Romeo and Juliet


William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Foreshadowing 9 key examples

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Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Explanation and Analysis—The Chorus's Opening :

In the Prologue to the play, just before Act 1, the Chorus foreshadows Romeo and Juliet's eventual deaths, and describes an ironic end to the plot to come:  

Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The Chorus serves a clear narrative function: its dialogue (which appears in the Prologue and at the beginning of Act 2) helps to set up and explain the plot, and it also establishes the play's tone. The Chorus's introduction in the Prologue is a rather heavy-handed form of foreshadowing that lays out a road map for the entire play. Though the "star-crossed lovers" aren't named—nor are the warring "households"—as the play's action unfolds, it becomes clear that Romeo and Juliet will die by suicide. As a result, the Prologue becomes a kind of prophecy, guiding the plot and creating suspense, as the audience anticipates the events to come. 

The Chorus also clarifies one of the fundamental situational ironies of Romeo and Juliet. Though Romeo and Juliet will die, bringing unending grief to both families (who must grapple with the loss of the children they formerly neglected and oppressed), "their parents' strife" will simultaneously die and be ended forever. Thus, Romeo and Juliet's deaths serve as a kind of sacrifice, ensuring peace in Verona. Though the end of the play is undoubtedly tragic, this aspect of the conclusion offers some consolation to the audience, suggesting that even powerful rifts can be healed, and that the injustices of the past are not bound to recur in perpetuity. 

Act 1, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Romeo's Moment of Doubt:

In Act 1, Scene 4, Romeo has misgivings about attending the Capulets' ball and ends up foreshadowing his own "untimely death":

I fear too early, for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despisèd life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.

Romeo is dejected because Rosaline hasn't returned his love, which makes him feel pessimistic and unsettled. Although Rosaline won't factor into the play as further events unfold (and is never seen on stage), Romeo's anxieties are justified. He correctly predicts that the "night's revels" will result in his own death, which his depressed state of mind leads him to view as the expiration of the term of his own "despisèd life." (Ironically, and tragically, Romeo will regain his youthful exuberance and faith in life's possibilities by falling in love with Juliet during the "night's revels.") 

Romeo appears cautious and diffident in several moments in the play, including this one. These qualities put him at odds with his kinsmen, Benvolio and Mercutio, who are more bold and rash (particularly Mercutio, who ends up stepping in for Romeo in a duel with Tybalt). Whereas Benvolio and Mercutio use violence as a means of action—to attempt to exert control over their own lives, and intimidate others—Romeo accepts that he cannot control his own destiny, and that he may not be able to avoid the "fearful date" of his "untimely death." "But he that hath the steerage of my course / Direct my sail," he declares at the end of this monologue, describing fate as an external force that will "direct" the course of his life. 

Thus, Romeo's foreshadowing—a pessimistic vision that is eventually proven correct—elucidates a key aspect of his personality. He is gentler and more wary than his male compatriots, and this makes him somewhat of a misfit in Verona's patriarchal society, in which masculinity is associated with brashness and hubris. Later, after Mercutio's death in Act 3, Scene 1, Romeo will claim in a fit of self-hatred that Juliet's "beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper softened valor’s steel" by driving him to forfeit his duel with Tybalt. Yet it seems clear that Romeo's personality has always been more "effeminate." Far from weakening his character, Romeo's tenderness and cautiousness make him an ideal lover—far more caring, compassionate, and considerate than the other young men in Verona, who can only brag about their own sexual aggression. 

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Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Love Like Lightning:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet uses both simile and metaphor to characterize her fledgling relationship with Romeo—a characterization that actually functions as an instance of foreshadowing, given the play's tragic conclusion:

I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”
Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

Juliet demurs when Romeo asks her to demonstrate her love for him, since she is playing the stereotypically coy role that young women of the era were expected to uphold while being courted. Instead, she uses a simile in which she likens their "contract," or their professions of love for each other, to "the lightning"—a transient apparition that will quickly "cease to be." Interestingly enough, Romeo and Juliet's love actually will remain transient and temporary: a series of disastrous events and unhappy coincidences over the next few days will ultimately lead to their deaths. Juliet doesn't know this yet, though. Instead, she doubles down on her coy performance by using a metaphor that describes her ideal version of love. Their love should be a "bud," she says, which will develop slowly to become "beauteous flower"—a metaphor that runs contrary to the "rash," "unadvised," or "sudden" idea of jumping headlong into the relationship. 

