Foreshadowing is one of the main dramatic techniques in Romeo and Juliet. The lovers’ tragic end is both directly and subtly foreshadowed from the very beginning of the play. This strong foreshadowing emphasizes that the lovers’ fate is inevitable and that their sense of freedom is an illusion. Foreshadowing also creates the sense that the plot is hurtling unstoppably forward, just as the passions of Romeo and Juliet, Montague and Capulet, Tybalt, and Mercutio escalate uncontrollably.
The deaths of Romeo and Juliet
The deaths of Romeo and Juliet are the most heavily foreshadowed events in any of Shakespeare’s plays. We learn that the lovers will die in the Prologue: “A pair of star-crossed lovers…Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife” (1.1..). The Nurse remembers that Juliet’s childhood was full of unlucky omens: there was an earthquake the day Juliet was weaned, and when she learned to walk she “broke her brow” (1.3.). Romeo predicts that going to the Capulets’ ball will have “some consequence” that will end in “untimely death” (1.4.). Both lovers announce to Friar Lawrence that they will commit suicide if they cannot be together. Romeo says “Come, death, and welcome. Juliet wills it so.” Juliet has a vision of Romeo “As one dead in the bottom of a tomb” (3.5). This heavy foreshadowing of the lovers’ deaths emphasizes that they are trapped by their fates. It also has the effect of making Romeo and Juliet’s love seem more precious. Because the audience can see that the lovers will not have long together, we are more moved by the happy moments they do have.
The deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt
The escalating conflict between Montagues and Capulets foreshadows that Mercutio and Tybalt will die fighting. The play’s first scene (after the Prologue) ends in a fight between Montagues and Capulets. Tybalt is largely responsible for it. When Tybalt sees Romeo at the Capulet ball, he swears revenge (1.5.). The next time we see Mercutio, he is making fun of Tybalt’s skill as a duelist (2.4.). When Benvolio suggests that he and Mercutio should avoid the Capulets because “if we meet we shall not scape a brawl” (3.1), Mercutio ignores him. By this point, the audience knows that Tybalt and Mercutio share the same pride in their fighting ability. We can see that they’re both in the mood for a fight. When Tybalt enters, the deaths of both men start to seem inevitable.