Why is Friar Laurence responsible for Romeo and Juliet's deaths in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

Friar Laurence is responsible for Romeo and Juliet's deaths because he secretly married the lovers and formulated a flawed, dangerous plan to reunite the couple in Mantua. The Montagues and Capulets are unaware of Romeo and Juliet's marriage and the young couple goes to great lengths to conceal their relationship. Friar Laurence does not take into consideration the extreme risks involved in his plan, and miscommunication leads to Romeo's suicide.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Shakespeare's' Romeo and Juliet, kind-hearted Friar Laurence is as least partly responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

Along with Juliet's nurse, Friar Laurence indulges the adolescent whim of Romeo and Juliet to get married. The nurse is somewhat less culpable than the friar in that...

See
This Answer Now

Start your subscription to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your Subscription

In Shakespeare's' Romeo and Juliet, kind-hearted Friar Laurence is as least partly responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

Along with Juliet's nurse, Friar Laurence indulges the adolescent whim of Romeo and Juliet to get married. The nurse is somewhat less culpable than the friar in that she simply encourages Juliet's romantic notions out of her indulgent love for Juliet, but Friar Laurence actually performs the marriage—hastily, in secret, in spite of their feuding parents' wishes, and despite his own better judgment.

FRIAR LAURENCE. So smile the heavens upon this holy act
That after-hours with sorrow chide us not! ...
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume (2.6.1-2, 9-11).

Friar Laurence has an ulterior motive for agreeing to marry Romeo and Juliet. He believes that their marriage will end the bloody feud between their families.

FRIAR LAURENCE. In one respect I'll thy assistant be;
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love (2.3.93-95).

This is a fairly unrealistic premise by which Friar Laurence justifies the marriage and on which he bases Romeo and Juliet's fate.

After the marriage night, Juliet runs to Friar Laurence's cell to tell him that her parents have demanded that she marry Paris, and she finds Paris already there, arranging for their marriage.

When Paris leaves, the distraught Juliet begs Friar Laurence to find some way out of this dilemma, and if no remedy can be found, she threatens to kill herself.

JULIET. Be not so long to speak. I long to die
If what thou speak'st speak not of remedy (4.1.67-68).

Friar Laurence devises a "desperate" scheme whereby Juliet drinks a potion that will make her appear to be dead for forty-two hours. She'll be buried in the Capulet's tomb, and in the meantime, Friar Laurence will send a letter to Romeo in Mantua advising him of the scheme, and telling him to come back to Verona to rescue Juliet.

What could possibly go wrong with this impossible scheme?

Juliet takes the potion too soon. Friar John, to whom Friar Laurence entrusted delivery of the letter to Romeo in Mantua, is quarantined in Verona with a family suspected of having the plague—something which is mentioned nowhere else in the play—and Romeo never learns about the scheme. Balthasar travels to Mantua to tell Romeo that Juliet is dead, and, after taking some time to buy poison from an apothecary whose shop is conveniently located just down the street, Romeo rides back to Verona, determined to kill himself next to Juliet.

As a side note, why did Romeo feel it necessary to buy poison to kill himself? He previously threatened to kill himself with whatever was at hand when he was banished from Verona after he killed Tybalt.

ROMEO. (To Friar Laurence) ...Hadst thou no poison mix'd, no sharp-ground knife,
No sudden mean of death, though ne'er so mean,
But ‘banished’ to kill me— (3.3. 45-47)

Later in the same scene, Romeo draws his own sword and threatens to kill himself.

When he returns to Juliet's tomb, Romeo has both a sword and a dagger. He uses the sword to kill Paris, and Juliet uses his dagger to kill herself.

So why did Romeo feel the need to buy the poison?

In any event, Romeo confronts and kills Paris at Juliet's tomb, enters the tomb, finds Juliet apparently dead, drinks the poison, and dies.

When Friar Laurence learns that Friar John failed to deliver the letter to Romeo explaining his scheme, he rushes to the graveyard. Friar Laurence enters the Capulet's tomb to find the bodies of Romeo and Paris, just as Juliet awakens too soon from the sleeping potion, before Friar Laurence can arrange for her to be taken away from the death scene.

JULIET. O comfortable friar! where is my lord?
I do remember well where I should be,
And there I am. Where is my Romeo? (5.3.153-155)

Friar Laurence hears a noise and panics.

FRIAR LAURENCE. I hear some noise. Lady, come from that nest
Of death, contagion, and unnatural sleep.
A greater power than we can contradict
Hath thwarted our intents. Come, come away.
Thy husband in thy bosom there lies dead;
And Paris too. Come, I'll dispose of thee
Among a sisterhood of holy nuns.
Stay not to question, for the watch is coming.
Come, go, good Juliet. I dare no longer stay.

JULIET. Go, get thee hence, for I will not away (5.3. 156-165).

