Discuss the role and significance of Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is a romantic tragedy, written by William Shakespeare between 1594 – 1596, and published in 1597, although it originated from earlier texts.

It focuses on two “star-crossed” lovers who encounter a severe tragedy because of their passionate love. The drama talks about love and hate, fate and consequences. The story is set in Verona in Italy, and takes place over a five day span.In Romeo and Juliet, the two main characters are drawn to one another by a binding and prominent love; however an unending feud between their two families which is referred to as an “ancient grudge” in the prologue, forces them to keep this love a secret which leads to the tragic events which later take place. The couple are married by Friar Lawrence, who plays a very important role in the relationship of Romeo and Juliet.

Throughout the play he takes up the role of a holy man, a father figure, a plan maker, a guide, a messenger, and at times tempts fate as far as to portray the image that he is playing the role of a God. How significant was his role in the fate of the two impetuous lovers though?We first meet Friar Lawrence in Act 2 Scene 3, as an Apothecary describing different weeds and herbs in the form of a soliloquy which emphasizes the importance of language as it allows Friar Lawrence to convey his thoughts to the audience.”Within the infant rind of this weak flower Poison hath residence and medicine power”Friar Lawrence’s knowledge of herbs and plants is evident from this very first introduction and the importance of this knowledge is shown here as this philosophical context prepares the audience for later on in the play, when Juliet takes the very same poison he is describing in order to fake her death.

There is a contrast in this quote as Shakespeare implies how there is good in every bad, vice versa just like there is medicine in the poison and this could even apply to the Friar, and how even though he is a holy man, he makes fatal mistakes.In this scene Romeo goes to Friar Lawrence to persuade him to marry him to Juliet, and this scene shows us the strong and close relationship between the two characters.”Young son, it argues a distempered head / so soon to bid good morrow to thy bed”The friar continuously refers to Romeo as his “son” and Romeo always refers to the Friar as “father”. This is use of ambiguous language as it could either means father and son because of their closeness or it could be religious context as the Friar was a holy man and many people referred to him as “father”. The language the Friar uses in the above quote illustrates to the audience that he is familiar with Romeo’s sleeping patterns, and we can see that the Friar is somewhat of a father figure to Romeo. Romeo confides in him of his love to Juliet, just as he told him of Rosaline. When the Friar sees Romeo he asks him “wast thou with Rosaline”? which again emphasizes on their closeness.”Young men’s love then lies / not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.

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“In this line, Shakespeare uses philosophical context to describe love. The Friar speaks on behalf of the audience here, as the audience are wondering how Romeo could have fallen in love with Juliet so quickly when he had been so infatuated with Rosaline not long ago. Over here, Friar Lawrence gives him advice and scolds him, which is important because the Friar is a holy man whose word is respected and so people take his advice and listen to him.Friar Lawrence agrees to marry them after saying no which makes the audience question his intentions as he is contradicting his own advice.

“In one respect I’ll thy assistant be: / for this alliance may so happy prove / to turn your households rancour to pure love.”Friar Lawrence may be agreeing for different reasons. For example, he could be agreeing to prevent bloodshed in Verona and just end the feud as he says.

However, if this is accomplished then he will be “the man” and that makes the audience question whether he is doing it for the glory or whether his intentions are in fact pure.The Friar also contradicts himself in this scene, when he says “wisely and slow”, as he is the very same person that will make hasty decisions without thinking them through during the course of the play.In Act 2 Scene 6, Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet in his cell where the audience are shown his role as a holy man. It is here that he says the quote embedded with so much philosophical context which I have used as my opening quote. Friar Lawrence talks about the love of Romeo and Juliet which sprung from their hate. The quote refers to fate, and how such a love will inevitably not end well.

The Friar uses a metaphor by referring to Romeo and Juliet as “fire” and “powder”. When fire is thrown into powder, an explosion is caused. This meant that when Romeo and Juliet came together, they would burn and cause the death of one another.

This quote leads the audience to wonder whether the Friar had any suspicions about what would happen and it creates a sense of foreboding. If he did, why didn’t he stop them?In this scene (Act 2 Scene 6), Friar Lawrence also refers to Juliet as “daughter” which could either show religious context or could mean that because of the Friar’s close relationship with Romeo, now that Juliet was Romeo’s wife she acquired that status.Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, is killed on Monday by Romeo.

Tybalt was a fiery character in contrast to Romeo who was always calm and quiet, and this shows how Shakespeare sets a balance in the characters. Romeo goes to Friar Lawrence, who acts as a messenger and tells him “I bring thee tidings of the prince’s doom” and tells Romeo he has been banished from Verona. The Friar comforts and reassures him, stops him from killing himself which progresses the play, and then makes plans for him. This scene is significant as it shows Romeo as impulsive and impatient, even offering to “stab himself”. He is unable to think for himself, hence relying on the Friar.

