In the opening soliloquy/monologue (labeled such because the first part is spoken alone on stage and the second is addressed to Romeo) of Act II, Scene 3, the audience is introduced to Friar Lawrence . The speech provides three purposes. First, it sets the scene of early...
In the opening soliloquy/monologue (labeled such because the first part is spoken alone on stage and the second is addressed to Romeo) of Act II, Scene 3, the audience is introduced to Friar Lawrence. The speech provides three purposes. First, it sets the scene of early morning outside of the Friar's "cell." Shakespeare used very few props in the original staging of his plays so the setting was often described by a character.
Second, the Friar elaborates on his philosophy of life. He is gathering "weeds" and "flowers" to make both poisons and medicines. He believes that everything in the earth is useful and that things that are dangerous are also important and give the earth its special qualities. He says,
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give.
Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
He's also saying that sometimes things that are good or virtuous can be applied for evil and abused. This applies to medicines which can sometimes heal and sometimes cause further illness (see any modern pharmaceutical advertisement which is touting some drug, yet warning of debilitating side effects).
His philosophy of plants and herbs also applies to people. A person may have a great ability to be benevolent, but a streak of cruelty and hatred may also reside. This carries over to the plot of the play, as seemingly good people perform evil acts. Mercutio can't control his arrogance, Tybalt gives in to violent reaction, Lord Capulet flies into a rage when disobeyed by his daughter and Romeo commits murder to fulfill his death wish.
Finally, the Friar's speech provides foreshadowing. Because he is picking plants and herbs for medicines and poisons, we know that he is capable of mixing the potion which allows Juliet to fake her death in Act IV.