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How important is Friar Lawrence, in his language and his actions to the development of 'Romeo and Juliet'?

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Introduction

How important is Friar Lawrence, in his language and his actions to the development of 'Romeo and Juliet'? Friar Lawrence plays a key role in Romeo and Juliet, as an advisor to the couple, as the cleric who marries them to each other, and by planning the means of their escape from Verona. Throughout the play, his intentions may be played as being good (although this is debatable), however, the ironic outcome of his various failed stratagems is to bring about the lovers' deaths, which he should have foreseen and ought to have avoided. His actions are heavily ironic, as he says in his first speech, 'Virtue itself turns vice being misapplied' (1.3.21), meaning that even well-intentioned clerics can cause immense evil and suffering through their actions. Similarly, he advises Romeo 'Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast' (2.3.94) which is in obvious contradiction to his agreement to marry a couple who have only been together less than hour! Although Lawrence is able to prevent Romeo from killing himself after his banishment (3.3.109-199) it is arguably his irresponsible encouragement of the romance, and his conduct of an unlawful 'clandestine' marriage which brings Romeo, and then Juliet to the depths of despair. Lawrence could be played an unworldly and somewhat na�ve man, perhaps well-intentioned, but also vainly ambitious (to end the feud), and with little real sense of the depths of hatred between the feuding families. Zeferelli's film makes clear the scale of the public violence surrounding the families' vendetta, and the degree to which innocent bystanders are drawn in. ...read more.

Middle

His use of the the verb 'dispose' could be significant, implying he is more concerned about his own reputation, safety and interests than in Juliet's. She considers herself a grieving widow and has no vocation to be a celibate religious. This action shows once again Lawrence's cavalier attitude to religious ceremonies and vows; he will 'marry' people who barely know each other, and encourage the ordination of people with no vocation. Hearing the arriving Capulets, his main fear is for himself, saying 'I dare no longer stay' (5.3.159), leaving Juliet to contemptuously (?) reply, 'Go, get thee hence, for I will not away.' (5.3.160) For the second time in the play, she is abandoned by an unreliable, self-reserving adult in whom she had placed her trust. Lawrence's use of language at various points in the play is extremely skilful, which only serves to underline the crassness of his final remark to Juliet. He is generally well able to manipulate others' feelings, as in (3.2) where he adroitly shames Romeo out of his first suicide attempt by accusing Romeo of first effeminacy and then irrationality: 'Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art' yet 'Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote the unreasonable fury of a beast.' He uses cleverly puns 'Unseemly [i.e. improper] woman in a seeming [i.e. apparent] man; / Or ill-seeming beast in seeming both!' (3.2.107-112). He then skilfully urges Romeo to stay alive and consider his wife, as his death would 'slay thy lady that in thy life lives' (3.2.115-6), which is of course what happens in (5.3). ...read more.

Conclusion

Betroth'd and would have married [Juliet] perforce, /To County Paris' (5.3.237-29). Juliet's 'wild looks' and suicide threat (4.1.49-69 )forced Lawrence into action. He then goes into the bare facts of his plan: the feigned death, reviving Juliet in his cell, and bringing Romeo back from Mantua, drawing first Friar John (5.3.250-252) and then the Nurse (5.3.266) into his tangled web. He glosses over his final hasty plan, so his final acceptance of responsibility and plea for punishment arguably sounds less sincere (5.3.266-269). He omits to say why he is too 'scared' to stay with the 'desperate' Juliet and prevent at least her suicide. While Romeo's final letter to his father confirms most of Lawrence's account, (5.3.286-290), Lawrence has arguably 'spun' the story of the lovers' courtship, marriage and death in his own favour. The last word on Lawrence - in the play - goes to the Prince, who still says 'We still have known thee for a holy man' [emphasis added]. This line, which eerily echoes Juliet (4.3.29, above) could be made to bristle with tension, and the family members could be directed to blanch at any attempt to clear the Friar. And even if the Prince's words are meant to be taken at face value, one wonders if he and the grieving families will be so forgiving later. In conclusion, Friar Lawrence is a morally ambiguous character in the play, whose actions play a great part in the lovers' tragedy, and whose motivation is anything but clear and straightforward. TOTAL: 1915 words ?? ?? ?? ?? 1 ...read more.

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