Fate or Freewill? (A theme in both Antigone and Romeo and Juliet)

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Fate or Freewill? (A theme in both Antigone and Romeo and Juliet)

Fate: the determining factor shapes the events and outcomes in peoples’ lives

Many Grecian and Shakespearian tragedies explore the concept of fate. Fate suggests that the events in peoples’ lives are, to a greater or lesser extent, predetermined by factors outside of their control. The concept of fate has changed over the years. Today, there is a sense that individuals can shape their own destiny by the choices they make. In contrast, people in Ancient Greece and Elizabethan England believed they were at the mercy of fate and that their future was predetermined and inevitable. During this time period, stories often contained characters that fought against a prophesized fate but, rather ironically, their actions led them closer to a predicted fate. This passive view of fate led people to look for omens in life, believe in the power of curses and to take prophesies very seriously.

Both Sophocles and Shakespeare seem to question the true nature of fate through the contrast of characters in their plays. Here are different ways in which fate could be viewed. Think about the characters in both plays and decide what their concept of fate is. Find and analyze quotations that support your beliefs.

Fate is Providence- God or some other divine being guides human destiny and decides our roles in life. We should be happy to fulfill these roles; the more we fight against them the faster we fulfill it. We are ciphers, nonentities, and any attempts to change our destiny will only bring about a negative outcome. (In Ancient Greece, trying to change destiny was seen as displeasing the gods and bring about your own downfall.)

Fate is the outcome of society and social circumstances- The decisions made before we were even born shape our fate. The expectations and the roles ascribed to our social and economic stations in life should guide our fate. Going against these elements in society, simply makes life difficult and is a waste of time.

Fate is determined by disposition and personality- Individuals are naturally inclined to have certain characteristics that don’t change. This set of traits determines their place in the world. For example, a person who is lazy will never make something of themselves without the outside influence of a person who is naturally industrious. In other words, “a leopard cannot change their spots” and their fate is written by their own strengths and weaknesses.

Fate is free will- Fate is something that you have full power over: it does not matter what mistakes you make, what upbringing you have or what star sign are born under. Life is a blank book that you write a day at a time.

Techniques used to explore this theme include:

Character Foil- A dramatic foil is a secondary character whose own character traits are completely opposite of another character's. The dramatic foil is used in juxtaposition with another character, helping the audience better understand the personality of protagonist. A foil is also used to explore a theme: characters with differing viewpoints help the audience consider a theme from another perspective.

Motifs- reoccurring symbols and imagery that come to represent moments where the theme is being considered. In Romeo and Juliet images of dark and light, often associated with stars and omen, are present when the characters are knowingly (or unknowingly) considering the theme of fate.

Irony- There are several types of irony in literature.  Three main types are verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony.

  • Verbal Irony:  This is the contrast between what is said and what is meant. In other words, sarcasm.

  • Dramatic Irony:  This is the contrast between what the character thinks to be true and what we (the reader) know to be true.  Sometimes as we read we are placed in the position of knowing more than what one character knows.  Because we know something the character does not, we read to discover how the character will react when he or she learns the truth of the situation.  Think:  soap operas!

  • A form of dramatic irony in which a character who is about to become a victim of disaster uses words that have one meaning to him and quite another to the spectator or those who are aware of the real situation is called TRAGIC IRONY.  In some instances the character may not be about to become a victim, but rather their statement is based on partial knowledge or misunderstanding, and the spectator is aware of the truth of the situation.

  • Situational Irony:  This is the most common in literature.  It is the contrast between what happens and what was expected (or what would seem appropriate).  Because it emerges from the events and circumstances of a story it is often more subtle and effective than verbal or dramatic irony.

Foreshadowing- This is a writers’ technique in which the author provides clues or hints as to what is going to happen later in the story.  It’s like the music in a scary movie when we know that something bad is about to happen. 

Tracking the theme of Fate- Romeo and Juliet

Look at the comments and actions of characters in the play and decide upon the characters beliefs about fate. Write down quotes that directly reference words relating to fate but also look for quotes where their belief can be in inferred.

Quote (Person speaking, act number, scene number, line number and one sentence context summary)

Literary technique: What techniques are used to explore this idea?

What belief or idea about fate is explored at this point?

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