Chance and Coincidence in Romeo and Juliet
In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, chance and coincidence are connected to several events throughout the play, and most significantly, dictate the events that lead to the tragic ending. Specifically, the coincidence of Lord Capulet moving up the wedding of Juliet and Paris affects the ending of the play by forcing Juliet to take the potion earlier, which leads to Romeo killing himself. Also, by chance, Friar Lawrence’s tardy arrival at the Capulet tomb impacts the play’s ending because he can not prevent Romeo from poisoning himself, which leads Juliet to kill herself. In Romeo and Juliet, chance and fate are intertwined throughout seemingly minor events in the plot, when Capulet moves up the wedding and when Friar Lawrence arrives late, which inevitably leads to the tragic denouement of the play.
Foremost, Lord Capulet coincidentally moves up Paris and Juliet’s wedding date, which alters the ending of the play. Lord Capulet affects the conclusion by saying, “I’ll have this knot knit up tomorrow morning,” (IV.ii.25). Shakespeare uses chance, like Lord Capulet’s unexpected announcement, to increase the tension and suspense. Because Juliet’s marriage to Paris has been moved up, she is forced to take the potion faking her death earlier, which frustrates the Friar's plan. The role of chance contributes to the importance of fate because small events determine the lovers’ ultimate deaths. If Lord Capulet had not moved up Juliet’s contractual marriage, Juliet would have taken the potion at the proper time, possibly preventing her and Romeo’s deaths. Instead, Romeo is led to his death, deciding, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight,” (V.i.37). Romeo does not get the letter from Friar Lawrence that Juliet’s death has been faked because the messenger has, by chance, been quarantined, so Romeo determines that he will join Juliet in death. Romeo and Juliet’s identities have become mangled and reliant on one another throughout their relationship, so Romeo believes he is unable to live without Juliet. Because of coincidental events, Romeo does not know Juliet is alive, so he kills himself.
Further, Friar Lawrence coincidentally arrives at the Capulet tomb too late, which contributes to the tragic ending of the play. Chance is demonstrated when Friar Lawrence exclaims, “Romeo! O, pale!” (V.iii.149). If the friar had arrived any earlier, he could have informed Romeo that Juliet was not dead, preventing him from poisoning himself. Romeo’s death contributes to the motif of poison and connects his coincidental downfall with the violence that has spread throughout Verona, decimating Verona’s youth. Juliet also falls victim to the violence in Verona when, by chance, she wakes up from the potion right after Romeo had killed himself. In her dying speech, Juliet states, “To make me die with a restorative,” (V.iii.171). Juliet, like Romeo, has lost her identity in their relationship, so she kills herself to restore their love. Juliet stabbing herself exhibits the theme of violence throughout the play and how it connects to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. If by chance, Friar Lawrence had arrived at the tomb earlier, he could have prevented the tragic ending of the play.
In Romeo and Juliet, chance and coincidence are incorporated throughout supposedly insignificant events, including when Lord Capulet moves up the wedding of Juliet and Paris and when Friar Lawrence arrives late to the tomb, while they actually lead to a tragic conclusion. By the repetition of chance, Shakespeare most notably establishes the theme of fate and destiny, while synchronously questioning their role. Shakespeare’s ability to enhance the plot and themes of Romeo and Juliet increases the impact of the play’s ending on his audience.