The play “Romeo and Juliet” presents true love in the form of ‘star-crossed lovers’ and just as their love is depicted as eternal, the play itself has endured for years. It tells of two young lovers from opposing families, the Montagues and the Capulets, who fall in love after an accidental meeting at a grand party hosted by one of their parents. They marry in secret but cannot escape the consequences of their families’ savage quarrel and, although helped by an elderly Friar whose dangerous machinations fail to materialize successfully, the children kill themselves rather than be parted from one another. This tragic tale could possibly have been averted if not for many of the older characters in the play whose superciliousness and chauvinism affect the lives of the people around them.
The differences between old and young, between vigilant, mature wisdom and youthful, impetuous emotion are striking in this play. Two of the key older characters in the play are Lord Capulet himself, father of Juliet, and Friar Lawrence, an empathetic priest and a good friend of Romeo. Their behaviour and actions made a significant contribution to the tragic and untimely deaths of Romeo and Juliet, yet in contrasting ways.
Verona is a patriarchal city and fathers hold virtually absolute sway over their daughters. Near the beginning of the play, Capulet is conversing with a possible suitor to Juliet, Paris, and agrees that if Juliet finds the man attractive, then he shall give his consent to marry Paris. This is a very reasonable decision of Capulet, as he is not actually forcing his daughter to marry Paris and is allowing them to meet before Juliet makes her decision, “…within her scope of choice, Lies my consent and fair according voice”. He then goes on to mention a grand ball that he is hosting that night and invites Paris along, stating that Juliet will be present, “…you among the store<of guests>…and like her most whose merits most shall be”.
At the majestic feast that night, Romeo arrives uninvited and causes uproar in one of the character’s minds, Tybalt, cousin of Juliet. Tybalt is blinded by malice at the very sound of a Montague’s, Romeo’s, voice and makes this extremely clear to Capulet who orders him to do nothing, “He shall be endured”. Capulet’s firm decision here makes a momentous impact on the play as Tybalt is furious at the intrusion and states that although his mood may seem peaceful now, it will turn into bitter hatred,
“…this intrusion shall, Now seeming sweet, convert into bitterest gall.”
If Capulet had done more within his power either to appease Tybalt by removing Romeo from the house, or calmed him down more, then a later event could have been averted completely; the untimely deaths of both Mercutio and Tybalt resulting in the banishment of Romeo from Verona.
After the secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet, the inequitable deportation of Romeo and the death of Tybalt, Capulet informs Paris that he agrees to his marriage to Juliet and sets a date, two days later. As mentioned before, fathers may give their daughters to whomever they chose and Capulet feels deeply insulted when Juliet dares choose otherwise. Juliet, when told by Lady Capulet that she is to marry Paris, decides to rebel and incurs the unmitigated wrath of Capulet,
“…go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither”.
Because of this vindictive avowal by Capulet, Juliet decides to see the Friar about the predicament she is in and this causes other problems and dilemmas when the Friar comes up with a scheme to reunite the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet.
Friar Lawrence is a benign priest and a good friend of Romeo’s as we see when Romeo approaches him for advice and support, “Good Morrow Father” spoken by Romeo and “What early tongue so sweet saluteth me?” the reply from Friar Lawrence. Though these appellations are appropriate because of their religious context, this interchange has greater resonance. It is not just the exchange between the priest and the penitent; the Friar also stands in for Romeo’s own father, as there are no scenes between Romeo and his parents. In his first appearance in the play, Friar Lawrence contemplates the balance of good and evil in all things natural. The Friar’s Monologue suggests that good things can turn bad if misused, and bad things can do good, under the right circumstances. This paradox sheds light on the Friar’s own character and his actions during the play.
Romeo when approaching the Friar, tells him that he has fallen in love with Juliet and he responds by saying that the relationship between them may serve to bring the two warring families together,
“For this alliance may so happy prove, To turn your households’ rancour into pure love.”
