What are three reasons why Friar Laurence is to blame for the deaths of the lovers in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

There are many reasons one could list as to why Friar Laurence is at least partially to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. These are likely the three most popular reason given: 1) he agreed to marry them, 2) he failed to get the message to Romeo about Juliet having taken a sleeping potion, and 3) he left the distraught Juliet alone after learning of Romeo’s death.

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It's important to remember that Juliet is a 13-year-old girl when the play opens. She looks to the Friar as a trusted and reliable source of guidance. When she shows up for her marriage, the good Friar wastes no time:

Come, come with me, and we will make short work, ...

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It's important to remember that Juliet is a 13-year-old girl when the play opens. She looks to the Friar as a trusted and reliable source of guidance. When she shows up for her marriage, the good Friar wastes no time:

Come, come with me, and we will make short work,
For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone
Till Holy Church incorporate two in one. (2.6.35–37)

For a holy man to guide a (very) young girl in deliberately disobeying her parents and to hide the truth from them himself is not an example of providing wise (or holy) counsel.

Friar Laurence also uses the couple as a pawn piece to bring about peace between the families. In act 2, scene 3, the Friar is scoffing at Romeo for so quickly forgetting his feelings for Rosaline. Yet he seems to have a sudden change of heart in these lines:

In one respect I’ll thy assistant be,
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancor to pure love. (2.3.93–95)

He goes on to caution Romeo to move slowly, but his own involvement in performing the upcoming marriage shows no restraint toward caution himself. Instead, he seems to have discovered a way to bring about the greater good of peace between the Capulets and Montagues and is willing to risk the well-being of the two young lovers to accomplish his goal.

Lastly, where is the Friar's backup plan? Asking a young girl to drink a potion that almost kills her (but not quite) and risking the entire scheme on asking someone else to deliver the message to Romeo that she isn't really dead is quite an oversight. He could have taken the message himself. He could have sent more than one messenger. He could have stood guard relentlessly outside her tomb. But he does none of those things in one of the most tragic series of unfortunate events in all of literature.

But that's the entire point, right? It has to be a tragedy. The fate of the young lovers is written in the stars from the Prologue. So while the Friar appears to be one of the most incompetent holy men of all time, perhaps that is written in his stars as well—because he has to set the fated events in motion.

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Friar Lawrence is blameworthy for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet because he is guilty of the impulsiveness against which he has cautioned the young lovers. Also, he is guilty of pride and selfishness.

First of all, Friar Lawrence is guilty of not following his own advice ("Wise and slow. They stumble that run fast" [2.3.101]) and of breaking his religious obligation to practice humility. On an impulse, the friar assumes that his performance of the marriage of Romeo and Juliet will be beneficial in reconciling the differences between the Capulet and the Montague families. 

Secondly, Friar Lawrence again commits the sin of pride by assuming that he can solve problems secretly on his own. He is convinced that it will be for a greater good that Juliet's parents suffer anguish in believing that she is dead because when they learn she is alive, they will rejoice and forgive her for marrying Romeo. Then, the two families will be willing to end their feud for the sake of their beloved children. Of course, it is wrong for him to be deceptive and to assume the outcome of his actions. Since he has been complicit in the secret marriage of Juliet, Friar Lawrence has an obligation to inform both Juliet's and Romeo's parents and to try to mediate between the two families and bring about a reconciliation.

Thirdly, Friar Lawrence selfishly fears for himself when he rushes out of the tomb. He leaves the distraught Juliet alone because she will not accompany him and has refused to go along with his suggestion of putting her in a convent: "Come, go, Juliet. I dare no longer stay" (5.3.171) is all that he says to her. The friar also neglects to pick up both the vial in which there has been poison and Romeo's dagger. If he were to remove the vial and dagger, Juliet could be saved since the guard soon arrives and could carry her out of the tomb to safety.

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Friar Laurence is to blame for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet for three reasons. First, he never should have agreed to marry them in the first place. He did so because of his idea that their marriage might mark the end of the bitter feud between the Montagues and Capulets. The part of his plan which was missing, however, was how the couple would ultimately announce that marriage. Although his heart was certainly in the right place, his decision ignored the possibility that several things could go wrong.

Second, the Friar should not have given Juliet the sleeping potion which would allow her to fake her death. While his plan sounded good in theory, it also had too many variables. When Juliet came to him at the beginning of Act IV, he should have advised her to confess to her father of her relationship with Romeo. It's quite possible, judging from Capulet's expressed opinion of Romeo and his love for his daughter, that he might have understood. He probably realized that Tybalt was out of control and his death inevitable, so he might not have blamed Romeo. 

Third, the Friar fails in the most important aspect of his plan. He was not able to get his message to Romeo in time to alert him to Juliet's situation. Instead of sending Friar John, he should have sent the message with Balthasar who, according to Act V, Scene 3, was someone that the Friar knew well. He must have known that the impetuous Romeo was capable of anything and how important reaching him in time was to the entire plan. As with his earlier decisions, the Friar again totally misjudges the situation. When he is confronted by the Prince in the end, he even admits his guilt:

I am the greatest, able to do least,
Yet most suspected, as the time and place
Doth make against me, of this direful murder.
And here I stand, both to impeach and purge
Myself condemnèd and myself excused.
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