Why Romeo and Juliet Don’t Deserve Their Happy Ending
Over the years, people have grown to love the story of Romeo and Juliet for its narrative of two star-crossed lovers who defied all odds to prove that love could exist even in the most belligerent places: Shakespeare’s Verona. Verona’s environment served as a key backdrop to the lovers’ story, constantly contrasting the tranquility they found in their love against a turbulent political atmosphere — further highlighting the adversity that stood in their way. With nothing but sweet words and elaborate schemes, the audience sees them try to change their world into one that can accept their love and allow it to live. In a bittersweet resolution, the couple does succeed, but only at the cost of their own lives. Fate strikes one last time and Shakespeare denies his audience the “good” ending that surely would’ve had Romeo and Juliet live happily ever after.
To this day, that inclusion of fate as a thematic device in Romeo and Juliet remains a polarizing one. One popular argument from critics is that it took away from the “tragedy” aspect because as audiences, we are made aware of what it’s all building up to. On my end though, I don’t think Shakespeare ever intended audiences to dwell so much on the plot points for a sense of tragedy, especially when you consider that it loses all suspense by the prologue. I actually think that he uses fate intelligently to contribute to the tragedy of the story, characterizing it as ubiquitous and inescapable. Moreover, he subverts traditional literary conventions by refusing to describe fate as intrinsically supernatural. After all, needing supernatural fate to constantly move your story along mostly gives off the impression that you’re an incompetent writer. Instead, Shakespeare introduces an alternate form of fate, not simply formed by the universe or an all-knowing deity, but by the practices, attitudes, and characterization of the society that surrounds and includes the two lovers. In this manner, Shakespeare’s idea of fate then becomes systematic and transfixed to their environment. As a result, the tragedy is no longer defined by Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, but by the fact that this was almost in a way, demanded by the circumstances of the world that they live in, as well as their own emotional, self-destructive nature. So yes, I believe that the removal of supernatural fate wouldn’t have given the couple a happier ending because that wasn’t what was withholding it in the first place.
The more significant factors that acted as “fate” withholding true happiness for the couple, include their society’s conflation of love with violence, Romeo’s self-destructive tendencies, and the overall destructive nature of their love. After all, common expressions of love in the story include battles to the death against rival suitors and cousins, faking your own death to avoid being married off to someone else, and most famously, killing oneself to join the other in the afterlife. Through all this, I would even go as far as to say that contrary to a tragedy, their suicide was almost the most logical culmination of their path to self-destruction throughout the entire story. A love like theirs that is fueled solely by passion could only burn so bright before it eventually consumed itself. However, what redeems them is that from the ashes of their love and self-sacrifice, came a new era for Verona. In pushing the limits of their passion beyond what society had dictated for them, they had forced society to recognize its mutual responsibility to quell hate and advocate love — the same love that those two kids from the most divided families, in the most hostile of environments, found in each other.