In Act II, Scene iii, of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, what does Friar Lawrence mean when he says, "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,/ And vice sometime by action dignified"?

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misslacey eNotes educator| Certified Educator

These lines from Friar Lawrence are basically a metaphor for the whole moral lesson of the play. In this section Friar Lawrence is collecting weeds as the sun is coming up and is talking about the natural power of the earth to produce life and take it away. 

In lines 21-22, he says, "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,/ And vice sometime by action dignified." What he means is that what starts out good or virtuous can accidentally become evil over time. On the contrary, what seems evil can sometimes create goodness if it is used properly. 

These lines foreshadow the idea that it is nature's course for Romeo and Juliet to meet, fall in love and die, in order to fix the feud between their families. It is nature's way of turning "virtue to vice" or hatred back to love, since the families go from hating each other to loving each other in at the end. Romeo and Juliet's deaths seem so horrible and tragic, but they end up healing the hatred between the Montagues and Capulets. 

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Romeo and Juliet

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