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 she is and not how she looks. He also tells Romeo that ‘women may fall when there is no strength in men,’ meaning that if he is not stable and constant Juliet may become inconstant herself, and thinks that Romeo may be “blinded by love.” this allows the reader to depict and build up an image of a friar who is understanding, rational and a man who understands the need of moderation especially in the case of Romeo and Juliet not the stereotyped friars we see now a days in society, his “holy” understanding of religion also is reinforced when the nurse was astounded by the friars speech and ‘stayed the night to hear good counsel.’ This portrays to the reader the manner he spoke provided motivating guidance.
Children at that time were subservient to the adults in the family; they were raised to respect and obey their parents. The fact that Romeo and Juliet were unable to inform their parents of their love illustrates the huge gap between them and their families. This in fact gives the Friar an extra duty of care, as he becomes solely responsible for their actions as he is there lone confident. In Juliet’s case the role of the mother is taken over by the wet nurse who Juliet often finds solace with, they are affectionate towards each other, and often the nurse refers to Juliet as “lamb” and “pretty fool.” Thus he plays another important role as confident and adviser to both the young lovers. This also reflects the technique used by Shakespeare by the balancing of the characters.
Friar Lawrence’s attributes seem to have become contaminated as we go through the play and he makes a number of fatal mistakes. Firstly he marries the two lovers without their parents consent, and on Romeo’s return from killing Tybalt, the Friar encourages Romeo to stand strong and to consummate the marriage “Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her,” knowing full well that the differences between the two families are now irreconcilable. Many critics may have seen this event as a chance for the Friar to re-think his next steps and annul their marriage.
Other flaws in the Friar’s character became apparent as his involvement in the schemes of Romeo and Juliet increased; and he began to warp cunning and calculating plans out of his head, such as the fanatical potion plan. Some readers may think that the Friar felt to blame and wanted to try and rectify matters, and ‘do the right thing’ since his reputation was paramount to him.
His deceptiveness surfaces first surfaces of which was between Juliet and Paris, and the other was when Juliet’s body was discovered. Being fully aware of the truth the Friar had the impertinence to use religion “she is advanced above the clouds, as high as heaven itself” and laid guilt on the family “you love your child so ill” and “the heavens do lower upon you for some ill” to calm and control the situation and to continue on with his plan. The Friar also remains very composed throughout this scene which reinforces his superiority and confidence among the community.
Building up the wild potion plan in his head, the Friar must have felt hesitant, apprehensive, and very worried. This is evident as he thinks the plan is “as desperate an execution,” as the one they were trying to prevent, and ironically Juliet would need to “ cop’st with death himself to scape from it.” The Friar should have listened to his own wise words before giving the potion to Juliet. He should not have played the role of God. As a man of God should he not have subdued to the will of God and not tried to take fate into his own hands? People of God usually made logical thoroughly thought out decisions, this Friar is very distant from these expectations and many may have labelled him as being too ‘politically ambitious’ and a ‘fate meddler’. The Friar himself acknowledges the power of God at the end of the play, “A greater power than we can contradict hath thwarted our intents,” so what possessed him to take such actions?
Another deplorable aspect of the Friar’s behaviour is his response when he finds Juliet in the tomb, instead of remaining with her and preventing her death; he flees at the sound of people coming. This shows his fear of accepting responsibility and his selfishness. This use of nature for unnatural purposes is also ironic as he ultimately, acts distinctly human by fleeing the tomb and abandoning Juliet.
In addition to this on numerous occasions the Friar seems to be aware that this marriage would only lead to chaos and catastrophe. When addressing Romeo about his previous love (Rosaline), he states that both women where not the right lovers for Romeo “Not in a grave, To lay one in, another out it have,” suggesting that his second choice of lover is just as bad as the first. Also when marrying Romeo and Juliet he asks “smile the heavens” in order that “sorrow chide us not.” This feeling of uneasiness is further reinforced when claiming that “violent delights have violent ends” using an extreme metaphor to describe Romeos passion “like fire and powder” hence a very explosive obsession. Many would argue that if the Friar had such a bad feeling about the whole thing, why he did he go ahead with it? Perhaps the Lawrence felt an internal conflict within him – the conflict of self against self.- He knew in his mind that it was wrong to help Romeo and Juliet run away with her lover, who happened to be a murderer too. But he felt himself reach out to them, he had known them seen they were children and knew they were in a desperate situation. But the problem was that the only way to solve everything was to take a ‘wrong path’ that everyone opposed to.