Friar Lawrence hopes for reconciliation between the two families but he should have foreseen that such happiness could not be brought about simply and could of done something about Romeo’s infatuation with Juliet. This can also be said for when the Friar marries the two lovers later on in the play but Friar Lawrence does recognise that the use of sacrament of matrimony in such a stealthy manner may well have terrible consequences and worries that a sad ending will result,
“So smile the heavens upon this holy act, That after hours with sorrow chide us not!”
The Friar tries to act as a voice of reason to temper the mounting hysteria as the tragedy unfolds. After slaying Tybalt, Romeo flees to the relative safety of Friar Lawrence’s cell. When Romeo bemoans his banishment and refers to it as a fate less merciful than death, the Friar seems irritated,
“O deadly sin! O rude unthankfulness!” and proceeds to inform Romeo that he is lucky not to have received a death sentence. The priest admonishes Romeo for behaving so melodramatically and wants Romeo to pull himself together and behave rationally for the consequences of his actions could a lot worse,
“Taking they part, hath rush’d aside the law, and turn’d that black word ‘death’ to ‘banishment’.”
After counselling Romeo to stop behaving in such a melancholy manner, the Friar tells Romeo to go to Juliet for his honeymoon night, and then straight to Mantua to fulfil the Princes edict of exile. He says that Romeo can return to Verona when the coast is clear,
“Beg pardon of the Prince and call thee back.”
This peculiar advice the Friar gives Rome allows the two young lovers to consummate their marriage but eliminates the possibility of annulment, prohibiting Juliet to ‘marry’ Paris officially and without having to create an ineffectual plan to avoid this situation.
The bad advice is continued however, when Juliet turns to Friar Lawrence in desperation because her parents are forcing her to marry Paris. The Friar concocts the craze scheme for Juliet to feign her own death and tells her that if she has the strength to take her own life rather than marry Paris, then she has the strength to pretend she’s dead to avoid the shame of a second wedding,
“If no inconstant toy nor womanish fear Abate thy valour in the acting it.”
The Friar believes that that this deception is a good idea although forcing Juliet to lie to her parents by consenting to marry Paris and the overall instability of the outlandish machination. The Friar is relying on a message to get to Romeo to inform him of his plans, which, regrettably, never arrives because of an outbreak of plague in Mantua. He is, in these two instances at least, culpable for the troubles that lie ahead.
In the play’s grim final scene, Friar Lawrence discovers the bodies of both Paris and Romeo yet turns to Juliet and advises her to escape to a convent. He is desperate that they leave the tomb before either of them is discovered, “Come, I’ll dispose of thee”. Though he was concerned that Juliet would wake up in the crypt, the Friar thinks only in terms of his next plan, which will include more deception. This situation is already in pandemonium and disarray, and it is unclear if the Friar takes any of the blame upon himself. Perhaps if Friar Lawrence had stayed with Juliet, she would never have killed herself with the dagger and at least one life could have been saved.
Although the Friar flees when Juliet declines his counsel, “I dare no longer stay”, the Friar is apprehend by Prince Escalus who demands that he explains himself immediately. The friar tells the whole poignant tale and concludes by implicating the Nurse and himself in the debacle. He does not apologize for his role, but says that if anything has transpired is his fault, he should be punished,
“…If aught in this Miscarried be my fault, let my old life Be sacrific’d, some hour before his time, Unto the rigour of severest law.”
Though the Prince does not punish the Friar, we could argue whether such leniency is appropriate. Apparently, the Friar still believes that his actions were justified yet as we have seen by his actions and behaviour, “Romeo and Juliet” ends with Friar Lawrence looking reasonably responsible for the deaths of the plays protagonists. However, as he mentioned in his brief monologue in the Monastery, he truly believes that bad can turn to good under the right circumstances, and his deeds seem merely misguided. Friar Lawrence becomes a victim, rather than a cause, of the tragedy.
To recapitulate, both of the older characters mentioned here, Lord Capulet and Friar Lawrence, both behaved and acted in ways that could easily contribute to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet but cannot solely be blamed for the tragedy as they were often doing what they considered to be reasonable and right.