Romeo and Juliet is a well written play with many ideas and themes. One of the most prominent themes is Fate. Fate is defined as: “the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power”. The audience’s minds are directed to the idea of fate throughout the play, and Shakespeare used many literary devices to do so. I believe three of the most important literary devices used are: Dramatic irony, Foreshadowing, and Dreams. Shakespeare uses these multiple times to help the audience understand that the events in the play are out of the characters control.

Dramatic irony is used throughout the play to portray fate by letting the audience know what’s going to happen, or the fate of the character, whilst the characters themselves are clueless. It used used to express the idea that the characters has predetermined deaths and endings. It is can be portrayed by the characters saying something that the audience knows to be more true than the character realises within the situation.  An Example of this is in Act 2, Scene 2, Page 8 of “Romeo and Juliet” when Juliet says, “I should kill thee with much cherishing”, She said this after Romeo and Juliet were having a conversation in which Juliet said if Romeo was her (pet) bird she would never let him go, and he agreed that he wished he was her bird. I believe what she means by this is that if he were her belonging, or she had the right to love him she would never let him go. When he wants to be her bird, it is like he is giving her the right to love him. But, she also mentioned that if he were her bird (or her rightful lover) she would “kill thee with much cherishing”. This is an example of dramatic irony because the audience already knows that their “star-crossed” love actually kills them both. Dramatic irony can also be portrayed in a situation when a character does something in a certain situation that the audience know they shouldn’t do for a reason unbeknownst to the character.  Possibly the biggest act of dramatic irony in the play is in Act 5, Scene 3, when Romeo commits suicide next to Juliet’s grave just moments before she wakes up from her death-like state. A letter was sent to romeo informing him of Juliet’s plan but he did not receive this and was instead informed of her death. He rushes to her grave to see for himself if Juliet is truly dead and finds her in apparent death. He speaks to her in sorrow, “Death, that hath sucked the honey from thy breath, Hath no power yet upon thy beauty. Thou art not conquered. Beauty ensign yet in crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks,” He is right, she is not conquered because she is alive and the crimson in her lips and cheeks is because she is about to wake up. But Romeo unknowing kills himself under the impression she is dead. The audience however, knew she was going to wake up the whole time. Shakespeare used dramatic irony to express the idea of fate by making sure the audience knew what was predetermined to happen and helping them to understand that the characters had no control over what was to happen to them at the end of the play. He achieved this by using background characters to let the audience know all the facts about the situation without the main characters knowing them.

Foreshadowing is used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet frequently to express the idea that the characters’ fate is already set as a consequence to a certain action. Foreshadowing can be a line said by a character, a line said by the chorus or it can be in the prologue. This doesn’t have to be extremely specific, it can just be a vague impression of a positive or negative consequence set to happen in the future. An example of foreshadowing in “Romeo and Juliet” is in the prologue. It says: “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star crossed lovers take their life”. The quote means that the enemies’ children are destined to die, and that they will love each other and commit suicide. This is foreshadowing because it is telling us what is going to happen in the end of they play. It expresses the idea of fate by letting the audience know that the end of the play has already been decided. Another example of foreshadowing is when Mercutio and Benvolio are trying to convince Romeo to go to the capulet’s party so he could get over rosaline. Romeo says that he has a bad feeling about going to the party and that there is: “…some consequence yet hanging in the stars…”. This quote means that he thinks the actions of tonight will have consequences that affect his future. He is right. When Romeo decides to go to the party he meets Juliet, an action that seals his fate, and ends in his death. This is foreshadowing because, whilst vague, the quote gives us an idea of events in the future, Foreshadowing is an important language device used by Shakespeare as it is a way of explaining to the audience that the characters actions seal their own fate.

Shakespeare used dreams multiple times in Romeo and Juliet to further enforce the idea of fate in the minds of the audience. Dreams are an important and useful element of character for Romeo and Juliet because in the time period it was set, people believed that dreams were prophecies or predictions to what would happen in the future. The characters in the play have dreams when a main part of the plot is about to happen, it is like a miniature prologue to the event. An example of Dreams in Romeo and Juliet is when Romeo is about to receive the letter informing him of Juliet’s death and he had just woken up from his amazing dream. He then says: “I dreamt my lady came and found me dead, And breathed such life with kisses in my lips that I revived and was an emperor.” This quote is slightly ridiculous to actually happen on earth but I believe it’s referring to when Juliet wakes up from her slumber. She awakens in Capulet’s monument and finds Romeo dead beside her. His lady found him dead. But I believe it didn’t mean breathing life into his lips in terms of him coming back to life. Instead it meant that when Juliet committed suicide they revived together in heaven, Romeo was an emperor, or all-powerful, because him and Juliet could finally be together forever and noone on earth could split them up. This dream is useful for the audience to understand that Juliet was always going to awaken with Romeo dead beside her, and that the characters had no control over the situations they were put in. Shakespeare cleverly used dreams as a helpful literary device that directs the audience’s minds to the future without telling them exactly what was going to happen.

Shakespeare was a literary genius, and his play “Romeo and Juliet” proved so. He used dramatic irony to give the audience information, whilst also dramatising the fact that the characters themselves are helpless to prevent what is destined to happen. He used Foreshadowing to provide the audience with evidence that the characters futures were decided at the earliest substantial plot point, and he finally used dreams to give the audience a general idea of what was going to happen next, whilst simultaneously making them work it out themselves by deciphering the dream. Shakespeare used all three of these literary devices to prove that fate (at least in the play) exists.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Hi Lucy,

    You have got some good, accurate quotes in here. I would like to see you revisit the explanation of some of these quotes. Look to develop your analysis of how Shakespeare uses language devices.

    You also have a lot of circular statements in this piece of writing. This means you are saying the same thing, just tweaked slighting, more than once in close succession. Read through your work and see if you can identify these comments. They are un-necessary.

    Mrs. P

  2. Hi Lucy,

    Well done on identifying some of those circular comments.

    I want to say you develop the historical context further around some of your points.This means thinking about how an Elizabethan audience would’ve reacted or would of thought of some of the ideas that you’re talking about. You touch on this in a couple of places in your essay.

    You also just read through your work and see if there are any statements or ideas you can reword slightly. Editing is really important for catching mis-used words or incorrectly constructed syntax.

    Mrs. P


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