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In Romeo and Juliet, what relationship does Friar Laurence see between plants and people?

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mike111 | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 25, 2008 at 5:38 AM via web

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In Romeo and Juliet, what relationship does Friar Laurence see between plants and people?

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copelmat | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted April 13, 2010 at 11:38 AM (Answer #1)

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Friar Lawrence articulates early in Romeo and Juliet that plants are much like humans in that they can be easily manipulated. Just as plants can be manipulated to produce either poison or medicine power, individual human beings can be manipulated either for good or for evil.

Friar Lawrence foreshadows here much of the plot of Romeo and Juliet particularly when he suggests that all life is cyclical.

The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb.
What is her burying grave, that is her womb;
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find,
Many for many virtues excellent,
None but for some, and yet all different. (3.3.9-14)

Here we see the inherent qualities of both plants and humans that contain some positive aspects and some negative aspects and the suggestion that with one comes the other. Much is the same with the Montagues and Capulets; despite their hatred for one another, their children are still able to fall madly in love.

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missy575 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 13, 2010 at 11:51 AM (Answer #2)

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The friar demonstrates that people are both medicinal and poisonous, like the plants he works with.

In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power:

The friar notes that there is nothing on the earth that doesn't have at least some good to it. This includes people, but he listed all natural elements. Those things that we once thought were great morals or actions can turn ill over time if we let it go. The same is true with many plants... one in particular that my students in the classroom like to discuss during this section is marijuana. Think about it. That "flower" can be used to numb pain for cancerous patients, or it can be a gateway drug to more serious drugs. Thus, it has both medicinal and poisonous powers.

If you need to write about this concept, I recommend the last four lines. My past students always connect life concepts easily to those.

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted April 14, 2010 at 12:35 AM (Answer #3)

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Of course in the play "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare, Friar Laurence is thinking of the sedative properties of plants, among other things. The relationships between plants and people are those of co-existence and co-dependency (in terms of medicinal plants grown for their palliative properties.) Friar Laurence, and monks in general, knew more about this than most. Monks were traditionally responsible for growing and administering healing ointments and medicinal herbs and each monastery would have had a kitchen garden specifically for that purpose. Sick and elderly monks would have been treated in the infirmary. The friar would not have grown the plants if they had no purpose, and the people also depended on their restorative qualities.

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 25, 2008 at 6:07 AM (Answer #1)

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The soliloquy you speak of is in Act II, scene iii. Friar Lawrence comments on the ability of plants to be both helpful and hurtful, healthy and poisonous. People are the same way, one moment benevolent (kind) and the next violent or angry or destructive. He also notes that, like with plants, there is variety in the kinds of people on Earth. Here is the passage from the play:

And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find;
Many for many virtues excellent,
None but for some, and yet all different.
O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities:
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence, and medicine power:
For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs,--grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

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blazn0azn | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted February 27, 2008 at 8:35 AM (Answer #2)

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The friar's soliloquy reflects on the duality of human nature. The last three lines are especially significant, in that they state that men, as well as herbs, are both 'good' and 'evil'. Also, the last two lines imply that if evil takes root in the heart of man, then he or she will become engulfed in and infatuated by it.

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mickey2bailey | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted February 29, 2008 at 12:58 PM (Answer #3)

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In Act II, Scene 3, Friar Laurence describes a relationship between good and evil and man and herbs in his soliloquy.  The first reference is:  "The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb, What is her burying grave, that is her womb."  This says that even though we are placed in the earth when we die, it also brings life through the plants that it produces.

The next reference is, "O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies in plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities; For naught so vile that on the earth doth live But to the earth some special good doth give."  The Friar says that there isn't anything from the earth that is only evil; it also brings good.

The third reference is:  "Within the infant rind of this flower Poison hath residence, and medicine power; For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part; Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.  The Friar says if you smell the plant it can improve your health, but eating the flower will cause uncertain death.

Friar Laurence says that if you smell the herb it can improve your health, but if you eat the plant it will cause uncertain death.  This goes to prove that there is good and evil in everyone and everything. It foreshadows the events to come.

Reference:  The Language and Literature Book by McDougal Littel

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