The Friar does have some positive aspects to his personality. His initial decision to marry the lovers is well-meaning as he believes it may turn the hatred between the families to “pure love” he agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet in the hope that their marriage will heal the rift between the Montagues and the Capulets. However he was naive in his assessment of the feud and hadn’t reflected fully on the implications of Romeo and Juliet’s clandestine marriage.
Some might argue that the Friar married them hastily because he wanted to direct their relationship towards a positive end, and prevent them having pre-marital sex. Marriage is sacred to the church and once Romeo and Juliet were married and their marriage was consummated, it became part of the Friar’s duty to protect this marriage; in addition it would be sinful for Juliet to re-marry whilst still being married to Romeo. In a society filled with materialism the Friar may be seen as a humble servant to divine love. At the end of the play Friar Laurence owns up and accepts the death sentence because of his role in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Of course he wasn’t to know that the marriage would have had such a tragic ending. However, he feels guilty and is prepared to pay for his error by being executed and says to the Prince: “If aught in this miscarried by my fault, let my old life be sacrificed.” Lawrence always believes that good can come out of all situations, and even after calamity has claimed two lives it had succeeded in bringing the families together. The Friar is a very important character to the play he acts as a catalyst and speeds up the events of the play in many ways. He comes in later in the play showing that in a sense Shakespeare saved the best character till the end. The Friar is involved in most of the many events, such as the wedding and potion plan. He is obviously a crucial character in the play, and without him we don’t know what steps the lovers would have taken.
Shakespeare also decides to introduce the friar in the heart of the play as he is the last character being introduced to the audiences this would in a way agree to the saying that “the best is saved till last” Not only is he introduced last but is placed right in the core of the community where he has the trust of the families of Verona and at the same time he is supposed to fulfil help for people in need. The friar had the whole world at his finger tips he could’ve done anything he wanted, and this fact leaves the reader left with a predicament in what will happen. The friar builds up and creates the dramatic irony used throughout the play to grip the readers and keep them in suspense, wandering when and if the truth will ever surface. There are plenty of examples; such as when Juliet takes the potion and everyone thinks shes dead, another is when the lovers marry in secret. This manipulation of words add to the emotions and depth of feeling in this play. The Friar is the only person who is capbale of making any decisions in the play as he is one of the few people who knows exactly whats going on. He knows Juliet isnt’ really dead when she takes the potion, and everyone else thinks she is, also he is the only one who knows the lovers are married. These factors all reflect his importance in the development in the play without him there would be no drama there wouldn’t be the excitement and the tradagy without him the marriage couldn’t of taken place, the friar being placed as the central figure in a play a couple of centurys ago may seem unusual at the time friars at that time played a spiritual role in their communities. It is very unusual for Shakespeare to have chosen the Friar to play such an essential role in a romantic play. Using a Friar to play such a damning role may have surfaced Shakespeare’s anti Catholic sentiments. The Friar is a sympathetic Catholic, a characterization that seemed to oppose the Latin humanist’s comic treatment of corrupt friars in the fifteenth century. Thus there is a gap between the Friar’s behaviour and the audience’s expectation of his behaviour. This argument is most definitely valid because of the staunch Protestantism enforced during Elizabeth’s reign. So the audiences would be able to conceive the stereotyped friar and say that it was typical of Catholics at the time.
The whole play is concentrated into only a few days which make it more and influential. There is a sense of inevitability -we sense that there will be no way out for Romeo and Juliet.- You have characers such as the nurse who provide considarable amusement she is talketive, scatterbrained, compassionate and funloving, this character along with a few of Romeos friends is added to give the play a touch of comedy and a glimmer of hope.Time is of essence in this play as Romeo is turned down by Rosaline, and at the same time Paris asks for Juliet’s hand; both of which occur in the morning. Romeo and Juliet die by night fall suggesting that their short life was complete, as the sun goes down.
It was very common in the Elizabethan era to write plays in poetry form. Shakespeare is not tied down by one form of poetry, and throughout the play he employs a variety of linguistic geniuses which make his work stand out against the ‘norm’. Some of his poetry does rhyme, and this is done to make things sound more important and formal, “For never was a story of more woe, Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” Shakespeare plays around with the words to change the pace; by using longer or shorter words depending on how quickly events are moving. Shakespeare uses prose when common characters such as the nurse are talking and also in some comedy parts. The language seems to be overloaded with linguistic tricks; including puns antithesis, pardoxes and oxymorons. This may have been done to express the eternal love that Romeo and Juliet held for one another.
