Romeo and Juliet - Friar Laurence
To what extent is Friar Laurence responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet?
The Friar is answerable for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, but only to some degree.
Often, because of his involvement in the lives of the lovers, Friar Laurence can be seen as more responsible for their deaths than he actually is, although in the last scene the Friar is partially responsible for the death of Juliet. However his responsibility is mild compared to the accountability of other influences in the lovers’ lives, including friends, parents and the idea of fate or fortune. Even Romeo and Juliet themselves can be blamed to some extent for the tragedy.
Although it often appears that the Friar is responsible for events leading to the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, in reality it is usually other influences that are accountable. For instance, the Friar’s plan (giving Juliet the sleeping potion to evade the wedding to Paris, then spiriting her to Mantua until Romeo could return to Verona) was not flawed in itself. Unfortunately however, Balthazar, seeing Juliet’s funeral, hastened to tell Romeo that he “saw her laid low in her kindred’s vault,” (5, 1, 20). It was this information that made him, and later Juliet, commit suicide. Again, while marrying Romeo and Juliet may seem like an irresponsible action, it did not contribute to the lovers’ deaths. Their first meeting, based on chance, and their separation, as a result of Romeo’s banishment, played a far greater role in the tragedy.
However, the Friar contributes to the death of Juliet by his behaviour at the tomb. Not only does he offer her no comfort at seeing her love dead, he also gives her no hope for the future but life “among a sisterhood of holy nuns” (5, 3,157) and then abandons her in the tomb because he does not want to be blamed for Romeo and Paris’ death by the Watch. This is both selfish and irresponsible, especially as Juliet has already threatened to kill herself once in the Friar’s presence. Although he later offers his life to the Prince – “let my old life / Be sacrific’d, some hour before his time, / Unto the rigour of severest law.” (5, 3, 267-269) – he does not tell the whole truth to the Prince about what happened at the tomb. Even if he had, however, it would not have taken away his responsibility for the death of Juliet.
Friar Laurence is only partially responsible for the deaths of Romeo and Juliet however – several other factors must also be considered, particularly the role of fate and fortune. For instance, if the Capulet’s servant had not asked Romeo to read the guest list for the feast, Romeo would not have attended, and therefore would not have been seen...