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FRIAR LAWRENCE (LAURENCE)

Some readers would call Friar Lawrence a maturing character, others would not. There are several ways to look at Friar Lawrence, some more flattering than others. We'll look at three of these, but first let's look at the basic facts about him.

1. HE IS CATHOLIC

Remember that when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, England was a Protestant country. Many other writers of the time made fun of Catholics in their plays, but Friar Lawrence is treated respectfully, and has virtues and faults like everyone else. He's a member of the Franciscan order, which was started by St. Francis of Assisi.

2. HE MEANS WELL

Throughout the play, many people come to him for advice, and he does his best to help them. He often reminds Romeo of the Church's teachings, and he tries to use his position to end the feud.

3. HE IS AN OUTDOORSMAN

St. Francis loved nature, and so does Friar Lawrence. He gives an eloquent description of the dawn, and he knows the plants and flowers well enough to make medicines.

Now let's look at three different views of Friar Lawrence's actions in the play.

One view holds that he is a foolish old man who sends the lovers to their deaths. Some readers feel that he lives shut away in an abbey and doesn't understand other people's passions. Romeo accuses him of this in Act III: "Thou canst not speak of what thou dost not feel!" (III, iii, 64)

Since he can't understand their passions, the best he can do is offer shallow words and philosophy instead of wisdom. Some feel his words of caution before Romeo and Juliet's wedding are empty, as is his comfort to Romeo after Tybalt's death.

He isn't wise, but bumbling, and his allowing the marriage, and giving Juliet the risky potion are partly what kills the lovers.

Worse, he's a coward. If he hadn't been afraid to tell someone (like the Prince) about the marriage, the story could have ended differently. And if he hadn't panicked and run away from the tomb, he could have saved Juliet's life.

A second view holds that he is a good and wise man who is foiled by fate. The Friar's first speech about the paradoxes of life seems to prove that he has a deep understanding of life. He gives Romeo wise counsel every step of the way; he tells him to take the relationship slowly and to try to moderate his passion. As long as Romeo has Friar Lawrence to guide him, he can overcome any circumstances; it's only when Romeo has no one to quiet his passions that he kills himself.



A third view holds that he is a good man, but has failings. Some readers feel that he really tries to do his best, and most of the time it works. He tries to settle the feud, to keep Romeo and Juliet living holy lives, and to solve the difficult problems that come up.

His love for Romeo can be seen as a strength or as a fault. You can interpret his actions as trying to keep Romeo happy: he marries him to Juliet, he hides him (illegally) in his cell, he puts his career on the line to try and have the marriage recognized; he gives Juliet a risky drug in the hope that he can get her back to Romeo. In this case, it's no wonder the Friar panics at the tomb: very few of us could think straight if we'd just found the body of the person we loved most.

Although the Friar marries Romeo, he advises him to be careful; although he uses empty philosophy to comfort him, he's able to form a plan to rouse Romeo to action. He only gives Juliet the potion because she's desperate and threatens suicide; and although he flees from the tomb, he's willing to tell the whole story, even if it condemns him.

In the second and third views, Friar Lawrence understands the lovers' problems and it changes him through the course of the play. If you agree with either of these views, you can call Friar Lawrence a "maturing character."

As you read the play, see what evidence you can find for each of these views.

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