What importance does Friar Laurence's soliloquy in act 2, scene 3, lines 1–30, have in Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet?

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Friar Laurence's soliloquy provides us with an example of foreshadowing. As he fills his basket with poisonous weeds and medicinal flowers, he muses on the fact that Earth is both nature's womb and nature's tomb. New life comes out of the Earth, but the Earth is also a destroyer of life. And everything that comes out of the Earth can be turned to good or bad use.

In keeping with his evident taste for paradox, Friar Laurence states that good may be perverted by evil and that evil may be purified by the good. Ever the optimist, the Friar believes that good can come out of any situation, no matter how bad. But the flip side is also true, as we will see later on in the play, with the tragic deaths of the star-cross'd lovers.

The Friar's musings foreshow his marrying of Romeo and Juliet in the hope that some good may arise out of their misfortune as members of feuding families. Friar Laurence's filling of his basket with poisonous plants also foreshadows his use of a magic sleeping potion that will put Juliet into such a deep slumber that everyone will think she's dead.

Unfortunately, the Friar's best-laid plans end in the tragic deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. This is a clear illustration of his contention in the soliloquy that good can often be perverted by evil. The Friar's intentions were pure, but they inadvertently led to evil consequences.

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The Friar's soliloquy is important for a couple of reasons. First of all, it gives the reader a glimpse into the Friar's character and philosophy on life. Through his knowledge of plants, he has come to realize that good and evil exist side by side on Earth. Moreover, everything on Earth has the potential to become destructive if it is not used correctly.

We can apply this logic to the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. Essentially, the Friar is saying that the rift between the two families can be healed because all things on Earth, even things that might seem evil, have a property that makes them special and precious:

For naught so vile that on the earth doth live

But to the earth some special good doth give.

If the families can find that special quality in each other, their feud can be healed. The soliloquy is, therefore, a metaphor for the war between the Montagues and Capulets.

In addition, this soliloquy foreshadows Juliet's death. Remember that it is the Friar who gives Juliet the potion to take her own life. By showing the Friar collecting "baleful weeds" (poisonous plants), Shakespeare is hinting to the reader that these "weeds" will have significance later in the play.

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One reason why Friar Laurence's soliloquy in the beginning of Act 2, Scene 3 is important is that it helps to characterize Friar Laurence, especially by portraying him as a bit unusual. Friar Laurence is out at dawn picking herbs for potions. While it is not unusual for friars...

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to practice healing and to know about the herbs and other natural remedies that are medicinal, it is unusual for a friar to be gathering herbs that promote both health and death. We learn that Friar Laurence is gathering herbs that both heal and kill in the lines, "I must up-fill this osier cage of ours / With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers" (II.iii.7-8). In these lines, an "osier cage" refers to a willow basket, or basket made of willow branches (Shakespeare-navigator). The term "baleful" can be translated to mean "poisonous(enotes)" and "precious-juiced flowers" can refer to flowers, or herbs, that contain medicinal juices. Since poison kills, we know that he is collecting herbs that can kill a person, or at least harm a person, as well as heal a person. If he were gathering herbs in a traditional sense, he might avoid the poisons and only take the herbs that heal. Hence, this passage portrays Friar Laurence as a very unusual friar and prepares the reader for the potion that he later gives Juliet as a solution to her problems.This soliloquy also helps characterize Friar Laurence by showing us one of his philosophies, which explains many of his actions. While talking about both the virtues and vices that the earth creates through its "plants, herbs,[and] stones," Friar Laurence declares that virtues can easily become vices and that vice can be thought of as virtuous if there is justifiable reasons behind the vice. We see him say this in the lines:

Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied,And vice sometime's by action dignified. (21-22)

An example of a virtue turning into a vice would be Friar Laurence's good intentions in agreeing to marry Romeo and Juliet. He believed that the marriage would end the feud. However, he did it in such a secret manner that his virtuous intentions created disaster. Also, a vice, or action of Friar Laurence's that we can consider questionable, or immoral, is his decision to help Juliet fake her death. He felt that faking her death and uniting her with Romeo was in her best interest, so he decided to do it, even though he knew it was deceptive. Sadly, again, Friar Laurence's deception created greater problems than before.Hence, this soliloquy is important because it serves to characterize Friar Laurence, showing us what he knows about herbs and also showing us his philosophy concerning virtue and vice.

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