role and importance of Friar Lawrence

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What is the role and importance of Friar Lawrence which lead to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet are emblems of true love that have been used over the years as icons for other lovers who found themselves torn in half like them, many of whom faced a similar ill-fated end. The ingredients of a tragedy are all sewn into this play, which is unusual for Shakespeare as most of his work in the early years was comedies and historical plays. The heroes in this story portray excess courage, arrogance and ambition. They took life changing decisions despite their tender age. The affects of the play on the audience is cleansing as they feel pity and terror. In my opinion the reason for the lovers’ downfall lies outside the actions of any characters – and ultimately in the workings of fate which is referred to several times throughout the play. Romeo and Juliet is considered a tragedy by many as it fits in with the requirements set out by Aristotle.  Shakespeare used a variet of sources for this drama. The story of Romeo and Julliet is taken from the poem a ‘Tragical history of Romeus and Juliet.’

We are going to study at first hand the role played by Friar Lawrence which contributed to the lover’s death. We will begin by looking at what his ideal role in the communtiy would have been. We will also look at his character, and the motives behind the actions he took. However before we analyse the Friar we must study the social backround of the play.

Italy at that time was regarded as a passionate and wealthy place; hence an ideal setting for this tragedy. Love is as you would expect the play’s central and most significant theme. Shakespeare helps to depict love in many different forms; it is aggressive, euphoric, intense, and without doubt overcomes all other ethics and morals. Shakespeare uses religion to illustrate the lovers’ passion, “This holy shrine.” whereas at other times love is described as a sort of magic: “Alike bewitched by the charm of looks.” Juliet perhaps most perfectly describes her love for Romeo by refusing to describe it: “I cannot sum up sum of  half  my wealth.”  Love, in other words resists any single metaphor as it is too powerful to be contained with words. Their love and infatuation with each other caused the young lovers to challenge their family name, “Deny thy father and refuse thy name,” and Juliet asks, “Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, and I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” 

The social institutions at that time regarded marriage as way of gaining status and economic stability. Early on Shakespeare introduced a society that prefigures capitalism, one that is heavily influenced by material exchange. The people of Verona relied on pride, honour and money, even when the item in question was love. When speaking of marriage the Capulet’s use language full of economic expressions. Capulet’s instructions to Paris are that; ‘Inherit at my house. Hear all, all see, and like her most whose merit most shall be; which one more view, of many, mine being one.’ Lady Capulet also refers to the relationship between Paris and her daughter as a ‘negotiation’ when she explains to Juliet how she may, ‘By having him’ she would be making herself ‘no less.’

This economically driven society alienated spiritual concerns leading to a ‘gloomy peace’ prevailing. Love in that era was a commodity such as goods and services. Parents fully expected to make money on their trade.

Honour was also a central issue for the people of Verona, a person would have to side with their family even if they were in the wrong or face being seen as a traitor. Romeo and Juliet went against their family honour by marrying an enemy. But the social emphasis placed on masculine honour was so profound that Romeo could not merely ignore the dispute just because he loves Juliet. It dictated his irrational behaviour that took another life and separated the families further. Both were in a constant dilemma between the responsibilities and actions demanded by the social institutions, and those demanded by their private desires. Romeo’s sense of honour leads him to find the priest so he can marry them.

In the sixteenth century the priest was seen as a person who was willing to dedicate his whole life to religion, a man of God and a “bound” between local communities. They played a fundamental role in their communities especially in times of conflict, where their judgement and judicious advice was principal. Laurence is presented as a “holy man” who was trusted and respected by all the other characters. Capulet’s comment about the Friar that “all our whole city is much bound to him” is an ironic acknowledgment as he played an important role in the many disastrous events which followed and abused his trusted role. Thus the Friar is centrally placed with close ties to everyone enabling him to carry out his plans without questioning. His knowledge of Greek mythology and his great understanding of plants show Friar Lawrence's high level of education as he speaks of the Greek God Titan.

The first speech for the Friar is very important; it is both rhythmic and calm. It enables the audience to create their first impressions and establishes a standard for the Friar which he tries to maintain, but sadly fails. The regularity of the speech calms someone in to a feeling of acceptance as he is expressing the conventional attitudes of a priest, not his own, and one feels a sense of falseness. Shakespeare uses the Friar's language to manipulate the audience's feelings towards him. The words are all used for effect and we question the real wisdom and knowledge of the Friar.

Friar Lawrence has a vast knowledge of plants and flowers, and grows a magnificent garden, he is first introduced as an apothecary rather then a Friar, which is the historical name for a  practitioner who formulates and dispenses medication. He remarks that every plant and herb has its own special properties, and that nothing exists in nature that cannot be put to both good and bad use. Thus, poison is not intrinsically evil but is instead a natural material made lethal by human hands. Here poison symbolizes human society’s predisposition to poison good things and make them lethal, “In man as well as herbs grace and rude will,” just as the futile Capulet-Montague dispute turns Romeo and Juliet’s love to poison. Ironically the Friar’s own words and thoughts are depicted over the course of the play as the events unfold. Unlike many of the other tragedies, this play does not have an evil villain, but rather people whose good qualities are turned to poison by the world in which they live in. The Friar chooses to concern himself with the health of the body and mind, so he chooses to use only those herbs which are not harmful he says that “naught so vile on the earth doth live, but to the earth some special good doth give.” The apothecary on the other hand, does not worry about Romeo’s spiritual or physical health, and so he chooses to use his herbs for the sale of all substances, including poisons. Shakespeare contrasts the Friar’s hopefulness with the harsher material world of Verona, placing him and the apothecary on two opposite sides, thus where the Friar fails, the apothecary steps in with a quick remedy. While the Friar has botanical supplies to aid in his medical work, including a basket of willows, “baleful weeds,” and “precious-juiced flowers,” the apothecary’s shop contains objects only for show or for superficial use. Even attitudes towards the shops are different. Romeo remarks on the apothecary’s shop with obvious neglect, as it is full of dusty boxes and very few actual items are set up to try to attract customers. Shakespeare’s presentation of the Friar’s cell and garden characterizes a philosopher and healer, and the apothecary’s shop an unsuccessful salesman. Thus the audience is forced to compare the two figures and note their remarkable differences. The play uses the priest’s fading holistic medicine to show how economic materialism has made the apothecary a less charitable medical practitioner. The Friar’s experience of plants enabled him to carry out his second role as ‘poison commissioner’, without him Juliet would not have been able to fake her own death.

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The Friar is a close friend and advisor to Romeo and has a huge influence on his decisions, this is apparent when Romeo addresses the Friar as “father” and the Friar addresses Romeo as his “son.” The Friar makes all the important decisions with regards to Romeo and Juliet, and what ever he advises them they follow to the book. Romeo on numerous occasions seeks help and consolation from the Friar. When Romeo comes to tell Friar Lawrence about his engagement, the Friar offers  wise pieces of advice, ‘young men's love lies in their eyes’ meaning Romeo should love Juliet for who ...

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