Who or what is to blame for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths?

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Alright, alright, alright…….so as we draw to a close of our season of Romeo And Juliet at the Opera House in Sydney and the Arts Centre in Melbourne, everybody wants to point the finger and blame someone or something for the tragic death of these two star crossed lovers. I’m sure this has been the topic of many heated debates in the classroom, at the dinner table, with the taxi driver (although be warned that the taxi driver is never wrong…even if you say so) and even the lovely canteen ladies that feed us players DELICIOUS treats on tour.

It is therefore the perfect time for us all to sit down and work this one out together with the grand old question…. (cue dramatic music)…..

WHO OR WHAT IS TO BLAME FOR THE DEATHS OF ROMEO AND JULIET???

Now it would be easy to get all Cluedo on this and make wild accusations and start blaming one person or thing….. like it was Romeo in the Capulet’s monument with the candle stick, or Friar Laurence in the cell with the poison, or Tybalt with his sword prepared in the town square…. However, whilst these are all possibilities and contributing factors (maybe not so much Romeo with the candlestick) we need to understand the circumstances in which this ill-fated tale starts.

The prologue tells us that the Capulet and Montague families have had a long standing hatred for one another and this has now been taken to a new level of violence where blood is being spilt on the streets of Verona. This feud between the families acts as a pressure cooker throughout the play and underpins the majority of the characters actions and events which take place. The family feud causes civil unrest in Verona and the city is consumed by it.

Throughout the play we see different characters respond to the feud in different ways. On one hand, the Prince tries to lay down the law, and, on the other hand, we see the Friar trying to find peace.  At the same time, fiery Tybalt seems determined to drive the feud to bloody violence in the name of honour.

The Friar envisions the union of Romeo and Juliet as bringing peace to the two warring families and agrees to marry them:

“But come, young waverer, come, go with me,
In one respect I’ll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove,
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.”

Whilst the Friar hatches this plan hopeful of reconciliation, the deaths of both Mercutio and Tybalt act as catalysts to accelerate the chain of events that ultimately lead to the death of the lovers. As punishment for killing Tybalt, Romeo is banished from Verona.  This, coupled with the pressure of Lord Capulet’s arranged marriage of Paris and Juliet, causes Juliet to seek further help from the Friar. Again the Friar, filled with goodwill for peace between the families, devises a plan for the lovers to be reunited.

Now this is not the most foolproof plan….  it’s the old classic you-pretend-you’re-dead-by- drinking-this-potion-and-everything-will-work-out-A ok-plan…..Call it bad timing, miscommunication, or just plain old dishonesty, this plan does not (not surprisingly) work out as it was intended.

Now it may seem that the Friar is taking most of the heat for the deaths of the lovers, but the finger should not only be pointed at him. Let’s not forget that the Nurse is also in on the secret marriage and Lord and Lady Capulet have no consideration as to what their daughter wants in their hasty plans to arrange her marriage to Paris.

We can’t forget that the lovers themselves are also somewhat responsible for their own downfall – both Romeo and Juliet are young adolescents and act in haste with their love and in secret with their marriage.  Some may argue that they lacked maturity, acting on their lustful impulses without any consideration or forethought, and that this caused them to make rash (and risky) decisions which eventually led to both of their deaths.

Maybe the hatred of the families also forced the young lovers to take such drastic measures and if that hatred didn’t exist maybe their love could have blossomed, all misery would have been avoided and they would have lived happily ever after ……  but then we wouldn’t have the Tragedy of Romeo And Juliet.

So in regards to the question who or what is to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet … Well…….it’s complicated!  There isn’t just one thing or one person that is to blame for the deaths.  Ultimately, it is a combination of many factors that drive the play to this end  – their young love knowing no boundaries, the hatred and anger carried by their families, and the individual characters who all respond to the feuding families in their differing and often misguided ways.

xx Jake