In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, is Friar Lawrence wise to agree to marry Romeo and Juliet?
This is an interesting question! Certainly, arguments could be made for either side—that Friar Lawrence was wise to marry Romeo and Juliet or that he was unwise to do so. Shakespeare utilizes dramatic irony to make the reader privy to a lot of information that Friar Lawrence did not have, such as the Paris's desire to marry Juliet.
I believe that Friar Lawrence thought his decision was wise, but in my opinion, it was extremely unwise for several reasons.
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is set in the Elizabethan era, and there were specific customs regarding marriages in this period in history. Arranged marriages were very common, especially among wealthy families and members of the nobility. Land and titles were at stake, and marriages were important from a business standpoint for those reasons. One custom regarding marriage was called "Crying the Banns," which required marriages to be announced in a church three times before the marriage took place, to give time for any objections to be raised or any marriage pre-contracts to be uncovered. It was foolish for Friar Lawrence to circumvent this practice. The clandestine nature of the secret marriage Friar Lawrence conducted would have called into question its legality and legitimacy. It could have caused problems if any children had been produced from the marriage.
While it was an optimistic idea that the marriage might heal the feud between the families, it is much more likely that it would further inflame the feud. Friar Lawrence does not seem to have knowledge of Juliet's suitor, Paris, and the marriage performed by the friar could have caused complications for Juliet's father as a result. Additionally, it wasn't the friar's place to give permission for Juliet to marry. Only her father had the right to give her hand in marriage. Juliet's feelings and consent would have been secondary to her father's will in this culture.
Lastly, I believe it was foolish for the friar to marry the two when he knew how easily and quickly Romeo falls in and out of love. Friar Lawrence knows that Romeo was pining for Rosaline when he quickly changes his tune and declares his true love for Juliet. Friar Lawrence should have seen the folly in this and refused to indulge Romeo's whims.
In retrospect, it is easy to say that Friar Laurence was unwise to marry Romeo and Juliet considering the unfortunate string of events that follow. At the time, however, the Friar's decision was wise, and would have been a stroke of genius had things worked out as he envisioned. There are three good reasons why it was wise to marry Romeo and Juliet.
First, Romeo convinces Friar Laurence that he is truly in love with Juliet, despite his recent infatuation with Rosaline. Even though he chides Romeo for his quick change of heart, the Friar very much wants to believe that Romeo is telling the truth and that Juliet is the girl for him. Moreover, he must have believed that Juliet felt the same way. Second, because Romeo and Juliet come from two of the most distinguished and wealthy families in Verona, the match makes sense socially. They are both of upper class birth and Romeo seems to be every bit as good a match for Juliet as Count Paris would be. Thirdly, the Friar's primary reason for performing the marriage is to end the bitter feud between the families. He hopes to turn the families' "rancor" to "pure love," and what better way than to marry the two oldest children.
The Friar could have never foretold the miscommunications and pure bad luck which would plague the marriage from the outset. He didn't know that Tybalt was set to challenge Romeo or that Lord Capulet would so rapidly change his mind about Juliet marrying Paris. He was simply attempting to do what he believed was right, not only for Romeo and Juliet, but also for Verona.
In his own mind, Friar Lawrence is wise to marry Romeo and Juliet because he thinks that the marriage will unite the two families and will bring peace to the town of Verona. In reality it was an unwise and a not very well though out plan to marry the two teenagers. In marrying them, he shared a common trait with both Romeo and Juliet -- he rushed into a decision and did not really think about the repercussions of what was about to be done. Friar Lawrence's decision brought about the deaths of Paris, Romeo, Juliet, Lady Montague, and possibly even the deaths of Tyblat and Mercutio.