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Why is Friar Laurence to blame for the deaths in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and...

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alexisb0204 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 9, 2013 at 12:14 AM via web

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Why is Friar Laurence to blame for the deaths in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and what quotes prove it?

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tamarakh | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 11, 2013 at 2:44 AM (Answer #1)

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In the final scene of the play, Prince Escalus actually absolves Friar Laurence of all guilt, saying, "We still have known thee for a holy man" (V.iii.281). Prince Escalus even lays all blame on Lords Capulet and Montague, and frankly, Prince Escalus's opinion is the better opinion. It is ultimately the hatred Lords Capulet and Montague share that instigates the fighting and causes all of the deaths in the play. However, Friar Laurence certainly made some well-intentioned poor decisions, and these decisions certainly helped to cause Romeo's and Juliet's deaths, even though his decisions are not the primary nor the only cause. Nevertheless, if you need to interpret Friar Laurence as being blameworthy for their deaths, then all you have to do is look at the decisions he made. Any quotes referring to his decisions, or even to his own doubts about his decisions, will help prove that Friar Laurence has some blame.

One poor decision Friar Laurence makes is to agree to marry the couple in secret. While at first he is optimistic about the match, thinking it may help unite the two warring families, it is later very evident that Friar Laurence doubts the rightness of the decision. We first see his doubts expressed in Act 2, Scene 6 while he and Romeo are waiting for Juliet's arrival, as we see in his very first lines, "So smile the heavens upon this holy act / That after-hours with sorrow chide us not!" (1-2). In other words, he is saying that he hopes the heavens, or God, will approve of this secret union, and not reproach them later for the union by giving them sorrows. One reason why he doubts the marriage is the right thing to do is because he recognizes that Romeo is far too young to really understand what love is. Friar Laurence rightly sees that their love is really just intense passion and infatuation that is likely to end, as we see in his lines, "These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder" (9-10). Hence, both of these passages help prove that Friar Laurence's decision to marry them was not the best one. Furthermore, we know that his decision to marry the couple helped lead to their deaths because, had Juliet not already been married when her father insisted that she marry Paris, Friar Laurence would not have also made the decision to fake Juliet's death in order to help her out of the mess, a decision that leads to Juliet's real death, as well as Romeo's.

As already mentioned above, the second well-intentioned poor decision Friar Laurence makes is to fake Juliet's death in order to help her out of her bind and unite her with Romeo in Mantua. The problem with this idea is that it was deceptive, and acts of deception are more likely to fall through and cause damage rather than acts of  forthrightness. Had Friar Laurence acted as Juliet's mediator and explained his perfectly legal involvement in her marriage, Juliet may have still been disowned by her father, but she would have also been united with Romeo in Mantua, which was the ultimate goal. One passage proving that Friar Laurence's act of deception fell through are the lines he says to Juliet in the tomb, "A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted our intents" (V.iii.158-59). The "greater power" can be interpreted as God who was displeased with the friar's choices and, therefore, prevented them from being accomplished.

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