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A TRAGEDY OF CHANCE
Fate (also called chance, accident, or destiny) plays a vitally significant part in the play. From the beginning of the drama, Shakespeare calls Romeo and Juliet star-crossed lovers, for fate brings them together and fate is responsible for their tragic end. The family feud of the Capulets and Montagues is the means by which fate acts. Romeo, who belongs to the Montague family, “crashes” the Capulet party in order to gain a glimpse of Rosaline, his supposed beloved. At the dance, fate intervenes and he falls in love with Juliet, who is a Capulet. She returns his love, and they are secretly married. Fate does not seem to smile on their union. Romeo, in order to defend the honor of his dead friend Mercutio, is forced into fighting and killing Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin. Romeo’s fate is exile from Verona and his truly beloved Juliet.
Fate causes Count Paris to become interested in Juliet just at the time of her marriage to Romeo. Not knowing about Juliet’s marital status, Lord Capulet agrees to Paris’ request for the hand of his daughter and plans a wedding for Juliet and Paris. Juliet defies fate and drinks a “magic” potion in order to avoid the fateful marriage. Friar Lawrence attempts to send a message to Romeo about the “apparent death” of Juliet, but, due to fate, the messenger cannot leave Verona because of the plague. Romeo happens to hear about Juliet’s death from his servant Balthasar and decides he must join Juliet’s fate in eternity. When he enters the tomb, he notices the scarlet of Juliet’s cheek, signaling that she is soon to awake from her trance. He mistakes the color as the beauty of her being shining through to defy death. If he had arrived five minutes later, Juliet would have been awake and the two deaths would have been avoided. Clearly, fate controls the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
Another source of omen in the play is the presaging of dreams. Romeo has a dream, “ I dreamt my lady came and found me dead.”
The servants of the two houses carry the feud to the street and fight. Romeo, unwillingly is drawn into the fight, by the death of Mercutio, at the hands of Tybalt. When Romeo kills Tybalt, the Prince exiles him. All this happens soon after his marriage to Juliet, and then misfortunes fall on the lovers.
Fate intervenes again when Romeo is in exile. The Friar’s letter to Romeo, informing about his plan gets delayed. Friar John, the messenger, is detained in a house suspected of ‘infectious pestilence’ and the authorities sealed up the door. Romeo hears of Juliet’s death through Balthasar and rushes to her vault with the vial of poison to kill himself. Juliet awakens from her trance after Romeo drinks the poison and dies by his side. If she had awakened a little earlier, the tragedy would not have happened. This is a tragedy of fate rather than of character or action.
PUN, WIT, AND HUMOR IN THE PLAY
Although tragic in nature and conclusion, Romeo and Juliet is filled with humor. Shakespeare has enlivened the story with delightful characters and wonderful wit in order to lighten the bitterness of the tragedy. The opening scene of the play is filled with puns as the servants Sampson and Gregory indulge in a verbal duel as well as a fight with swords. Abraham observes that they will not carry coals, meaning that they would not put up with insults. Gregory replies that if they did, they would be “colliers...An we in choler, we will draw.” Choler, meaning anger or hate, is pronounced almost exactly like “collier,” but with a very different meaning. The Elizabethan audience immensely enjoyed such puns.
Mercutio’s speech is always full of wit and humor. His wit is the product of his intellectual sharpness; his humor is a product of his poking fun at other people’s weaknesses. On Romeo’s love sickness, he says, “Alas, poor Romeo! He is already dead: stabbed with a white wench’s black eye; shot through the ear with a love song.” Tybalt, he calls “Prince of cats”. Romeo, instead of being the butt of Mercutio’s witty attack, proves an equal match to him. Romeo remarks that Mercutio is a gentleman that loves to hear himself talk and will speak more in a minute than he will stand to in a month. After being stabbed by Tybalt, Mercutio even speaks humorously from his deathbed, saying, “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.”
Similarly, the Nurse, amuses the audience with her wordiness, her slow wit, her outraged pomposity, and her coarse language and bawdiness. When the Nurse meets Mercutio in the play, they tease one another and create a light-hearted, merry atmosphere amidst the tragedy that is to follow. She teases Juliet throughout the play in a variety of ways and particularly delights in make sexual jokes to her naive charge. The audience enjoys the jokes more than Juliet, which is just what Shakespeare intends. He uses comic relief throughout the play to lighten the tragedy to which the play is hurtling.