The Death Motif in Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet





The Death Motif in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Often times, authors use the theme of death throughout their works. This seems to be true of William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. Throughout his play, Shakespeare uses death to move his story along. He does this with actual deaths, which cause problems for the lovers, and through premonitions and dreams of death. Both Juliet and her Romeo exhibit these premonitions/dreams.
The use of death is immediately seen in the prologue of the play: “The fearful passage of their death-marked love…” (Shakespeare Pro. 9). The Prologue offers us the inevitable fate of the two lovers short and abrupt. During the first act of the play, we learn of the Capulet’s ball, and of how the lover’s met. After the ball is over, Juliet says, “…If he be, married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed,” (I, v, ll.143-44) which is a foreboding of the final scene of the play. This partially leads to Romeo and Tybalt’s duel in III, i, as Romeo’s presence at the ball antagonizes Tybalt. In II, iv, Benvolio and Mercutio reveal that Tybalt has sent Romeo a challenge to a duel.
Just before the arrival of Juliet, the Friar warns Romeo against consummating their new marriage too quickly. Romeo agrees, but challenges death to ruin the moment, “...then love-devouring death do what he dare…” (I, vi, ll.7.). Now if only the marriage was made public, these forebodings may not have come to pass especially the duel with Tybalt.
In III, i, Tybalt accosts Benvolio and Mercutio in search of Romeo. Now, Romeo does not want to duel with Tybalt as he is now secretly his kinsman, but this does not stop Mercutio for getting in the mix with Tybalt. Romeo gets between the two men, and as Tybalt attempts to run Romeo through, the sword goes under Romeo’s arm and mortally wounds Mercutio. Before he is taken away, Mercutio says to Romeo, “Why the devil came you between us…A plague o’ both your houses! They have made worms’ meat of me. I have it, and soundly too. A plague!” (ll.102-103, 10106-108). Here, we see Mercutio cursing the two houses, and, in essence, foreboding things to come. Mercutio is taken to a near house to be treated, and moments later, Romeo is informed of Mercutio’s death. Romeo, now enraged, duels with Tybalt and slays him. The Prince arrives upon the scene, and after an account of the happenings, banishes Romeo to Mantua upon penalty of death. This banishment of Romeo’s inevitably leads to even greater problems later in the play.
In III, ii, Juliet prophesizes bad things to come when she says, “Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars, and he will make the face of heaven so fine…” (ll.21-23). The Nurse enters and informs Juliet that Tybalt has been slain by Romeo. Juliet looks at the situation as the death of both the men, as Romeo’s banishment is like a death. III, iii is moved to the Friar’s cell, where Romeo is exhibiting his self-pity to the Friar. At the conclusion of the scene, in a reaction of brass judgement, Romeo demands the Friar tell him what part of the body his name is, so he may cut it out with a knife he has drawn. This seems to imply Romeo’s desire to be dead, rather than be without Juliet.
Initially, at the beginning of this scene, Capulet will have no talk of marriage, due to the recent death in the family. However, in order to help Juliet through her “grief” over Tybalt’s death, Capulet decides to marry her off to Paris (III, iv). Of course this is a problem as she is secretly married to Romeo at this time. In III, v, Lady Capulet states, “I’ll send one in Mantua, where that same banished runagate doth live, that he shall soon keep Tybalt company…” (ll94-96). This statement prophesizes Romeo’s death later in the final scene of the play. Then, Lady Capulet wishes her daughter to be married to her grave (ll. 145), which is ironic, as Juliet will take a potion causing her to appear dead in IV, ii. That same evening, the lovers