What Causes the Tragedy in Romeo and Juliet?

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A ‘tragedy’ in theatre is a play in which ‘good’ turns to ‘bad’, and ends with the downfall of the hero and/or heroine. The question of what caused the tragedy in Romeo and Juliet has been argued by many English scholars. Romeo and Juliet is centred around a strong feud between the Montagues and the Capulets, and this is often held accountable for the tragic death of the two lovers: ‘Capulet, Montague See what a scourge is laid upon your hate That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love.’ (V.3.291-3) Although this may contribute to the disastrous outcome of the play, it cannot be held entirely to blame. Right at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, the Chorus tells us that we are to see a pair of ‘star-crossed lovers take their life’. (Line 6). This idea of the influence of the stars, or Fate, is worth examining as it is likely that this has an effect on the conclusion. Although the idea of Fate may seem unrealistic to us, it is important to remember that the play was directed at an Elizabethan audience. The Elizabethans were highly superstitious, and most had a deep belief in magic and destiny. Therefore, they would have readily accepted that Fate had a role in the outcome of the play. The term ‘star-crossed lovers’ indicates that Romeo and Juliet are destined to meet and fall in love with one another, and that Fate means for them to die together. From this small phrase, the audience gets a sense of unease and foreboding right from the beginning. This suggestion of Fate is repeated throughout the play. Before Romeo ever meets Juliet, he says: ‘…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.4.106-11) As
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