At first glance, one may look over the character
of Friar Laurence and dismiss him as only a minor player in the story of
and Juliet. However, upon closer examination, it becomes obvious
that the Friar plays an essential role in the development of the play and
is notable for moving the action along. A Franciscan friar, he is
also an expert of plants and natural remedies. At the beginning of
the play, we learn that he is very close with Romeo
and considers Romeo to be his pupil. Romeo considers Friar Laurence
someone he can confide in, and therefore tells him about his newfound love,
as soon as possible. The Friar, however, is not convinced.
He feels that Romeo is very hasty in his decisions, having been so infatuated
with Rosaline, and states, “Young men’s love then lies/Not truly
in their hearts, but in their eyes”. Being a very wise man, he warns
Romeo to slow down a bit, but Romeo stands firm. At this point, the only
good Friar Laurence sees in the relationship is that it could eventually
bring together the houses of Capulet and Montague. This first exposure
to the Friar shows his careful, wise manner and his obvious care for Romeo’s
best interests. This characterization of Friar Laurence stands firm
throughout the play, as he attempts to guide Romeo and Juliet during their
The next time we meet with Friar Laurence, he is about to perform the secret wedding ceremony for Romeo and Juliet. The Friar still believes that Romeo and Juliet are merely infatuated with each other and are not truly in love, but he agrees to marry them anyway. He does this because he still hopes that he could help bring their feuding families together. Friar Laurence’s sense of duty here identifies him as the “peacemaker” of the play. Ironically, his intentions were never truly fulfilled because the circumstances surrounding the marriage made it almost impossible for peace to occur. It is important to remember that the Friar’s impetus for all his actions in the play are initially to bring peace, and secondly to bring happiness to Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo returns to the Friar again when Romeo is in need of help after he murdered Tybalt. The Friar gives Romeo what he feels to be good news: Romeo has not been sentenced to death by the Prince, he has merely been banished. This displays the Friar’s unwavering optimism, which hold up till the near-end of the play. Romeo, however, is not happy with this news, and complains to Friar Laurence about the situation. This angers the Friar, and he once again offers guidance to Romeo by pointing out that he should count his blessings and make the best of the situation. He tells Romeo to go to Juliet for their wedding night, and then to make haste to Mantua. He vows to keep in contact with Romeo and let him know what is happening with Juliet.
In the next scene in which the Friar appears, Paris is asking him to preside over his wedding to Juliet the next day. This causes great conflict for the Friar, because he knows the whole story, and he is very relieved to see Juliet appear at his chamber. After Paris leaves, Juliet begs the Friar to help her in her predicament. As a religious man, the Friar is also looking for a way to avoid doubly marrying Juliet, so he helps her plan her “death”. He also plans to send a friar to Mantua to notify Romeo about the situation. Here, we see the control that the Friar has over the events that occur. He is still a good man, trying to correct his mistakes, but he handles all his tasks with confidence and faith in God.
In Scene 4.5, Friar Laurence shows that he is capable of sin and dishonesty. He goes to the Capulet household after Juliet is discovered “dead”, and helps motivate the family to rush their deceased daughter to her funeral service and then to burial. He justifies this by saying it is God’s will, and he lowers himself here by using God as a tool in his dishonesty. However, we must remember that he is still trying to help both families and his young friends, despite his new fault.
In Scene 5.2, Friar Laurence’s well-laid plans begin to fall apart. The letter that he sent to notify Romeo of Juliet‘s scam does not reach him. The Friar realizes that things have gotten out of hand and that he must go to Juliet’s tomb to be there when she wakes up.
In Scene 5.3, everything that Friar Laurence attempted to do falls apart. He tries to save Romeo and Juliet, but they both commit suicide, which lays heavy guilt upon the man. He is humiliated when he has to admit his part in the entire scheme, but the Prince believes his story. This does not, however, remove Friar Laurence’s feeling of personal responsibility. Though he is a genuinely a good man, he, too, can make the wrong choices for the right reasons. His pure intention of bringing the families together has been attained, but his close relationship with Romeo and Juliet does not allow him to feel happy about the results. He is indirectly responsible for their deaths, and though he still remains a very religious man, one may wonder if his faith in God and God’s good will stands just as strong as before.
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