Shakespeare prepares the reader for the inevitable death of Romeo and Juliet, as their deaths always feel very close. Juliet is linked to death many times throughout the play “grave is like to be my wedding bed,” there are also the same hints that Romeo is also going to die as Juliet sees him “so low, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb.” Romeo and Juliet are troubled throughout with thoughts of suicide, and a readiness to experience it, a lot of these thoughts are expressed in front of Friar Lawrence where Romeo asks for a poison or “sharp-ground knife” and threatens to kill himself after hearing he had been banished from Verona. The Friar calms him down and suggests an alternative solution to Romeo who was on the brink of suicide. Juliet also threatens to commit suicide if the Friars “wisdom” doesn’t help and no “resolution wise” is found, all these pressures may have lead the Friar to make hasty decisions. Finally, each imagines that the other looks dead “Methinks I see thee . . . as one dead in the bottom of a tomb,” this theme continues until its predestined conclusion: the double suicide. Some may think that without the Friar’s quick responses both lovers would have committed suicide a lot earlier on.
Impulsiveness is another key flaw that contributed to the early death of Romeo and Juliet. Impulsiveness in their sense of honour, impulsiveness in their sense of love, and in their sense of romanticism led Romeo and Juliet to their premature death. These virtues, that seek to safeguard life in the highest form, devastate the lovers because they take them to excessive levels. The Friar views this impulsiveness as dangerous and advised them to “love moderately” saying that even honey “is loathsome in his own deliciousness.” The Friar is conscious of Romeo’s hastiness when he questions him on how quickly he had abandoned Rosaline and fallen in love with Juliet, so he reminds Romeo of the suddenness of his decisions “Hath washed thy sallow cheeks for Rosaline!”
In the introduction the chorus states to the audience that Romeo and Juliet were “star-crossed,” that is to say that fate controls them, it was said if two people’s stars were crossed they would never be together which is ironically what happened. Right from the start the audience know however hard they struggle these lovers will never achieve contentment. The characters too are aware of this predicament, as Romeo and Juliet constantly feel bad omens. At the start of the play when Romeo is making his way to the ball he has a bad feeling, he fears that “Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars” may lead to his death. When Romeo believes that Juliet is dead, he cries out, “Then I defy you, stars,” completing the idea that the love between Romeo and Juliet is in opposition to the decrees of destiny. The advice of the Friar when he hears of their love is very cynical “These violent delights have violent ends.” Subsequently many critics think that the Friar merely acted as a catalyst to speed up this separation and was not the direct cause. He was merely an instrument instructed by the stars to carry out this role and he did this to perfection. Had it not been for the Friar the instruments of fate would have chosen another means to keep them apart.
Religion similarly demanded priorities that Romeo and Juliet could not abide by because of the intensity of their love. Though in most situations the lovers uphold the traditions of Christianity (they wait to marry before consummating their love), their love is so potent that they begin to think of each other in blasphemous terms. For example, Juliet calls Romeo “The God of my idolatry,” elevating Romeo to level of God .The Friar starts to sense their uncontrolled passion for each other when he says that he will not leave them alone “Till holy church incorporate two in one,” this could be another trigger that caused the Friar to hasten and agree to the marriage. Juliet should have obeyed her father unquestioningly when informed about her wedding to Paris, but she does not because she is already married. These were big sins especially in a catholic country, so the reader is left in a dilemma.
Romeo and Juliet were hopeful that their families would be united by their love. They thought that their love was so incredible it would overcome all boundaries, which is what makes this play such a memorable one. This play is out of the ordinary because many themes are incorporated into it, love, comedy, society at war and tragedy. If they hadn’t treated love as the be-all and end-all they wouldn’t have died. However other people believe that Romeo and Juliet were so in love they had to die, it was “written in the stars” and it was fate that bought them together but also kept them apart. Their tragic ending is a direct consequence of the other main theme in the play: a society at war with itself that makes their love at once so tragic and so beautiful. It is love against the odds. Love is used as a central theme in all four of Shakespeare’s tradgies Romeo and Juliet ,Troilus and Cressida Othello and Anthony and Cleopatra in a way these plays describe love in four different phases from the strong passion of the youngest lovers to the final search for love by Anthony and Cleopatra lovers who are again torn between two different worlds.