Juliet's use of metaphor and simile to describe love underscores the difficulty she faces in precisely articulating her feelings for Romeo. As a woman in oppressive Verona, she is expected to serve as an object of male affections, but not to explicitly voice her own desires. Thus, when describing love, she must resort to cagier, indirect language. Later in the play, though, Juliet will clearly and explicitly express sexual desire for Romeo—demonstrating that she has learned to defy patriarchal tradition. 

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Act 2, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Joke:

Mercutio often jibes Romeo for his obsession with Rosaline, as in this moment from Act 2, Scene 4, which simultaneously functions as dramatic irony and foreshadowing:

Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead, stabbed with a white wench’s black eye, run through the ear with a love-song, the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy’s butt shaft.

Mercutio's joke demonstrates his skepticism about Romeo's interest in Rosaline. He is the only one of Romeo's kinsmen to recognize that Romeo's love for Rosaline may be fundamentally superficial and self-indulgent. In Mercutio's opinion, Romeo is not actually in love with Rosaline; in fact, he hardly knows her at all. Rather, he is love with the idea of loving someone. Romeo, to Mercutio, is merely "run through the ear with a love-song," which has led him to believe that he is attracted to Rosaline (despite being unattractive, as Mercutio suggests: he describes her as a "white wench" with a "black eye").  

However, Mercutio doesn't realize that Romeo is now in love with Juliet, not Rosaline, and that the love he is experiencing for Juliet is genuine. This is an example of dramatic irony, since the audience is aware of Romeo's new obsession, having observed his interactions with Juliet in the previous scenes. Mercutio's joke has a ring of truth to it, but it also indicates a clear conflict in the play: Mercutio scorns romance while Romeo is irrevocably drawn to it.

Although Mercutio never learns about Romeo and Juliet's relationship, he suspects that Romeo may have had sex with another woman after the Capulets' ball. ("That’s as much as to say such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams," he says to Romeo later in this scene, using a euphemism for sex.) Mercutio seems to perceive Romeo's interest in women as a betrayal of his bonds with other men. In Mercutio's view, romantic love for women weakens men, though Romeo's love for Juliet actually seems to revitalize him. 

Moreover, by joking that Romeo has "died" for love, Mercutio is unwittingly prefiguring Romeo's death, which will indeed result from his love for a woman. To Mercutio, a lovesick Romeo is as good as dead, since he appears to have chosen love over male friendship. This assumption indicates Mercutio's cynicism about the value of romantic love, a belief that Shakespeare subtly undermines throughout the play: though Romeo will die for love, his sacrifice will be a noble one. 

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Act 2, Scene 6
Explanation and Analysis—Friar Laurence's Warning:

In Act 2, Scene 6, as Friar Laurence prepares to marry Romeo and Juliet, he unknowingly foreshadows their future deaths and uses oxymorons to characterize their passion for each other:

These violent delights have violent ends.
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.

"Violent delights" is an oxymoronic phrase that emphasizes the danger inherent in Romeo and Juliet's relationship and serves as a warning to the soon-to-be-married couple. Though Friar Laurence cannot know that Romeo and Juliet's relationship will lead to their deaths, he instinctively understands how dangerous (or "violent") their union, though outwardly tender and loving (provoking "delights"), may be, given the constraints they face as members of rival houses. Their love, Friar Laurence says, is like "the sweetest honey" that is also "loathsome" in its "deliciousness" and whose "taste" ends up contradicting one's original "appetite": it is extremely alluring, but potentially poisonous. (Indeed, Romeo will later kill himself by ingesting poison.) 

As a voice of adult reason, Friar Laurence urges Romeo to "love moderately," expressing his concern about the intensity of the young lovers' passion for each other. Such passion, he suggests, cannot realistically be sustained. Yet at the same time, Friar Laurence consents to marrying Romeo and Juliet, believing that their union is worth the risk if it can bring about peace between their warring families—demonstrating both his divided mindset and his desperate commitment to ending the feud. 

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Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet and the Night:

In Act 3, Scene 2, Juliet invokes the night, which she is looking forward to as the time when she can consummate her marriage to Romeo. This soliloquy serves as another instance of foreshadowing, while also personifying the night as a "sober-suited matron all in black": 

Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle till strange love grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.

To Juliet, the night is a cunning "matron" who will teach her how to lose her virginity ("how to lose a winning match / Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods"), thus helping her gain control over her own wild lust for Romeo (by "hooding" her "unmanned blood" and "bating in [her] cheeks"). In the play, nighttime enables adventure and rebellion—nearly all of Romeo and Juliet's encounters take place under cover of darkness—while also indicating danger. Therefore, the helpful "matron" who will facilitate Juliet's first sexual experience is also "sober-suited" in black, as if dressed for a funeral, and she appears both powerful and forbidding: she instructs Juliet and controls her moods. 

