Friar Laurence plays an important part in the narrative development of Romeo and Juliet. He is naïve and detached from society so doesn’t fully appreciate the bitterness of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. The well intentioned advice that he gives to Romeo and Juliet is thus misguided and this develops a sense of foreboding. The advice that Friar Laurence gives sets the young lovers on a path which the audience senses will end in tragedy.
With regard to his character, Friar Laurence is a contemplative and moral man yet he lacks real insight in human nature i.e. their passions and motivations. When we first meet Friar Laurence, he compares plants to human nature concluding that
“Virtue itself turns vice being misapplied
And vice sometime by action dignified”
From our first meeting with Friar Laurence the audience sees how naive he is to believe so simply in the goodness of man. It is partly this characteristic that causes his schemes to end tragically.
Friar Laurence is a man of self control who believes that “violent delights have violent ends.” In other words, people should be measured and not let passion overrule their good judgement. This is almost a premonition of what happens later on in the play when Romeo and Juliet’s short but passionate love ends in death. Shakespeare portrays the Friar as a prudent and modest man of God.
Friar Laurence is trustworthy; we know this because both Juliet and Romeo trust him enough to confide their love for one another to him. They also seek his advice to find a way to be together. This trust is also based on Friar Laurence’s reputation as a highly respected member of Verona’s society, “the whole city is much bound to him.” Romeo refers to Friar Laurence as his “ghostly father” which shows that he is both a fatherly figure and a spiritual guide to Romeo.
We know that Friar Laurence is compassionate because he goes so far as to help Romeo and Juliet in their secret wedding and creates a plan in order for them to stay together. This compassion is also evident in the text when, in comforting Juliet, Friar Laurence says that:
“…I already know thy grief,
It strains me past the compass of my wits.”
As well as being compassionate Friar Laurence can also draw promise from unpromising situations and offers the young couple hope when there is very little;
“Hence from Verona art thou banished: Be patient for the world is broad and wide.”
It is this optimism, compassion and trustworthiness that lead Romeo and Juliet to confide in Friar Laurence and unquestioningly to follow his advice. There is a clear link between Friar Laurence’s character, his relationship with the young lovers and the tragic outcome of the play.
Perhaps Friar Laurence is not the best choice of confidante because he is much older than Romeo and Juliet and does not fully understand their situation or feelings. Therefore his well intentioned advice is misguided. As Romeo says:
“Thou canst not speak...