Feuds and Fate in Romeo and Juliet (#moocspeare)

Usual warning: meandering, “rough-draft” thoughts follow.

I’m starting to wonder if the “real” fate in Romeo and Juliet isn’t the fate ordained by the stars but their own romantic attachment to that fate as embodied by the feud between their houses that (they believe) must divide them.

Until now, I’ve alway understood the feud between the Montagues and Capulets to be deep, enduring and consistently violent. But for some reason, the moment when old Capulet calls for his sword and Lady Capulet offers a crutch (in multiple senses) I started wondering: what if the feud, while long-standing, was because of that very length, waning? Except for the aptly named Mercutio, whose mercurial temper undoes himself and everyone around him—and who is neither Montague nor Capulet!—there’s not much to say that the feud is more than a tradition. Old Montague and old Capulet appear to want the feud to continue, but not necessarily with vigor: old Capulet stays Tybalt’s hand when Romeo is unmasked…but even before that did anyone really think that Romeo would go unrecognized? I don’t think so…masked events were common but it was also, I think, understood that most participants would be known to one another anyway. The masks were—in the same manner but the opposite intent of the feud—a shared fiction that made for a particular context for action. There’s no real sense that, but for Mercutio’s hot-headedness and Tybalt’s fire, the houses were actively at each other’s throats.

What if the feud wasn’t just below a boiling point, stoked to overflowing by the actions of the characters, but just an excuse for the actions of the selfish or limited characters?

In that sense, the feud becomes a pretext and context for the very human, personal actions of Mercutio, Tybalt, Romeo, and Juliet. Mercutio, crucially of neither house, provokes an enocunter. Tybalt is just as determined. But after the death of Mercutio—even after the death of Tybalt—all might not necessarily be lost. What might have happened if Romeo and Juliet had simple declared their love? Might not the force of their love just as likely unified the houses? The outcome certainly couldn’t have been worse.

But Romeo and Juliet are both romantics in their own way. Romeo is committed to a romantic idea of love; Juliet is committed to the romantic idea of the enduring feud that must transgress it. Between them they are possibly creating a fiction of necessarily doomed love. In this way it is not the stars that determine their fate, but they who make up a fate of their own that comes from and then feeds on their young love.

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