Romeo and Juliet

Friar Lawrence’s Final Discussion With Juliet

The worst-case-scenario of Friar Lawrence’s plan realizes itself during the final tragic act of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The imperative lines, perhaps the ones with the final twist in the play occur in V.iii.148-60. The section begins as Juliet rises from her forty-two hours of “unnatural sleep” (V.iii.152). By this point in the drama, the audience should be entirely wrapped up in the impending heartbreak of Juliet, how she will respond, and how the Friar will explain his mistakes. Juliet rises, sees Friar Lawrence and exclaims his name, and asks for her husband, Romeo. In calling the Friar, she uses the word “comfortable,” (V.iii.148) which might mean “reassuring” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Juliet finds the Friar reassuring at the moment, but the audience knows that he can only assure her of one thing: the suicide of Romeo.

Friar Lawrence’s lines in response to Juliet’s question have potential to be spoken in a few different tones of voice. Frantic is a word that comes to mind quickly, especially with the knowledge that the reason behind Romeo’s death is this same Friar fleeing from fear just moments previously. Hearing noise again, the Friar beckons Juliet to follow him from the tomb, claiming that “A greater power than we can contradict / Hath thwarted out intents” (V.iii.153-4). The idea of this greater power acting as puppet master complies with the role fate plays in Romeo and Juliet, time and again. In the light of fate, Romeo and Juliet could never happily be together. So while the Friar makes his mistake of leaving the tomb at precisely the wrong moment he unknowingly hastens the finale which has no choice but to occur—because destiny wills it.

Quickly, as if she might miss his saying so, the Friar says that both Romeo and Paris are dead. He then quickly adds that he will “dispose of thee / Among a sisterhood of holy nuns” (V.iii.156-7). It isn’t difficult to recall Theseus actually threatening Hermia with almost the same thing in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (I.i.70); Juliet’s options appear quite finite. At this point the Friar’s fears grip him again and he rushes out, leaving Juliet and the dead alone. Indeed the Friar beckons Juliet to follow as he departs, but Shakespeare’s decision of when the Friar’s exit occurs is crucial to understanding the Friar’s mindset: he leaves the tomb before Juliet can even respond. A reader may wonder whether Juliet had even the time to stand up. In any case, Juliet would hardly be blamed for any action she takes at this point in the play; she might burst into tears or faint but does neither and thus demonstrates her maturity. She merely states “Go get thee hence, for I will not away” (V.iii.160). This is another line that could be read in any number of ways. She could scream it after the Friar, or calmly say it as if in conversation, or even whisper it mournfully to herself. What follows, of course, is Juliet’s tragic end, which viewers foresaw from the start.

1. Gibaldi, Joseph, Walter S. Achtert. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers 3rd ed. New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 1988.
2. “comfortable, adj.1a” Oxford English Dictionary. Ed. J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989. OED Online. Oxford University Press. 24 Sept. 2002. <http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/00044728&gt;

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