Romeo and Juliet’s parents and society caused their deaths. In Romeo and Juliet two teenagers from families with long-standing bad blood fall in love. Through brief interactions and meetings without their parents’ approval, they strengthen their relationship and dedicate themselves to one another. In a frenzy of impulsive decisions, the teens get married and die in a double suicide due to miscommunication. To make the events more tragic, they all occurred in less than a week of knowing each other. The cultural norms of the 1600s shaped the nature of characters in Romeo and Juliet by setting societal standards which emphasized and belittled ideas that the teenage brains of Romeo and Juliet did not know how to respond to, leading to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.
The multitude of instances where Romeo showed impulsive and unstable behavior throughout the play set up his inevitable death. In Act 1, Scene 5 of Romeo and Juliet, Romeo first lays eyes on Juliet and proclaims “Did my heart love till now? Forswear, it sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” (Skakespeare). Romeo states this despite being infatuated with Rosaline moments before, demonstrating his impulsive behavior through the sudden change of heart with no knowledge of who Juliet really is. This immediate attachment led to later overlooking factors that caused his death such as her red cheeks and lips, when she was supposedly dead. Romeo’s unstable behavior is a result of the makeup of his brain, which is proved in the Max Planck Institute’s investigation where “… scientists were looking specifically at impatience and if heightened impatience among teenagers is because of disregard for future outcomes or from oversensitivity to immediate words” (Osborne). In this investigation, it is deduced that adolescents will sooner switch to an option of immediate reward rather than a long-term benefit, demonstrating impulsivity where, perceived, immediate gain is present. Romeo saw an immediate gain in attaching himself to Juliet because it gave him someone else to love instead of brooding over Rosaline. Through these moments and Romeo’s impulsive nature, important decisions were rushed through and crucial details weren’t gathered that would have prevented his unfortunate death.
Juliet having a developing teenage brain affected her ability to rationally think through critical decisions leading to her death. Juliet’s age and stage of development caused her to act in dangerous ways which can be supported by the fact that “There are numerous studies showing impulsivity in adolescents and this often results in them partaking in high-risk behavior” (Osborne). Juliet demonstrates this high-risk behavior, alongside Romeo, in getting married in less than a week of knowing Romeo and doing so without their parents’ knowledge or approval. This short time- span gave no time for the teens to get to know each other and reason through the decision to dedicate themselves to one another to justify getting married in a heartbeat.
In research at Mclean Hospital in Belmont analyzing what teens see compared to adults it was concluded that “The teens mostly used the amygdala … that guides instinctual or “gut” reactions, while the adults relied on the frontal cortex, which governs reason and planning” (Spinks). This natural tendency to act impulsively is something Juliet had no control over and why she felt in her “gut” that she was making the right choices: marrying Romeo, disobeying her family’s wishes, and killing herself to be with Romeo. The oversensitivity commonly shown in teens also contributes to her immediate attachment to Romeo because he made Juliet feel like she wasn’t owned by anyone and she was with him by her own free will. The impaired ability to be logical and patient led Juliet to her death.
Society’s structure during the 1600s contributed to Romeo and Juliet’s death by putting pressure on them to conform to its standards. Due to lower life expectancies in the 1600s and the influence of Christianity in Europe, marriage at a young age was common. This is evident in dialogue between Lord Capulet and Paris such as when Lord Capulet states, “She’s not even fourteen years old” (Skakespeare). To this, Paris replies “Girls younger than she often marry and become happy mothers” (Skakespeare). Juliet’s parents attempt to coerce her into marrying when they expect her to such as when Juliet’s father says she must do so or otherwise be disowned.
As a high- class teenager of age, it was also expected of Romeo to have someone to marry. This pressure that was put on the teens led to Romeo and Juliet being stressed which further impairs their ability to think rationally or long-term. Further dulling the teens’ chance for survival, the spread of the Bubonic Plague through Europe caused an interference with Friar Lawrence’s message reaching Romeo. Upon returning, Friar John recounted his situation, “Going to find a barefoot brother out, one of our order, to associate me, here in this city visiting the sick, and finding him, the searchers of the town, suspecting that we both were in a house where the infectious pestilence did reign, sealed up the doors and would not let us forth.
So that my speed to Mantua there was stayed” (Skakespeare). In this, Friar John states he couldn’t deliver the message because his association with the poor made it appear that he would have the plague. This is what was based off societal standards that assumed those who looked poor were less clean and more likely to be infected. The assumptions and standards of society created the circumstances that led to Romeo and Juliet’s death.
The parenting styles of the Montagues and Capulets deprived Romeo and Juliet of essential guidance and knowledge that would have let them avoid death. As outlined in Amy Morin’s article, the Montagues demonstrate an Uninvolved Parenting Style and the Capulets an Authoritarian Parenting style. “Authoritarian parents believe kids should follow the rules without exception. They also don’t allow kids to get involved in problem- solving challenges or obstacles. Instead, they make the rules and enforce the consequences with little regard for a child’s opinion” (Morin). This authoritarian approach is evident in Lord Capulet’s blatant disregard of Juliet’s opinions on marrying Paris. By removing Juliet from problem- solving challenges her parents set her up to struggle with them in the future. In contrast, the method of Uninvolved Parenting lets children raise themselves. “Uninvolved parents tend to have little knowledge of what their children are doing. There tends to be few rules.
Children may not receive much guidance, nurturing, and parental attention” (Morin). The outlined method of parenting can be seen in the Montagues’ lack of knowledge regarding where Romeo is, such as when he is at the Capulet house party. This style of parenting directly impacts Romeo by giving him no guidance or basic understanding of how to handle situations like the ones seen throughout the play. The aggressive and lackluster parenting styles of Romeo and Juliet’s parents left them destitute of knowledge that would have prevented their young deaths.
Some may see that society did not influence the characters of Romeo and Juliet nor Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, but Friar Lawrence did. This may be concluded from interactions between Friar Lawrence and Juliet in Act 4 Scene 1, for example “Take thou this vial, being then in bed, and this distilling liquor drink thou off. When presently through all thy veins shall run a cold and drowsy humor, for no pulse shall keep his native progress, but surcease. No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest…” (Shakespeare). This may lead someone to believe had Friar not given Juliet the false poison neither teen’s death would have happened. Though this conclusion may seem logical it is false. This is the effect of society because of the trust Friar Lawrence, as a priest, was given.
The extent of this trust is outlined in Simon Newman’s ‘s article where he states “The priest had a special place in society. He presided over baptisms and weddings and he was usually the sole source of education” (Newman). This blind trust that is given to priests was built into society and made no boundaries for priests nor doubt of their actions. This led to Friar’s questionable actions and Romeo and Juliet’s constant meetings with him being overlooked. The effect of Friar Lawrence on Romeo and Juliet’s deaths was only made possible by society’s trust in him as a priest.
To conclude, the cultural norms and standards of the 1600s led Romeo and Juliet to their deaths by putting them in a position that their brains couldn’t adequately process. Romeo and Juliet come from two opposing families of power. Their relationship, though unapproved of and hidden, is strengthened and becomes a dedication to one another. In less than a week of knowing each other they marry and then impulsively commit suicide to never be separated from one another in assuming false truths to be fact. These events leading to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet were caused by their parents and society.