Why did Friar Laurence agree to marry Romeo and Juliet?

Friar Laurence is justifiably surprised and suspicious that Romeo has fallen for Juliet so soon after he was in love with Rosaline. He urges caution upon the couple even as he marries them: "These violent delights have violent ends." He marries them because he sees the match as a way to end the feud. As a priest, he probably sees the hand of Providence in the match. It's ironic because Romeo and Juliet's tragic death does end the feud.

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When Romeo tells Friar Laurence that he's met Juliet, at first the Friar is skeptical, reminding Romeo that he was claiming to be in love with Rosaline up until the day before:

Holy St. Francis, what a change is here? Is Rosaline, that thou didst so love so soon...

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When Romeo tells Friar Laurence that he's met Juliet, at first the Friar is skeptical, reminding Romeo that he was claiming to be in love with Rosaline up until the day before:

Holy St. Francis, what a change is here? Is Rosaline, that thou didst so love so soon forsaken? It's true that men's love lies not in their heart but in their eyes!

Romeo, in other words, is a notorious romantic and his declaration of love for Juliet is so sudden that it's hard to take him seriously.

Romeo's response is that his love for Rosaline was unrequited. Juliet, however, returns his feelings and has pledged her love to him. Friar Laurence agrees that Romeo's feelings for Rosaline were not true love but infatuation.

He probably would have cautioned patience to Romeo were Juliet not a Capulet. However, the Friar sees in the marriage the potential to end the feud that has claimed so many lives. As a priest, perhaps he sees the hand of god in fating the star-crossed lovers to meet and fall for one another.

It's ironic, because the hand of fate or God's will can be seen in Romeo and Juliet's marriage. In his closing lines, the Prince declares that Romeo and Juliet's ill-fated love and their suicide serves as both divine punishment for the feud:

See what a scourge is laid upon your hate that heaven finds means to kill your joys with love and I, for winking at your discourse have lost the brace of kinsmen.

The death of the flower of Verona's youth (not just the titular characters but also Mercutio, Tybalt and Paris) is such a blow upon the whole city that it ends the feud once and for all.

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The first reason that Friar Laurence agrees to marry the two young lovers, despite his worries, is, as stated above, that he sees it as a way to reconcile the warring houses of Montague and Capulet. He states this clearly and explicitly in the following lines:

In one respect I’ll thy assistant be,

For this alliance may so happy prove

To turn your households’ rancor to pure love.

There may be other reasons lurking in the back of his mind that are not stated explicitly. 

Friar Laurence is a Roman Catholic monk and priest. As such, he would have a duty to prevent his young charge from committing the sin of fornication. Romeo is rather obviously a young man who is quite tempted by this sin. Friar Laurence therefore might have in mind the dictum of St. Paul:

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I [i.e. be celibate].  But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. (1 Cor 7.8-9)

Thus he may feel that if Romeo settles down and marries, he and Juliet will be less likely to have sex out of wedlock, which would endanger their souls. 

 

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This is an excellent question because it goes to the heart of the basic problem of the play and makes the viewer wonder about Friar Laurence's wisdom in performing such a marriage? The two lovers are not only young, but they hardly know each other--not to mention the little problem that their respective parents are bitter enemies. The short answer is that the Friar agreed to marry the lovers because Shakespeare wanted it to happen and needed to have it happen in order for the rest of his play to work out the way it did. Friar Laurence does not put up much resistance to Romeo's appeal to perform the marriage. He seems very easily and quickly persuaded. He doesn't even ask for time to think about it. He says:

But come, young waverer, come go with me.
In one respect I'll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.

He is taking a lot of responsibility upon himself, marrying these two young lovers without the knowledge of either Juliet's parents or Romeo's, joining two feuding houses together on the assumption that what he considers "puppy love" will somehow work miracles. Then Friar Laurence gets even more involved when he gives thirteen-year-old Juliet a potion that will make her appear to be dead. It seems bad enough for a thirteen-year-old girl to be married at all, but at least Juliet should have a formal marriage with her mother and father in attendance, and not an impetuous elopement and a secret wedding.

Friar Laurence is a loose cannon in the play, but he is essential to the plot. He might be compared with Polonius in Hamlet, another old man who means well but is always wrong.

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Despite his misgivings of the haste of the marriage and the youthfulness of the couple, Friar Lawrence sees that a union between Romeo and Juliet could potentially bring the two feuding houses of Montague and Capulet together in peace. 

For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love (II.iii.94-95)

The Friar has witnessed the violence of Verona and hopes that Romeo and Juliet's marriage might turn the hate of the two families into fonder feelings.  Ultimately, his wish is fulfilled although not through Romeo and Juliet's marriage as he wished, but through their untimely and tragic deaths. 

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