Friar Lawrence has knowledge on potions whose properties seem magical. What would be the implications for a holy man with knowledge of such subjects?By the "knowledge of such subjects" in Romeo...

Friar Lawrence has knowledge on potions whose properties seem magical. What would be the implications for a holy man with knowledge of such subjects?

By the "knowledge of such subjects" in Romeo and Juliet, I mean of how to make a potion, whether it be scientific or magical.

Is it scientifically possible for such a potion as he gave Juliet to exist?

I mean if it would be frowned upon, would people no longer consider him to be a holy man? Maybe more serious implications. Or was that considered normal?

Please elaborate just in case I have missed something here.

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I really appreciate your thought processes on this issue, and I commend you for this kind of analysis.  I think you have to change your thinking from "magical" and "potion" to "medical" in order to find some peace with the Friar and his actions in Romeo and Juliet

Think about these flowers and herbs as really the only medicines back in the day.  Also keep in mind that it was often the religious orders of friars, monks, and nuns who were the de facto doctors and givers of medicines in their communities.  When we first meet the Friar in Act II, he's out early in the morning gathering his herbs and weeds and flowers. He's talking to himself (though we hear him, of course) about the good and bad properties of the plants he's gathering.

“Naught so good but, strained from that fair use Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.” 
Obviously he's quite aware that these are plants and flowers which can be used to heal; however, when they are misused ("strained from that fair use") they can be dangerous.  He meditates particularly upon one plant and says:  
“Poison hath residence, and medicine power." 
  It's clear that the Friar understands the potency (power) of these living things and is well aware of their darker potentials.  This scene and speech are actually a pretty obvious foreshadowing, once you know what happens with his potion-making skills later in the story.   I enjoyed thinking about your question.  Thanks!
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is, indeed, possible for the Friar to have composed a potion which slows down the heart beat of a person so much that the individual appears dead.  In Alexandre Dumas's novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, for instance, the Count, in an attempt to foil an evil step-mother, induces a death-like state in a young woman so as to lure the woman into her room.

Herbs and flowers have long been used--and still are studied today as possible cures--for their healing and medicinal effects.  Inudations were even made in medicine in America with the use of herbs.  For instance, when a doctor could find no successful treatful for a burn victim, he learned from a woman that tea leaves in water helped to prevent infection. 

The use of herbs and potions by the Friar serve to point to the importance of moderation rather than the fateful impetuosity of Romeo and Juliet:

Oh, mickle is the powerful grace that lies

In herbs, plants, 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, strained from that fair use,

Rvolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.

Viture itself turns vice, being misapplied. (2.3.15-21)


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Romeo and Juliet

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