He defers to Juliet’s ability to choose for herself (“My will to her consent is but a part” [1.2.15]). But his power to force her into a marriage if he feels it necessary is implicitly present. Thus parental influence in this tragedy becomes a tool of fate: Juliet’s arranged marriage with Paris, and the traditional feud between Capulets and Montagues, will eventually contribute to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The forces that determine their fate are laid in place well before Romeo and Juliet even meet.
Friar Lawrence is the wiliest and most scheming character in Romeo and Juliet: he secretly marries the two lovers, spirits Romeo to Mantua, and stages Juliet’s death. The friar’s machinations seem also to be tools of fate. Yet despite the role Friar Lawrence plays in bringing about the lovers’ deaths, Shakespeare never presents him in a negative, or even ambiguous, light. He is always treated as a benign, wise presence. The tragic failure of his plans is treated as a disastrous accident for which Friar Lawrence bears no responsibility.
However, the scene does augment the general sense of fate through Romeo’s statement of belief that the night’s events will lead to untimely death. The audience, of course, knows that he will suffer an untimely death. When Romeo gives himself up to “he that hath the steerage of my course,” the audience feels fate take a tighter grasp on him (1.4.112).
A more profound foreshadowing exists in the friar’s observation, in reference to Romeo’s powerful love, that “these violent delights have violent ends” (2.5.9). Every audience member knows that the play is a tragedy, and that Romeo and Juliet will die. The friar’s words therefore are more than just a difference of opinion with Romeo; they reinforce the presence and power of fate.
Romeo’s cry, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” refers specifically to his unluckiness in being forced to kill his new wife’s cousin, thereby getting himself banished (3.1.131). It also recalls the sense of fate that hangs over the play. Mercutio’s response to his fate, however, is notable in the ways it diverges from Romeo’s response. Romeo blames fate, or fortune, for what has happened to him. Mercutio curses the Montagues and Capulets. He seems to see people as the cause of his death, and gives no credit to any larger force.
The sequence of near misses in this section reveals the inescapable work of fate. There is no reason for the friar’s plan to go wrong. But an outbreak of plague forces Friar John into quarantine and prevents him from delivering Friar Lawrence’s letter to Romeo, while Balthasar seeks out Romeo with news of Juliet’s death. Just as the audience senses an inviolable fate descending on Romeo, so too does Romeo feel himself trapped by fate. But the fate the audience recognizes and the fate Romeo sees as surrounding him are very different. The audience knows that both Romeo and Juliet are bound to die; Romeo knows only that fate has somehow tried to separate him from Juliet. When Romeo screams “Then I defy you, stars” he is screaming against the fate that he believes is thwarting his desires (5.1.24). He attempts to defy that fate by killing himself and spending…