Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What things does Friar Laurence do that seem out of the ordinary given his role and position in society, as we see in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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There are many things Friar Laurence does that are out of the ordinary considering his role in society as a priest. We especially see him doing something odd when we first meet him in the second act. Friar Laurence is out at dawn gathering herbs, which actually is not that unusual for the priesthood. In that time period, priests also served as medical-care givers and relied on many herbs for medicinal value. However, what is unusual is that he is not just gathering healing herbs; he is gathering the herbs he knows to be poisonous, as we see in his lines, "I must up-fill this osier cage of ours / With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers," meaning, "I must fill up this basket with both poisonous weeds and medicinal flowers" (eNotes, II.iii.7-8). Later we learn that he apparently uses all sorts of herbs to make all sorts of different potions, including the one he gives to Juliet to help her fake her death. Creating a potion that makes someone appear to be dead is most certainly very unusual for a priest.

Another thing we see Friar Laurence do that is unusual for a member of the priesthood is act deceptively. Friar Laurence deceives the parents of both Romeo and Juliet by marrying their children behind their backs. However, even though  he did act with deception, he actually did nothing illegal nor anything sacrilegious. In those days, under the laws of the Catholic Church, a woman could legally marry without parental consent at the age of 12, a year younger than Juliet is now, and a man could legally marry without parental consent at 14. Only in England, under King Henry VIII and the establishment of the Church of England, was marrying at those ages without parental consent made illegal ("Catholic Enyclopedia: Civil Marriage"). Therefore, while Friar Laurence's act of marrying them was deceptive, there was nothing inherently wrong with it. However, marrying them was not the most prudent decision for a priest to make, regardless that he did it under the best intentions of uniting their warring families. It may have been far wiser to at least try and convince the two families to give their consent. Friar Laurence's un-priestly act of deception sadly leads to other acts of deceptions, such as faking Juliet's death, which ultimately leads to Juliet's real death and Romeo's as well.

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