What is Friar Laurence saying about love in act 2 now that Romeo and Juliet want him to perform the marriage between them? What metaphor is he using to make his point?

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In Act II, scene III, the Friar is shocked by Romeo’s sudden change of heart. The scene involves several figures of speech, including metaphors and other figures of speech.

After watching Romeo pine for Rosaline for so long, he finds it incomprehensible that the young man now claims to love another girl. “Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear,/So soon forsaken?” (ll 66-67). If so, he continues, then young men love only with their eyes (lust), and not their hearts (genuine love).

He goes on to note that Romeo has shed innumerable tears (“brine”, “saltwater” = tears) for Rosaline, apparently for no reward: “How much salt water was thrown away in waste, To season love, that of it doth not taste!” (71-72). Here, Romeo’s tears are compared to salt that a person would use to season a dish of food—in this case the dish of food is Rosaline. Why go to all the trouble of seasoning the food, the Friar argues, that you are not going to “taste”?

In the same tone of surprise and rebuke, the Friar says that Romeo’s sorrow was so heavy that his sighs still fog the air, and that Romeo’s “old groans” still ring in his ears. He even states that he can still see the stain of a tear on Romeo’s face that is so fresh that it has not been washed off: all of which would seem proof of his purported love for Rosaline.

Now the Friar comes to the heart of his argument: if Romeo was being himself and speaking truly, his terrible sadness was caused by his unrequited love for Rosaline. So how could it possibly vanish so quickly? If what Romeo is telling the Friar is true, the Friar has a lesson for him, which he demands Romeo repeat: “Pronounce this sentence then:/Women may fall when there’s no strength in men” (79-81). Most of us would agree that one cannot expect loyalty from women when men are as fickle as Romeo.

Romeo argues that the Friar had often scolded him for loving Rosaline, but this strategy won’t work either. The Friar corrects Romeo, clarifying that he only scolded Romeo for “doting” on Rosaline (having a one-sided crush; being obsessed with her), not for loving her genuinely.

Still Romeo tries to argue that the Friar had told him to “bury” his love for Rosaline. The Friar responds with another metaphor: “Not in a grave to lay one in, another out to have” (83-84)—not to simply cast aside one love and replace it with another. Romeo then tries to convince the Friar that Juliet is different from Rosaline, in that she actually returns his love, while Rosaline did not.

Here, the Friar again corrects Romeo, defending Rosaline’s perceptiveness: “She knew well/ Thy love did read by rote, which could not spell” (87-88). In perhaps his most difficult metaphor, the Friar compares Romeo’s love for Rosaline to a student who can read from memory (“by rote”), but has no understanding of what he was reading (one who cannot spell). In other words, Rosaline knew that Romeo’s “love” was simply infatuation, and not the real thing.

It is perplexing, then, that the Friar suddenly has a change of heart, and decides to marry the two. Apparently, the prospect of uniting the feuding families through this marriage must have entered his mind with such force that it cast all of his doubts away—at least for the time being.

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