The Role of Fate and Society in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Term Paper, 2004

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. The Role of Fate in Romeo and Juliet
2.1. Fate as part of the Elizabethan World View
2.2. Fate as a typical means in the tragedy
2.3. Foreshadowing
2.4. Fate in the play
2.4.1. Quotations
2.4.2. Scenes

3. The role of society in Romeo and Juliet
3.1. Society in the Elizabethan Age
3.2. Behaviour of the aristocracy
3.3. Hate as an evil force
3.4. The different characters in Romeo and Juliet

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography
5.1. Primary Literature
5.2. Secondary Literature

1. Introduction

The play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare deals with the love of two young lovers, who are members of noble but hostile families of Verona.

This paper will try to analyse the role of fate and society in Romeo and Juliet. This will be done on the level of fate as part of the Elizabethan World View, as a typical means in the tragedy and in form of a consideration of different scenes which depict fate. Furthermore emphasis it put upon the society in the Elizabethan Age, the aristocracy’s behaviour, the hate as an evil force and the different characters in Romeo and Juliet.

It will be shown that these circumstances lead to their death, which is not the fault of the young lovers, but the work of coincidences, of fate and members of the society.

2. The Role of Fate in Romeo and Juliet

2.1. Fate as part of the Elizabethan World View

Already at the beginning of the play, in the prologue, it is made clear by the expression “death-marked” that Romeo and Juliet have to die. That fate and society’s hate are responsible for their death show the expressions “a pair of star-crossed lovers” and “ancient grudge” (Prologue, ll. 3-9). I’m going to talk about the hate in the next chapter.

The belief in fate, fortune and the power of the stars were part of the Elizabethan World View. The “chain of being” states the position of humans in a kind of hierarchy, which should not be altered, because it would cause the destruction of the world order. The highest human beings are kings and queens and the lowest is the servant[1]. Likewise people believed, that Fortuna was responsible for the position of men in society. She is depicted as a blindfolded woman, who turned the “wheel of fortune” at whim. There are virtuous persons without sins on top and unvirtuous are on the bottom. But men are able to influence their position by their actions, if they are good they can move up, if not they move down[2]. Therefore the belief in fate was very common and astrology was very important. It was also an accepted science in the noble courts in Shakespeare’s time. Fate influenced the lives of the people, they relied on the stars and believed in their fateful power, the stars were never wrong[3].

2.2. Fate as a typical means in the tragedy

Shakespeare adopted some patterns of the ancient tragedian Seneca, who already put emphasis upon fortune.[4]

Romeo and Juliet is one of his first plays and therefore not as developed as the later plays. Shakespeare is not yet aiming at the protagonist’s responsibility for his downfall, which he causes due to his unvirtuous actions and sins as in most of his plays.

The role of fate established in the prologue is a “constant theme throughout the play”[5]. In the play under consideration the protagonists have no tragic flaw, except for their suicide in the end[6]. The difference consists of the fact that fate is not on their side and society’s failure, the main motive, hate, leads to the destruction of Romeo and Juliet.

2.3. Foreshadowing

The power of the stars is shown by predictions of the future. In the play, Shakespeare established the common technique known as “foreshadowing” through the whole play to hint at the fateful death of the protagonists. These subtle clues show what will happen in the future[7]. One of many examples is the scene of the play when Romeo sees his destiny in the stars before going to the Capulet ball.

I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death

(I, 4 ll. 106-111)

2.4. Fate in the play

That the tragedy is caused by coincidences becomes evident by the following examples of selected quotations and scenes which are an example for the constant theme fate.

2.4.1. Quotations

There are different statements made by the protagonists and other characters in the play, which hint at the outcome of the actions by means of fate.

Juliet fears after love at first sight “It lies not in our power to love, or hate,/ For will in us is over-rul’d by fate.”

Later she understands that the love goddess Fortuna is not on their side.

O Fortune, Fortune! All men call thee fickle;

If thou art fickle, what dost thou with him

That is renown’d for faith? Be fickle, Fortune,

For then I hope thou wilt not keep him long,

But send him back.

(III, 5 ll. 60-64)

When Tybalt lies dead at Romeo’s feet, and a full awareness of his situation comes upon him, he cries out in despair: “O, I am a fortune’s fool!” (III, 1 l.138).

Before Romeo kills himself he reminds himself of the power of the stars: “And shake the yoke of inaspicious stars/ From this world-wearied flesh […].” (V, 3 ll. 111-112).


[1] Ian Duthie, Shakespeare, London, 1951, pp.41-42.

[2] Klaus Hinz et. al., William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Paderborn, 1999, p.134.

[3] Klaus Holzberger, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, Freising, 1999, p.38.

[4] Irving Ribner Patterns in Shakespearean Tragedy, London, 1966, p.26.

[5] Ibid., p. 26.

[6] Martin Neubauer and Christine Böck, William Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet, München, 2001, p. 49.

[7] Klaus Holzberger, p.40.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


The Role of Fate and Society in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
Ruhr-University of Bochum
Einführungsübung Literatur
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
534 KB
Role, Fate, Society, Shakespeare, Romeo, Juliet, Einführungsübung, Literatur
Quote paper
Annika Lüchau (Author), 2004, The Role of Fate and Society in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • guest on 4/26/2021

    Hi there, very well written paper. With your permission and consent, I would be highly obliged if I could take references from your paper and use them in my own for an assignment I am writing for my course "Introduction to Drama". I am Sajeda Hussain, an undergrad student in my freshman year at a private university in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and was researching online on the role of fate as theme in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet", when I found your paper. And goes without saying, of course I intend to add this to my bibliography on the list of works cited. Looking forward to hearing back from you,

    With my utmost regards,

    S. Hussain.

Read the ebook
Title: The Role of Fate and Society in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free