Are the Nurse and the Friar responsible for Romeo and Juliet's suicide? Why or why not?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is interesting to note that as human beings, when tragedy strikes, we often look for someone to blame: who is at fault? Perhaps it is a timeless question that people have been asking for thousands of years in an attempt to find comfort in the face of the pain and loss we face in life.

Having taught Romeo and Juliet for several years, I have pondered how things might have been different had Romeo, Juliet, Tybalt, Friar Laurence or the Nurse acted differently. As in life, these are the "what if" moments we have discussed in the classroom.

Shakespeare's classic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the "star-crossed lovers," is constructed purposely to intertwine the destinies of a wide variety of characters, drawing them all to a specific time and play that brings about the play's ultimate conclusion. From a purely structural standpoint, in order for the tragedy to play out, innumerable details of these lovers' lives (and those around them) have to go awry. The idea of "star-crossed" gives us the sense that every negative thing that can happen, will happen: that like a dance, each missed step leads to the plot's culmination in precisely a way that would seem unavoidable—demonstrating the theme of fate in the play.

The Friar is clearly aware of the implications of the arranged marriage, but is he responsible to control the lives of Romeo and Juliet? Generally speaking, I would argue he is not. He is their spiritual advisor, but not a parent. He is emphatic, for instance, about Romeo's religious responsibility when the young man attempts to end his life. As a servant of the Church, the Friar is doing what he has been called to do as a priest. Yet, on the other hand, I find it hard to accept Friar Laurence's choice to abandon the young, recently drugged (and highly impressionable) Juliet alone among corpses. Despite the sounds he hears that lead him to believe they will be discovered, he leaves Juliet alone with the bodies of not only Paris, but also her beloved Romeo. Even if he had been punished, I believe his duty as a man of God was to stay and protect his parishioner—the innocent Juliet. In this, I think the Friar does bear some responsibility for Juliet's suicide.

I cannot fault the Nurse. She has raised Juliet from childhood, having lost her own daughter. And while she may seem interfering, even questioning Romeo's sincerity, it has not been that long ago that Romeo was in love with Rosaline—see Act I, scene one—nearly wasting away because of his unrequited love for her. Then within hours, he is suddenly and madly in love with Juliet. Certainly someone loving Juliet as the Nurse does (like a mother) might find a relationship with Romeo a risky affair where Juliet's heart is concerned. The Nurse also loved Tybalt, and in his death, her heart is torn between her sorrow and her love for Juliet; but I do not feel that she is to blame for Romeo or Juliet's suicide.

Perhaps it is this realism of the affairs of the heart that make the characters believable, even when Shakespeare has painted them as foolish or comical. In this, he seamlessly captures the essence of the human condition.

I find it easier to excuse Juliet in that she has lived such a sheltered life. She does not have the experiences of the world that Romeo has had. When her father threatens to throw her out on the street without a dime (see Act Three, scene five), we see what a dependent life a woman leads at that time: first to her father and then to a husband. Without the protection of a man, a woman's chances of survival were slim to none.

Romeo spends his time with his friends, free to roam the streets. Romeo, with all his freedom, seems to know little of the world. I wonder if it's because he is a dreamer, paying little attention to the realities of his life. He either has an enormous ego or little common sense to willingly crash the party of his family's archenemies, the Capulets. (The play offers a clear vision of the dangerous feud between he Montagues and Capulets that has been going on so long no one remembers its cause. If we look to the beginning of the story, in Act One, scene one, Sampson and Gregory of the house of Capulet are ready to start a fight with the Montagues—simply out of hatred, not because of some recent offense.)

A bevy of missteps causes the suicide of the couple. Tybalt won't listen to Capulet when ordered to leave Romeo and his friends alone. Romeo kills hotheaded Tybalt in defense of his slain friend, Mercutio. Friar Laurence's messenger is unable to reach Romeo because of an outbreak of the plague, which has sealed the gates of the city, so Romeo is unaware of the Friar's plan to save Juliet from marriage to Paris. Juliet is young and impressionable. What does she know of love?

It surprises me that Romeo and Juliet have not been more influenced by the feud between their families. Certainly Tybalt is overcome by his hatred of the Montagues. Romeo and Juliet are much more like the gentle and peace-loving Benvolio. And even when Juliet discovers that Romeo is a Montague, she is not overwhelmed by the distaste felt by those around her. If the lovers have been able to live without being swayed by such fighting and hatred, perhaps neither is to blame for their suicides. Perhaps it is more their inexperience with the world and unrealistic perceptions of the obstacles that block their paths to happiness. For if Romeo is unrealistic and doesn't know enough of the world, how would he be aware of what he does not know? And as Juliet has lived dependent upon the men in her life (father, Friar, etc.), how would she be able to see her love as a mistake?

If we must blame someone, the Friar's mistake costs Juliet her life. Otherwise, in my opinion, the Nurse and the Friar are not to blame, but neither are Romeo or Juliet. 

ritzcrackers | Student

This is completely your opinion. There are very good points to argue for both sides. In this answer, I shall discuss both.

They are responsible

  • The whole reason the story happened is the Friar because he was the one that married them, he was the one that sent Romeo away, he was the one that gave Juliet the sleeping potion. So in reality he caused everyone's deaths. His plans were very unrealistic.
  • Nurse meanwhile is supposed to be Juliet's caretaker; therefore, she is supposed to look out for her best interests. Nurse knew about Juliet's marriage, yet did nothing. Nurse went to Friar, and helped create this plan.
  • The Nurse and Friar were supposed to be seen as god- teachers, yet their decisions that they made for the very young Romeo and Juliet are very wrong.

They are not responsible

  • The Friar and Nurse just happened to be stuck in this unrepairable situation, and tried their best to fix it.
  • Romeo and Juliet should have known that all of this would lead to doom.
  • The Friar and Nurse many times attempted to tell Romeo and Juliet that what they were doing was not good, but they were caught up in the blindness of young love.
  • Friar and Nurse are not supposed to be the ones fixing the situation
  • The cause of their suicides was the families feud.
  • Others may blame it on Paris or Capulet or even the Prince
  • There is no way the only people responsible are Nurse and Friar

As you can see, there are many reasons that could support both sides of the question. When answering the question be sure to use good quotes. There are a lot of quotes in the play by the friar and nurse scheming as well as other quotes describing the feud and Romeo and Juliet's blindness in their love. For the con side one may even take it as blaming someone else instead of Friar or Nurse. Also, when you are writing about this be sure to explain every single tiny detail and explanation. I would suggest connecting literary terms to it as well. Some might include the archetypes such as...

  1. End of Childhood
  2. Loss of Innocence
  3. God- Teacher
  4. False God- Teacher
  5. Golden Age
  6. Human Year
  7. Others as well

One can also connect some themes from Romeo and Juliet which could include...

  1. Blindness of young love
  2. fate vs. freewill
  3. predestination
  4. Feuding families or people
  5. teens
  6. Teens disobeying parents or caretakers
  7. Co-existence of good and evil
  8. Importance of moral education
  9. Role of parents

There are so many other themes, so be creative!!

Remember this question is based on you opinion, so what do you truly in your heart believe. Was it fate? Was it someone else's fault? Should Friar and Nurse have allowed them to get married? Is there really such thing as love at first sight? Were Friar and Nurse right to let all of this happen over two days?

Any answer to this question is acceptable as long as it is supported by evidence and well -thought out explanation. Make sure the quotes picked are very supportive to your point.

If you have any other questions or comments to this post, feel free to add on!GOOD LUCK!!

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Romeo and Juliet

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