Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy of the social fabric

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There are many people and events to blame for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. I've explored the posibility of the social fabric being the cause.

Submitted: September 22, 2012

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Submitted: September 22, 2012



Romeo and Juliet, a tragedy of the social fabric.

Usually, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is interpreted as a tragic tale of two lovers. Yes, it is; however, it is also a tragic tale of how the social fabric is constructed. In this play, the Prince represents this social fabric and is responsible for the health of the city. His first words set the tone “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace. “[1] Many characters in Romeo and Juliet are to blame for the individual tragedies in the play, which lead to the eventual double suicide; yet, there are two powerful characters that symbolise the meaninglessness of the feud; Capulet and Montague.  

Capulet and Montague were the characters who enforced the vicious and pointless family feud. As they were the heads of the families, everyone else under the family name would have to follow their decisions as when two Capulet servants say “The quarrel is between our masters, and us their men.”[2] The problem with this social system is that soon, no one really knew why they are fighting and in some cases killing each other. If the social system worked differently and not everyone who bore the family name had to follow those with power, no matter how strange and dehumanised their decisions were, there would have been a lot less corpses in their crypt.

In this play, the adults act as children, and the children have to step up and become the rational adults, and they do this through the act of love. Romeo and Juliet had to become the sensible adults and work around the naïve quarrel that has caused so much grief between the families and unite them with love rather than hate, “For this alliance may so happy prove/ To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.”[3] While the rest of the families were out disturbing the peaceful streets of Verona, being reckless with their swords and choice of language, Romeo and Juliet, however futile it may have seemed, were attempting to be together, even though they were sworn enemies.

The new generation represented by Romeo and Juliet are the ones who are able to see the futility in the ongoing quarrel, and are the ones who rebel against it. In the famous balcony scene, Juliet begins to realise a name does not define a history: “What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor food,/Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part/Belonging to a man/…What’s in a name?”[4] Romeo responds with the same courage and accepts the danger and challenge of creating a new history: “Call me but love, and I’ll be new babtis’d/Henceforth I never will be Romeo.”[5] Further in the scene the subject of walls comes into the text. This use of walls demonstrates how love crumbles boundaries, whether they be family laws or national borders. In pursuing their relationship Juliet acts against powerful family custom, by refusing to marry Paris. Juliet believes in marrying for love, rather than for power and wealth as her family believes.

The tragedy of the play is that young courage and love is not strong enough to change the construction of inherited hatred. This hatred spills into the streets of Verona and eventually begins to take casualties. Mercutio is one who gets caught in the cross fire; he is neither Montague nor Capulet and has nothing to contribute to the feud. This is why his last words are so moving: “A plague a ’both your houses!/They have made worms’ meat of me.”[6] It is only when the deaths occur of the two ‘star-crossed lovers’ that the heads of the family accept the error of their ways.

We now come to the hard question of whether this is a play of fate or personality. It is easy to find evidence for the role of fate in the play. This play is based on foreshadowing: the prologue even lets the reader know the plot and tragic ending of the play: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes/A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.”[7] The text also has many references to Romeo’s sense of having no control of his actions and life, as it is already written in the stars: “for my mind misgives/Some consequence yet hanging in the stars[8]/But He that hath the steerage of course/Direct my sail![9]” Yet, we can also see the role of personality in the characters choices. For instance Romeo tells Juliet “I am no pilot, yet wet thou as far/ As that vast shore wash’d with the farthest sea,/I should adventure for such merchandise.”[10] This shows Romeo is an adventurer and does make his own decisions. There are many more examples where personality determines the outcome. This leads me to conclude that the characters are neither driven by fate or personality, rather a bit of each. For the social fabric to be healthy, a balance between grace and rude will is needed.

As a result of the imbalance of the social fabric, those with power were able to control those with less. Those who did not have much influence over those with power, such as Romeo and Juliet, had to go through drastic measures to be heard by their superiors. No matter what the star-crossed lovers did to be heard over the roar of hatred, it was not enough. The tragedy of the social structure is that only in death did Romeo and Juliet have power over the meaningless quarrel between their masters.

[1] I.i.75

[2] I.i.18

[3] II.iii.91-92

[4] II.ii.40-42, 43

[5] II.ii.50-51

[6] III.i.102-103

[7] Prologue lines 5-6

[8] I.iv.107-108

[9] I.iv.112-113

[10] II.ii.82-84


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