Moreover, Juliet is unwittingly foreshadowing her own death, further underscoring the danger found in nighttime. Though Juliet has no actual foreknowledge of the future, the night will indeed end up "hooding" her "unmanned blood": she will learn that Romeo has been exiled for killing Tybalt, which will lead her to take Friar Laurence's sleeping potion and make her appear dead (literally "bating in [her] cheeks"). 

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Act 3, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet's Vision:

In Act 3, Scene 5, Juliet sees Romeo for the last time before his exile to Mantua. As he leaves her house, she has a vision of him dead in a tomb, unwittingly foreshadowing the closing scene of the play: 

O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.
Either my eyesight fails or thou lookest pale.

Both Romeo and Juliet have separate moments of prescience early on in the play—before events begin to spin wildly out of control—in which they foresee trouble in their futures. But while Romeo forecasts his own death (in Act 1, Scene 4), Juliet forecasts Romeo's, too. As he leaves her home and she watches him from the balcony above, she has a sudden image of him "so low, / As one dead in the bottom of a tomb." Indeed, at the end of Act 5, Juliet will find Romeo dead in a tomb: her own tomb, where she is faking her own death with a sleeping potion. 

These sudden visions of death are figments of Romeo and Juliet's imaginations, but they also add complexity to the young lovers' characterizations, demonstrating that they are not just headstrong and impulsive, but clearly understand the danger they face in defying their families. Shakespeare also uses these instances of foreshadowing to underscore the importance of fate in the play. In turn, the importance of fate underscores the restrictive hierarchy to which Romeo and Juliet are subject, as young people with unruly, unconventional desires. Though Romeo and Juliet are right to rebel against the restrictions they experience—from both society and from their families—their deaths are ultimately inevitable. Only outright tragedy, Shakespeare suggests, can bring about needed change in a community that oppresses its most vulnerable. 

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Explanation and Analysis—Juliet's Plea :

In Act 3, Scene 5, Juliet entreats her mother to release her from her arranged marriage with Paris, inadvertently foreshadowing her own death:

Delay this marriage for a month, a week,
Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed
In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.

Juliet's plea is also a thinly veiled threat: she will kill herself if she is forced to marry Paris, ending up in the same tomb as Tybalt. But her mother doesn't listen. Her parents fail to take her threat seriously, insisting upon on the marriage and asserting their absolute authority. "Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word / Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee," responds Lady Capulet. Though Juliet has not yet decided to take Friar Laurence's sleeping potion, she is already foreshadowing the final act of the play. Juliet will be laid to rest in the tomb with Tybalt after taking the sleeping potion and will eventually kill herself there, too, when she realizes that Romeo is dead.

This premonition functions as a clear act of rebellion against the Capulets. Juliet is essentially saying that her independence and her love for Romeo are so crucial to her that she would rather die than obey her parents' wishes—an ultimatum that she later fulfills. At the same time, Juliet's foreshadowing emphasizes an important aspect of her personality. Juliet is defiant, but not totally naive: she seems to fundamentally understand that her rebellious actions may have grave consequences. Nonetheless, she is determined to pursue her own desires, even if that means dying for love. 

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Act 5, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Romeo's Dreams:

In Act 5, Scene 1, Romeo, who is now in exile in Mantua, awakes from a dream in which a tragic event—his own death—is miraculously resolved. This foreshadows the circumstances surrounding his eventual death in real life: 

If I may trust the flattering truth of sleep,
My dreams presage some joyful news at hand.
My bosom’s lord sits lightly in his throne,
And all this day an unaccustomed spirit
Lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts.
I dreamt my lady came and found me dead
(Strange dream that gives a dead man leave to think!)
And breathed such life with kisses in my lips
That I revived and was an emperor.
Ah me, how sweet is love itself possessed
When but love’s shadows are so rich in joy!

Romeo's dream foreshadows the end of the play, but with a notable twist. At the end of Act 5, Juliet finds Romeo's body beside her in her family's tomb, but she is not able to revive him. She kisses him to try to use the leftover poison on his lips to kill herself; when this proves unsuccessful, she decides to kill herself with his dagger instead. Romeo's partially accurate vision of the future indicates his own desperate optimism. Though he has been pessimistic and pragmatic in the past—envisioning his own "untimely death" before he has even met Juliet—Romeo's love for Juliet has given him some hopefulness and blind faith in the future, leading him to believe that love can overcome violence and tragedy. To Romeo, a true romantic, even "love's shadows," meaning his dreams about love, are "rich in joy"; "possessed" love, which he experiences when he is with Juliet, is transcendent. 

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