Summary and Analysis
Romeo arrives at Friar Laurence's cell as day breaks. The Friar is collecting herbs and flowers while he postulates on their powers to medicate and to poison. Romeo tells him of his love for Juliet and asks the Friar to marry them later that day. The Friar is amazed and concerned at the speed with which Romeo has transferred his love from Rosaline to Juliet, but agrees to help the couple in the hope that the marriage might ease the discord between the two families.
This scene introduces the Friar, a philosophical man who wishes to heal the rift between the families. His discourse on the healing and harming powers of plants will echo loudly later in the play. He will provide Juliet the sleeping potion that she drinks to avoid marrying Paris.
The dual nature within the Friar's plants suggests a coexistence of good and evil. The tension between good and evil is a constant force in this play — a strong undercurrent that conveys fate into the characters' lives. The Friar is a good example. His intentions are good; he wishes to end the feud in Verona. His plan, however, precipitates the tragic end to the play.
As the play progresses, the contentious coexistence of love and hate unfolds. Capulet loves his daughter, but treats her like his personal property. Romeo and Juliet's love exists in an atmosphere electrified by the darkness of the hatred between the families. The Friar's comment that "[t]he earth that's nature's mother is her tomb; / What is her burying grave that is her womb" harkens back to Capulet's statement about his daughter in Act I, Scene 2 — "the earth has swallowed all my hopes but she."
The theme of nature destroying life in order to create life recurs frequently. While an undeniable certainty exists within this natural cycle, the Friar suggests that the deeply flawed human being imposes some degree of mutability on the entire process. Good and evil coexist in imperfect harmony. "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied; / And vice sometimes by action dignified."
The Friar is a religious idealist, a philosopher who understands the big picture while other characters in the play are too involved in their interrelationships to share his perspective. The Friar, like the herbs he collects, displays conflicting characteristics. He is a holy man, anxious to help the lovers in order to reconcile the Montagues and Capulets and bring peace to Verona. Yet his decision to marry Romeo and Juliet in a secret ceremony and deceive the Capulet family when Juliet takes the sleeping potion emphasizes the Friar's naive underestimation of the feud and the workings of fate — a failing that will prove deadly for Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo's relationship with the Friar again highlights the theme of youth versus old age, while underscoring Romeo's isolation from his friends and family. The Friar acts as a father figure to Romeo. The Friar is the only person to whom Romeo can confide the secret of his love for Juliet and his plans to marry. Romeo is typically impulsive and wants to be married that day whereas the Friar, using the formal language of rhyme, advises caution, reminding Romeo of the love he recently had for Rosaline and the speed with which he has abandoned that love.
osier cage basket made from willow.
baleful harmful or poisonous.
mickle much or great.
residence the place in which a person or thing resides.
benedicite Latin for "bless you!"
distemperature a disordered condition, especially of the body or the mind.
holy physic spiritual remedy.
intercession prayers and petitions.
steads is of benefit to.
riddling puzzling or enigmatic.
brine salt water; that is, tears.
by rote by memory alone, without understanding or thought.
rancour a continuing and bitter hate or ill will.