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Why did Romeo and Juliet Have to Die?

Romeo and Juliet's tragic end serves as a profound commentary on the destructive power of feuding and the intensity of youthful love. Their deaths are not just personal loss but a societal lesson on reconciliation. Reflect on this: How might their story inspire us to address the conflicts in our own lives? Continue reading to explore the impact of their tale.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Many wonder why Romeo and Juliet must end with the title characters’ deaths. Considering the plot from a modern light, it is more than tragedy if a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy commit suicide. A newspaper reporting such news would likely call it horror, not tragedy. There are actually, several reasons why the characters must die, some integral to the plot, and others serving the nature of Elizabethan drama.

From a plot perspective, Romeo and Juliet don’t initially intend to commit suicide. In fact, the goal is to fake their deaths so they can run away and continue their married lives, since they have married in Act II.

Both title characters committed suicide in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
Both title characters committed suicide in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.

Their respective families would not support their marriage because of the Montague/Capulet feud, so there is no possibility of their marriage being upheld or recognized by the families. Juliet does threaten to kill herself if the Friar can’t come up with a plausible solution.

It is true that Romeo and Juliet are quite young, but they would have been considered of marriageable age in Shakespeare’s time. However, the playwright likely had the good sense to realize that even a married 13 year old is still a 13 year old. The couple can only see things through their own perspective, and had neither wisdom nor forbearance. The death of either seems like the end of the world to both characters. Both believe they cannot possibly live if either character dies. Thus, technically they do not have to die to serve the plot, but choose to die, because they are young, foolish, and in love.

Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy, so it cannot end happily.
Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy, so it cannot end happily.

Another reason for the death of Romeo and Juliet is based on the expectations of Elizabethan drama. In general, such drama was split into two categories: comedy and tragedy. Comedy ends in marriage and tragedy in death. To write a tragedy that did not culminate in death would not fit into the genre. Therefore, Romeo and Juliet must die since Shakespeare was writing a tragedy. If he had been writing a comedy, they would have married and their families would have likely reconciled.

The balcony scene in "Romeo and Juliet" has become synonymous with romance.
The balcony scene in "Romeo and Juliet" has become synonymous with romance.

There remains some debate as to whether it is advisable to teach the play to middle school aged children. It is often the first Shakespeare play children read, but with many suicide pacts in modern times, some consider teaching the play to impressionable teens to be courting disaster. In response, many teachers now look to other plays that express Shakespeare’s genius but are less likely to be imitated by young teens.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent LanguageHumanities contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent LanguageHumanities contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon359861

Last night, I watched the entire movie on Netflix. Near the end, I cried my eyes out! I was so depressed and upset to watch Romeo and Juliet die.

anon321277

They didn't choose to die; it just happened because they loved each other. No one can say if they went to Heaven or not. All we know if that they both killed themselves. Juliet is 13 and is almost 14. Romeo is about 16 or 17.

anon184326

Just to be clear, Juliet is 13 (almost 14), and Romeo is about 16.

anon170159

You shouldn't blame Romeo or Juliet for their deaths because it's so obvious that you shouldn't blame their families. you should blame society for it, not anyone specifically. --shelby o.

anon152253

Romeo and Juliet caused their own death because they were too immature to listen to others. how immature can you be to take your own life just because you can't talk to you parents?

anon114558

About the newspaper report: Newspapers, schmewspapers. The media almost always says it's "tragic" when a bus crashes and a bunch of children die. While that is really, really horrible, it's not technically tragic. That's not what the word means.

An actual tragedy is when someone is destroyed by their own nature. It's as if there was no chance that the person could have survived the situation, because they acted according to their basic nature. It's like the ending was already written for them.

This happens all the time. It's not the same thing as "destiny", because there is not (necessarily) a supernatural force involved. It's just that the person can't help but be true to their nature, which ultimately leads to their demise.

It's too bad that the word "tragedy" has lost its meaning, as there is no other word that can be used the same way. It's much like the word "literally", which has also drowned in the murky cesspool of modern LOLnguage. The word "ironic" is also getting its butt kicked lately.

I could go on and on, but I digress.

Anyway, the point is that the word "tragedy" has a very specific meaning.

anon84507

Juliet dies about two weeks prior to her 14th birthday.

Act I, Scene iii, lines 12-17

Lady Capulet: She's not fourteen.

Nurse: I'll lay fourteen of my teeth--

And yet, to my teen be it spoken, I have but four--

She's not fourteen. How long is it now to Lammastide?

Lady Capulet: A fortnight and odd days.

Nurse: Even or odd, of all days in the year,

Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.

anon78372

actually Juliet is 13. it says in the book she is just shy of 14.

anon70457

juliet is exactly 14 and romeo is about 16/17. Just to let you know lol. I like your ideas though.

anon27358

Did romeo and juliet die for a good cause, and do you think that they made it into Heaven?

aysha

Thank you this was very helpful in understanding Shakespeare also a big help to my assignment.

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    • Both title characters committed suicide in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
      By: Pavel Losevsky
      Both title characters committed suicide in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
    • Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy, so it cannot end happily.
      By: Jasmin
      Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy, so it cannot end happily.
    • The balcony scene in "Romeo and Juliet" has become synonymous with romance.
      By: Csák István
      The balcony scene in "Romeo and Juliet" has become synonymous with romance.
    • Shakespeare wrote during a time when plays were either comedies or tragedies.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Shakespeare wrote during a time when plays were either comedies or tragedies.
    • Shakespeare, like many of his contemporaries, based many of his plays on popular stories of the time.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Shakespeare, like many of his contemporaries, based many of his plays on popular stories of the time.