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Friar Laurence in Romeo and Juliet: Soliloquy & Letter to Romeo

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  • 0:03 Who Is Friar Laurence?
  • 1:21 Friar Laurence's Soliloquy
  • 3:58 Letter to Romeo
  • 5:53 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

Friar Laurence may be the most important character in Shakespeare's play not named Romeo or Juliet. Read about the importance of Friar Laurence's soliloquy and how if a certain letter had made it to Romeo, an epic tragedy could have been avoided.

Who Is Friar Laurence?

A Love Not Meant to Be
Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is one of William Shakespeare's most famous tragedies. However, if it wasn't for the subject of this lesson, it could have had a happy ending. Friar Laurence is Romeo's mentor and confidante. But the thing about the Friar is that he's not always looking out for the best interests of young Romeo.

His soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 3 marks his introduction in the play. Every character in Romeo and Juliet serves a distinct purpose in moving the narrative forward. Because Romeo trusts the Friar, he tells him of his love for Juliet, even though she is a Capulet, and he is a Montague. For reasons unknown, the two rival families of Verona are involved in an epic and sometimes violent family feud.

On the night Romeo meets Juliet, he races from her balcony to Friar Laurence to tell him that he wants to marry Juliet immediately. But the Friar doesn't believe that two people so young who barely know each other should be getting married. He even reminds Romeo that he was just in love with Rosaline a mere few days ago.

However, the Friar wishes for nothing more than the rivalry between the two prestigious families of Verona to end. He believes that if a Capulet and a Montague get married, then the bitter feud will finally be set aside. The Friar is foremost trying to make peace. He is doing what he thinks is the right thing by marrying Romeo and Juliet.

Friar Laurence tries to help Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet

Friar Laurence's Soliloquy

In Act 2, Scene 3, right before Romeo enters, we find the Friar out and about in the early morning looking for herbs and medicinal plants. Because many of the poor people during this time could not afford doctors, clergymen were known to help out with a holistic-style treatment if called upon.

Friar Laurence collects medicinal herbs
Friar Laurence

The Friar's soliloquy is about the healing power of plants and herbs. However, he also warns that some plants used to heal can also be poisonous. This, of course, foreshadows the tragic events to come by indicating what will happen later on in the play.

If we can pull one distinct theme from the rhyming soliloquy, it would be that there is both good and bad things in people and in nature. It all depends on how something is used.

The soliloquy begins:

'Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye,

The day to cheer and night's dank dew to dry,

I must up-fill this osier cage of ours

With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.

The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb.

What is her burying grave that is her womb;'

We can translate these very important last two foreshadowing lines to mean the earth is where things are both born and buried. Romeo and Juliet will soon be dead, but the Montague/Capulet rivalry will end, which will give birth to peace among the families.

Here's the rest of the soliloquy:

'And from her womb children of divers kind

We sucking on her natural bosom find,

Many for many virtues excellent,

None but for some and yet all different.

O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies

In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities:

For naught so vile that on the earth doth live

But to the earth some special good doth give;

Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,

Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.'

Okay, there are a few important themes and ideas to take away from the Friar's soliloquy. The earth grows many different useful things. All of Earth's creatures have a lot of good qualities and uses, despite the fact that every creature is different and some of the creatures may be ugly. But if Earth's creatures are used inappropriately, then the outcomes could be dangerous. Something like a plant can be used for both poison and medicine.

The Friar is also saying that plants are a lot like humans. Just as a plant can be both good and bad, each individual human has that dichotomy in them as well. Death is not only a part of life, but death is necessary for life. Therefore, we can even view death as being positive because it breeds life.

Letter to Romeo

After Romeo kills Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, in retaliation for Tybalt killing Romeo's best friend, Mercutio, Romeo flees to Mantua. Meanwhile, Juliet's father is making her marry Paris, even though she is secretly married to Romeo. Juliet goes to the Friar and begs him to help her. She tells him that she would rather die than marry Paris.

This declaration gives the Friar a pretty crazy idea. The plan is for the Friar to give Juliet a sleeping potion that will make her look like she is dead for about 42 hours. Her parents will find her the morning that she is supposed to marry Paris and think she poisoned herself.

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