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Romeo and Juliet Essay

Romeo and Juliet was written (most probably) between 1594 and 1596, when Shakespeare himself would be just over thirty years old – old enough to see the events in perspective, and young enough to understand. His understanding extends beyond the characters of his hero and heroine: it includes the Nurse – garrulous, bewildered, and panic-stricken. And it takes in Mercutio, with all his vitality, as well as Friar Laurence, who (although things go sadly wrong) is motivated by the best intentions in the world – to make peace, and to use love to conquer hate. Friar Laurence appears in all of the following scenes:

* Act II Scene III

* Act II Scene VI

* Act III Scene III

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* Act IV Scene I

* Act IV Scene V

* Act V Scene II

* Act V Scene III

The Friar is a friar of the Order of Saint Francis, and a herb-gatherer and herbalist, which is his immediate role. His good intentions in fact precipitate the tragedy. Shakespeare was himself an actor, and he is likely to have played the part of Friar Laurence in this poem, rather than that of Romeo. Friar Laurence’s part in this poem is very small, but it is his quick thinking in times of crisis that alter the whole outcome of the story, and this makes him a very important character.

Nearly all of the characters look up to him, and seek his advice. We know that he is to be trusted, as most of the characters in Romeo and Juliet seek solace with him at some point – Romeo, Juliet, the Nurse, Prince Iscalus – all of them trust him and ask for his advice at some time. Romeo especially trusts him completely. He acts as both Romeo’s friend and confidant.

Act II Scene III

This is the first time we meet Friar Laurence. He makes poignant observations about the nature of man, and sums up the reason for the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. At the opening of this scene, the Friar delivers a short lecture on herbal drugs that can kill and cure; and this allows Romeo time to travel from the Capulet orchard at daybreak to the Friar’s cell. The Friar’s purpose here is to agree to the marriage between Romeo and Juliet. At first Friar Laurence is reluctant, but he eventually sees that such a marriage may be a means of uniting the Montague and Capulet families…

“In one respect I’ll thy assistant be.

For this alliance may so happy prove,

To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.”

(Act II, Scene III, Lines 86-88)

From this scene, we can also tell that Friar Laurence is clearly accustomed to hearing Romeo’s confessions of love, and that he has obviously given Romeo sound advice in the past (which Romeo has ignored until now).

Act II Scene VI

In this scene, the lovers meet at the Friar’s cell. Friar Laurence has no real purpose here, but he does give words of hesitation and foreboding to Romeo. They do not diminish Romeo’s delight. The Friar then hurries them off to his chapel, refusing to let them ‘stay alone Till holy church incorporate two in one.’ In this scene, we are shown that Friar Laurence is a man who is not afraid to take risks when he feels it is necessary to help someone. For example, when he marries Romeo and Juliet, he is risking his reputation as a Friar so he can help the two lovers. Also, when the Friar says…

“Take thou this vial, being then in bed,

and this distilled liquor drink though off;”

(Act IV, Scene I, Lines 94 and 95)

…he is suggesting that Juliet drink a potion so that she might make believe her own death and avoid marrying Paris. This is an extremely risky thing to do because anything might happen to Juliet while she unconscious.

Act III Scene III

In this scene, Friar Laurence has two purposes. He tries to console Romeo, by preaching the fact that things could be worse. Romeo has only been banished, not sentenced to death. Romeo’s distress increases, and he is ready to kill himself. This is when Friar Laurence comes up with a plan to solve the dreadful problems that have arisen, and after another lecture to Romeo, he takes control of the situation. This lecture is much admired by the nurse.

“O Lord, I could have stay’d here all the night

To hear good counsel: O, what learning is.

My lord, I’ll tell my lady you will come.”

(Act III, Scene III, Lines 158-160)

Act III Scene V

Although the Friar does not actually appear in this scene, we can see his power and influence over Romeo. Romeo has obeyed the Friar, climbed the balcony to Juliet’s bedroom, and consummated the marriage whose religious ceremony was performed on Monday afternoon. Without the physical consummation, the marriage would not have been complete; the vows would not be relevant – Romeo and Juliet would not have been man and wife.

Act IV Scene I

This is the scene in which the Friar and County Paris make the arrangements for the wedding.

He speaks gentle and affectionate words to Juliet when she appears. However, when she is alone with the Friar, after County Paris has left, she gives way to her grief once more, threatening to kill herself rather than break the sacred vow that she made to Romeo.

The Friar then comes up with his plan…

“Take thou this vial, being then in bed,

and this distilled liquor drink though off;”

(Act IV, Scene I, Lines 94 and 95)

He is suggesting that Juliet drink a potion so that she might make believe her own death and avoid marrying Paris. This is an extremely risky thing to do because anything might happen to Juliet while she unconscious. He feels that he needs to do it (for himself as well as Juliet) because if he doesn’t, he will have to marry Juliet to Paris, and as he is a holy man, this would be morally wrong.

(Act IV Scene II)

Again, Friar Laurence does not appear in this scene, but his power and influence over the people who trust him is again shown. We see that the Friar’s conference with Juliet has been reassuring, as when Juliet returns home she is finally able to ask for her father’s forgiveness, and assures him that she will be always be obedient from this point forwards.

Act IV Scene V

In this scene, the Friar has to make sure that no one discovers that he knows something about Juliet’s “death”. He also tries to calm down Juliet’s grieving household, and preaches a short funeral sermon. He then gives instructions for the removal of Juliet’s body.

(Act V Scene I)

Once again, the Friar does not appear here, but there is a direct contrast of his character in the form of the Apothecary. This man is so poor that he can be bribed to sell poison by Romeo. The Friar uses herbs and plants for good, but it seems that this Apothecary uses them for evil, less holy applications. Throughout the whole poem, there are contrasts between good and evil, and love and hate, and this is another reminder of this fact. This is also stated by the Friar in Act II, Scene III, Lines 17 and 18…

“Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,

And vice sometime’s by action dignified.”

Act V Scene II

This is the point in the story where the plan begins to catastrophically fall apart. Friar Laurence learns (from Friar John, another holy Franciscan friar), that Friar John was prevented from leaving Verona, and therefore prevented from delivering his letter to Romeo. He and Friar John then hurry to the vault of the Capulets.

Act V Scene III

After Romeo has killed Paris, he is preparing to lay the body tenderly in the tomb when he looks upon Juliet’s face. This play contains many ‘What if?’ ideas, and this is one of the primary ‘What if?’ points. The audience hopes that Juliet might wake up in time before Romeo takes his own life. This hope is in vain, of course. Romeo drinks his poison, whose action is swift. He dies kissing Juliet, a second before Friar Laurence, stumbling in the graveyard, enters the tomb to comfort Juliet in her waking moments.

What if the Friar had got his letter to Romeo? What if he had got to the tomb in time to stop Romeo committing suicide? (All the bad things that happen in this poem happen because of a split-second lateness. This is probably because Shakespeare took this poem from Arthur Brooke’s Romeus and Juliet. The original Romeus and Juliet was set over a time-span of nine months. Shakespeare condensed Brooke’s narrative action into a mere five days, and this makes the story move much faster, and the events within it must be closer together in time.)

At the end of Act V Scene III, the Friar provides the narrative, freely confessing his own part in the events, and offering himself for punishment. The County’s Page and Balthasar fill in some missing details. Capulet and Montague join hands; the friar has (although he may not realise it) inadvertently accomplished his goal – the marriage has indeed united the families. Capulet and Montague have had to pay a high price for their new-found friendship though.

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