“Go get thee to thy love as was decreed / ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her / but look thou stay not till the Watch be set / for then thou canst not pass to Mantua / where thou shalt live”This is religious context as Romeo must consummate his marriage. Advised by the Friar, Romeo goes to Juliet and this shows the importance of religion and sanctity in those days. Romeo then leaves for Mantua, where Juliet would secretly join him later, as was planned by the Friar. This was not an entirely good idea as many risks were involved, such as them being found, or as we find out later, Romeo not receiving news of when Juliet will come.

“I’ll find out your man / And he shall signify from time to time / every good hap to you that chances here”This line is very important as it is when Friar Lawrence fails to go through with his plans and deliver messages to Romeo, that everything goes wrong. His inconsistency has a huge affect on the events that follow. In my opinion it is also the failure of this plan which contributed greatly to the deaths of the two main characters, which shows the significance of the Friar’s words.Juliet’s father Capulet, forces Juliet to marry Paris. Juliet goes to Friar Lawrence for help which again shows his fatherly figure and society in context. Romeo and Juliet both turn to the Friar in their time of need which shows that he is closer to them then their family and how they were in fact quite distant from their families. Once again, Friar Lawrence is ready to make plans, and here his knowledge of herbs is extremely important as it not only provides the solution, but this scene shows progress in the play. “And if thou dar’st, I’ll give thee remedy”.

Juliet is very desperate to the extent that she is holding a knife and “longs to die” so she accepts the Friar’s plans, which is to give Juliet a poison which will give her the appearance of death and enable her to avoid the marriage with Paris. He uses descriptive language to describe the drug which is important as it creates imagery and helps the audience understand exactly what will happen when Juliet takes the drug, and how ironically, a drug like this causes the death of Romeo.In Act 4 Scene 1, the Friar shows an inconsistency of plans.

“In this resolve; I’ll send a friar with speed / to Mantua, with my letters to thy lord”.Earlier he told Romeo that he would send Romeo’s man Balthasar, but when he is speaking to Juliet he says he will send a friar. This is important as it is fate that in the end the message wasn’t delivered and Romeo received the wrong news which led him to kill himself and in turn caused the whole tragedy to occur.When Juliet is about to take the poison she questions the Friars intentions.”What if it be a poison which the Friar / subtly hath minister’d to have me dead / lest in this marriage he should be dishonour’d”Juliet doubts Friar Lawrence here, however she reassures herself by saying “he hath still been tried a holy man” which shows just how important religion was that because of his status as a Friar; people respected him and believed his words.

When Juliet fakes her death, Friar Lawrence appears and comforts the Capulet’s.”Confusions cure lives not / in these confusions. Heaven and yourself / Had part in this fair maid, now heaven hath all / and all the better is it for the maid”The Friar uses word play over here. He is trying to say that the remedy for this disaster is not to be found in these outcries, and his words are ironic as “heaven” could mean that Juliet has gone to Romeo and attained her heaven by being with him.The Friar acts like a hypocrite here as he comforts the Capulets even though he knows that Juliet is not really dead.

He also continues to make plans. The Friar is giving directions and everyone listens to him. This shows his status and emphasizes on how respected he was in Verona. It also makes the audience contemplate on whether or not the Friar deserves this since he repeatedly abuses this respect and power.In Act 5 Scene 2 Friar John tells Friar Lawrence that he has not delivered the message to Romeo. On the other hand, Balthasar has told Romeo that Juliet is dead and Romeo buys poison to kill himself. Friar Lawrence says he will “write again to Mantua” and “keep her at my cell till Romeo come” but is this enough? I do not think there is much the Friar could do, but he did not go to enough extremes to prevent the tragedy.It is fate that all of the Friar’s plans begin to go wrong.

“The letter was not nice but full of charge / of dear important and the neglecting it / may do much danger. Friar John, go hence / get me an iron crow and bring it straight / unto my cell”.The use of language here shows stagecraft which was extremely important in Romeo and Juliet as it was through these continuous references to stagecraft that the audience were able to connect with the events in the play.It is fate that when Paris comes to visit Juliet’s “grave”, him and Romeo meet. The dramatic tension increases, and Shakespeare creates a sense of fear and foreboding.

He also uses pathetic fallacy when referring to the “dark” night to put emphasis on the negative atmosphere. They fight, and Romeo kills Paris and then himself. The Friar arrives too late, and Juliet awakens. He is frightened of the “Watch” coming as everyone would realise what had happened, and his role in the events, so he tells Juliet to run away. Even at this point he is still conniving plans, saying he will “conceal her among a sisterhood of holy nuns” but she refuses. He leaves her and when she sees Romeo dead, she stabs herself.

If the friar had not left her, she may not have succeeded in killing herself.When the two families gather around the bodies of their children, Friar Lawrence is brought in and he explains all the events leading up to the tragedy. The outcome is reconciliation between the two families. This is important as Friar Lawrence achieves his initial aim of ending the feud by marrying the lovers, but it is ironic that it took their violent deaths to achieve that peace.

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