Friar Laurence knows that Juliet has already threatened suicide if she's forced to marry Paris, and now Romeo lies dead next to her. At the time of Juliet's greatest need, the kindly, good-hearted Friar Laurence turns coward and runs away. Within mere minutes, Juliet kills herself with Romeo's dagger.

With the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence achieves his dream of ending the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues.

Friar Laurence doesn't achieve his goal of "pure love" between the feuding families, but Romeo and Juliet's deaths reduce the level of contention between the families from outright bloody hostility to intense competition. This is exemplified in the dialogue between Lord Capulet and Lord Montague regarding their monuments to Romeo and Juliet.

CAPULET. O brother Montague, give me thy hand.
This is my daughter's jointure, for no more
Can I demand.

MONTAGUE. But I can give thee more;
For I will raise her statue in pure gold,
That whiles Verona by that name is known,
There shall no figure at such rate be set
As that of true and faithful Juliet.

CAPULET. As rich shall Romeo's by his lady's lie—
Poor sacrifices of our enmity! (5.3.307-316)

It's simply a matter of time before this level of competition escalates to the previous level of bloodshed in the streets.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Shakespeare's classic play Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence is primarily responsible for the main characters' tragic deaths because he secretly married the young lovers and formulated a flawed plan to reunite Romeo and Juliet in Mantua. Although Friar Laurence is reluctant to marry Romeo and Juliet because he believes their infatuation is impetuous and irrational, he conducts the secret ceremony because he believes their marriage will eventually end the longstanding family feud between the Montagues and Capulets. Unfortunately, Romeo is suddenly banished from Verona for killing Tybalt, who murdered Romeo's close friend Mercutio. In addition to Romeo's exile, Lord Capulet insists that his daughter marry Paris and begins making marriage arrangements at once.

When Juliet petitions Friar Laurence to prevent her from marrying Paris and threatens to kill herself, the Friar formulates an ingenious, dangerous plan to reunite the lovers. Friar Laurence proceeds to give Juliet a strong sleeping potion that mimics death in order to deceive her family. While the Capulets mourn Juliet's death, the Friar sends a message to Romeo informing him of their plan and instructing him to save Juliet from the tomb before she wakes up. However, the Friar does not anticipate that the plague will prevent his message from being delivered and dramatically underestimates Romeo's rash personality. Tragically, Romeo never receives the message, believes that Juliet is dead, and takes his life at her tomb. Friar Laurence also leaves Juliet behind to mourn the death of Romeo, which gives her the opportunity to commit suicide. One could argue that Friar Laurence is primarily responsible for their deaths because he secretly married them and formulated a flawed plan to reunite the lovers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Friar Laurence is responsible for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths because he agreed to marry them in secret and then gave Juliet a potion to fake her death so she would not need to marry Paris.

Friar Laurence believed that Romeo and Juliet’s marriage would end their parents’ feud.  That’s why he agreed to secretly marry them.  Although Romeo told him that he loved Juliet and she returned his affections, Friar Laurence had his doubts.  He believed that Romeo was too flighty, loving one girl and then the next.  It is usually best not to come between children and their parents, but Friar Laurence wanted to bury the feud for good.

FRIAR LAURENCE

O, she knew well
Thy love did read by rote and could not spell.
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. (Act 2, Scene 3)

Secretly marrying the lovers is one thing.  That might have been the end of it, if they had just gone off on their own.  Their parents would have been angry, but it might not have resulted in anyone else’s death.  Unfortunately, Tybalt started a fight with Romeo that ended with Romeo killing Tybalt.  Since the Prince had banned fighting, Romeo was banished. 

Juliet’s parents had no idea that she was secretly married to a Montague.  Her father tried to set her up with Paris, and was determined that she marry.  Juliet did not want to marry Paris, but she had no choice.  Again, she went to Friar Laurence for help.  She threatened to kill herself, and he offered her a way out.   He gave her a potion and told her to use it to fake her death.

Take thou this vial, being then in bed,
And this distilled liquor drink thou off;
When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humour, for no pulse
Shall keep his native progress, but surcease:
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest;
The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade
To paly ashes, thy eyes' windows fall,
Like death, when he shuts up the day of life … (Act 4, Scene 1)

Juliet took him up on his offer.  She ended up in her family’s tomb, asleep.  Everyone thought she was dead, except Friar Laurence.  He had planned to get a letter to Romeo, but it was delayed.  When Romeo arrived to see Juliet, he too thought she was dead.  He was prepared.  He had a vial of poison with him—actual poison—and drank it.  Juliet awoke to find him dead, and used his dagger to take her own life.

With this in mind, one could argue that Friar Lawrence is responsible for Romeo and Julie's deaths. In a speech before the families, he explained everything.  In a way, he got what he wanted.  The families agree not to feud anymore.  Romeo and Juliet are dead, but so is the mortal feud.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team