming (McLeish 215). If Romeo were able to set aside his deep passion for Juliet for a small amount of time, he would not have murdered Tybalt and, therefore, he would never have entered into the horrific situation that would lead to his downfall. In addition, perhaps the scene that best demonstrates this undying love is Romeo’s final act: his suicide. Upon hearing the false rumor that Juliet is dead, Romeo decides to take his own life. Shakespeare clearly reveals Romeo’s reasoning behind this decision: “Here’s to my love! … Thus I die with a kiss”(Rom.5.3.129-131). With this, Romeo undoubtedly admits that he cannot live without his love and thus is ending his life out of passion for Juliet. It is also evident that Romeo completely loves Juliet even after she is seemingly dead at his feet (Goddard 289). The adoration that Romeo quite obviously feels toward Juliet is so exceptionally intense that he cannot control his emotions enough to think clearly. If Romeo would not have let his love become so alarmingly out of control, he may never have decided on the horrific action that was his self-murder. At the very least, he would have been able to think lucidly and postpone this unnatural self-destruction long enough to be present and, more importantly, alive, when Juliet would awake. This would have inevitably thwarted the romantic couple’s tragic death. Harold Clarke Goddard concurs, “in the case of Romeo, love puts him out of love“(16). In other words, Romeo’s suicide is a result of his endearment towards Juliet, and ending his life negates any possibility of finding love with her. Shakespeare ingrains in Romeo a passion for Juliet so intense that it eradicates the possibility of love for the romantic couple, and ultimately brings about their tragic end.
Finally, the impulsivity of Romeo’s actions plays a large role in the catastrophic ending. Throughout the entire story, Romeo is constantly carrying out actions that he has clearly yet to think through. Friar Lawrence even provides foreshadowing to the fact that this rashness will prove to bring about dire results when he says “they stumble that run fast”(Rom.2.3.94). This metaphorically states the rather simple fact that acting impulsively before considering the consequences can only result in complications. One example of Romeo’s impetuousness is when he makes a quick decision to seek out Juliet in her garden even though it is extremely dangerous. This rash decision could have been disastrous, but because Romeo was fortunate and was not discovered by Juliet’s father this particular instance left him relatively unscathed. It is noted that William Shakespeare particularly ”emphasizes Romeo’s own impulsiveness”(Nardo 61). This action, though, just marks the beginning of a succession of hasty decisions. For example, Romeo decides that he wants to marry Juliet when he has known her for so short a time. Because Romeo decided to wed Juliet so hastily, the duo was met with problems stemming from the suddenness of their becoming a couple. Perhaps if the two had not rushed into what they considered to be their future so quickly, they would have avoided the ensuing issues. Instead, “Romeo insists upon the marriage, with an untimely haste”(Nardo 122). This ultimately leads to the rapid advancement of the tragic death. Simply because none of their plans were thought through, they were merely acted upon, Romeo and Juliet’s relationship was doomed to fail.
The long chain of hasty mistakes by Romeo does not, by any means, end with his hasty marriage. Rather, Tybalt’s murder can also be described as rash and impulsive. Although Romeo does seem to consider the consequences of harming his enemy, as soon as Mercutio is killed, he does not so much as pause before he attacks Tybalt. This impulse that Romeo indulges himself in causes a great flood of events leading directly to his demise, which could have all been avoided had he taken the time to think about what he was doing. Indeed, “[Romeo’s] whole love affair betrays a cast of mind that is…impatient of cold reason, and this very quality helps to induce the tragic ending”(Nardo 122). Shakespeare urges Romeo to his demise by denying him the use of forethought that would allow him to make rational decisions. This small but significant character trait would have unquestionably been enough to prevent the romantic couple from advancing toward their deaths.
Possibly the most consequential act of impulsive behavior on Romeo’ s part is in the last act of the play. To begin with, Romeo buys poison to kill himself immediately after hearing of Juliet’s supposed death. He wishes only to end his life at her side and refuses to investigate Juliet’s “death”(Nardo 61). Romeo could not take the necessary time to be sure that the rumor of Juliet’s death was true. Instead he acted on his very first impulse, which was to commit suicide. This resulted in the awful ending that was the romantic couple’s death, distinctively showing that “Romero’s [tragic flaw] is his impulsive rashness”(Hammersmith 246). Additionally, Romeo did not waste any time in committing the heinous act of suicide after entering the Capulet tomb. Should he have paused for even a brief moment to contemplate what he was about to do, he would have lived long enough to see Juliet awaken from her death-like sleep. Unfortunately, he continued his trend of rash behavior and cut his life short, which in turn would cause Juliet to do the same.
Surely, then, Romeo’s distinct character traits play an important role in his tragic ending. Uncontrolled emotions including rage, grief, and love, as well as a tendency to act on impulses are major contributing factors to this cataclysmic demise. Although Romeo could not have been alone in the creation of this catastrophic ending, he very clearly played the largest role in bringing about his downfall. The romantic lovers did everything in their power to make their love work. In the end, though, Romeo and Juliet could just not survive the harsh realities of their lives and Romeo’s flawed character traits.
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