Within the context of a play, foreshadowing is a dramatic technique that is meant to stimulate the audience’s interest. Often incorporated at the beginning of a particular act or scene, foreshadowing provides certain hints about specific events that subsequently emerge later thereby fostering the audience’s expectations about upcoming events. In the Shakespearean tragedy of “Romeo and Juliet”, foreshadowing is created through certain poignant dialogues and events that provide clues about the tragic events that occur later. Some of the most significant moments of foreshadowing are discussed below:
Foreshadowing in “Romeo and Juliet”
“A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;”
The prologue, prior to the beginning of the first act, explicitly foreshadows important events of the play. For instance, the ill-fated double suicide of the young lovers is predicted by the chorus in the prologue. Moreover, the term “star-crossed” used by the chorus provides a subtle hint to the role fate will play to contribute to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. In terms of dramatic impact, this particular foreshadowing of the lovers’ deaths during the chorus simultaneously elicits profound sympathy and engagement from audiences.
“Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
The prologue is replete with numerous predictions. One such tragic prediction made by the chorus is that the double suicide of Romeo and Juliet would eventually bring an end to their families’ feud. In other words, early on in the play, the audience realizes that the animosity between the Capulets and the Montagues will only be buried when they gaze at their children’s corpses. This significant foreshadowing magnifies the suspense underlying the play thereby leaving the audience eager about witnessing the upcoming feud between the families and the tragic end.
“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.”
One of the most integral foreshadowing moments occurs in Act 1 in the scene where Romeo expresses his hesitation about going to the Capulet ball and highlights his unsettling premonition as the reason for his reluctance. In response to his friends’ insistence, Romeo states that he feels as if the Capulet ball will somehow result in his untimely demise. This foreboding later proves to be true as Romeo’s fatalistic encounter with Juliet unleashes a chain of events that later contribute to his suicide.
“I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall,
Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall.”
After his initial confrontation with Romeo at the Capulet ball, Tybalt foreshadows that his seemingly harmless encounter with Romeo will inadvertently magnify into violent animosity. The vengeful fight between Tybalt and Romeo that results in the former’s death serves as a testament to the authenticity underlying Tybalt’s premonition.
“My life were better ended by their hate
Than death prolonged, wanting of thy love.”
One of the most quintessential foreshadowing moments in the play occurs during the balcony scene where Romeo refuses to be intimidated by Juliet’s parents. He states that he would prefer an unanticipated death to a life bereft of Juliet’s companionship. This passionate admission of Romeo, later on, proves to be true during the tomb scene when after mistakenly perceiving Juliet as dead, Romeo opts for self-destruction and succumbs to an untimely death. Thus, without being aware of it, Romeo foreshadows his own death.
“Then love-devouring death do what he dare,
It is enough I may but call her mine.”
Another significant moment of foreboding in the play occurs when Romeo simultaneously invokes and defies death in the midst of his conversation with Friar Lawrence. Romeo passionately exclaims that if his marriage to Juliet would result in his death, he would still unflinchingly opt for the marriage, since he fervently believes that death is a small price compared to the agonizing separation from his beloved. Although stated hypothetically, this assertion of Romeo later proves to be true as he eventually opts for death in order to ensure his everlasting union with his beloved Juliet.
“So smile the heavens upon this holy act
That after-hours with sorrow chide us not.”
The tragic deaths of Lady Montague, Paris, Romeo and Juliet are foreshadowed by Friar Lawrence moments prior to his presiding over the secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet. Feeling a little apprehensive, Friar Lawrence expresses his wish and prays that Romeo and Juliet’s holy marriage may not result in anything unfortunate. However, Friar Lawrence’s apprehensions serve as a foreshadow to all the tragic events that unfold after that. It contributes to Juliet’s failed plan, Romeo’s misunderstanding of the plan, Paris’ murder, and Lady Montague’s agony and subsequent suicides.
“Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast.”
Another ominous prediction made by Friar Lawrence is his subtle hint at Romeo and Juliet’s death. While advising Romeo and Juliet about the significance of exercising moderation and keeping their passion in check, Friar Lawrence warns the young lovers that passionate, impulsive actions lead to violent and unfortunate ends. Unfortunately, this prediction by Friar Lawrence proves to be true, as the urgent marriage of the lovers contributes to their violent, self-imposed deaths.
“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.”
Another harrowing instance of foreshadowing in the play occurs during the scene where Juliet bids farewell to Romeo after their first night together as a married couple. Feeling incredibly ill-at-ease, Juliet has an inkling that something horrific will happen to Romeo and that it might be the last time she is seeing him alive. Her fears prove to be true beyond the shadow of a doubt as she and Romeo are estranged soon afterward. The only time Juliet sees Romeo again is in the tomb after he has poisoned himself and is lying dead next to her.
“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 makes another significant premonition in the scene where she pleads with her mother, Lady Capulet, not to force her to marry Count Paris. Juliet warns her mother that if she is married against her will, her resting bed will be the same tomb where Tybalt lies buried. Although Juliet uses this warning to dissuade her parents from forcefully marrying her to Paris, her prediction proves true since a few scenes later, she lies dead in the Capulets’ tomb next to the deceased Tybalt.