It is clear that Friar Laurence is a thoughtful and kind individual. He genuinely seems to care for Romeo and, despite a degree of scepticism initially, performs the rite of marriage for the lovers. He also attempts to help them at each juncture, be that marrying them, offering to keep Romeo informed following his banishment (he doesn’t nail that one…), or offering a way to try and allow Juliet to be with Romeo via the potion he gives her. But though this comes from a kindness, it is important to consider whether helping them achieve what they wanted, was also the best thing for them. Fate may have dictated how things would end, but it seems as though the Friar paved some of the journey towards it.
Another contrast to consider is the fine line between optimism and naivety. On hearing of Romeo’s plan to marry Juliet, he agrees to do so as “this alliance may so happy prove,/ To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.” The irony is, it will do exactly that, but not in the way intended. Shakespeare even allows the sentiment to jar, with the imperfect rhyme of “love” and “prove” a hint that it won’t be straightforward. This optimism however, is key to moving the plot forward. Even the Nurse eventually concedes that Juliet might be better off marrying Paris; it is only the Friar who supports them until the end (well, just before the end… when he abandons Juliet in a tomb alongside her dead husband, dead cousin and dead ex-suitor…)
Though it is evident that Friar Laurence made some mistakes along the way, he is undoubtedly quite brave. He stands to lose a lot if his role is discovered, a point that he concedes when admitting his part and saying “let my old life/ Be sacrific’d.” Marrying the couple, knowing full well that the parents of each would not approve, was a big deal at that time, given the ownership of a father over his daughter. He also successfully provides Juliet with a potion that convinces her family she is dead but doesn’t kill her. It’s fair to say, he isn’t your run of the mill clergyman.
But he is selfish too. His reason for marrying them initially is to end their parents’ feud; he is openly sceptical about Romeo’s change of heart, shifting his attention from Rosaline to Juliet, but still goes ahead with it. The biggy is when he finds Juliet in the tomb. Baz Luhrmann presumably omitted it from the film, to emphasise the tragic romance of the two lovers. But in the play, he enters after Romeo has died and Juliet has awoken. He tries to get her to leave. But he says, he will “dispose of thee/ Among a sisterhood of holy nuns.” So he wants to chuck her in a nunnery so they don’t get found out. Nice use of “dispose” there as well… And finally, when he hears a noise outside he says “I dare no longer stay.” He is unwilling to risk his own skin to stay with Juliet, and he definitely bears a degree of responsibility. When giving Juliet he says “if thou darest” and she shows her courage. When offered his own chance to be brave, he fails. Interesting to consider that the religious figure in the play is fairly high up on the responsibility list for letting Romeo and Juliet down.
“Within the infant rind of this weak flower/ Poison hath residence and medicine power.” (Act II, Sc iii)
Instructing Romeo about Rosaline: “For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.”_ (Act II, Sc iii)_
Why he supports their marriage: “This alliance may so happy prove,/ To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.” (Act II, Sc iii)
At the wedding: “These violent delights have violent ends,/ And in their triumph die, like fire and powder/ Which, as they kiss consume.” (Act II, Sc v)
On Romeo’s ingratitude: “O deadly sin! O rude unthankfulness!” (Act III, Sc iii)
Romeo on the Friar: “Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel.” (Act III, Sc iii)
Plan for Juliet: “If thou dar’st, I’ll give thee remedy.”_ (Act IV, Sc i)_
To her family when Juliet is believed to be dead: “Peace, ho! For shame! Confusion’s cure lives not/ In these confusions.” (Act IV, Sc v)
On the letter not reaching Romeo: “Get me an iron crow, and bring it straight/ Unto my cell.” (Act V, Sc ii)
To Juliet: “A greater power than we can contradict/ Hath thwarted our intents.” “Come, I’ll dispose of thee/ Among a sisterhood of holy nuns.”_ (Act V, Sc iii)_
To Juliet: “I dare no longer stay.” (Act V, Sc iii)
Involving the Nurse: “To the marriage/ Her nurse is privy.”_ (Act V, Sc iii)_
On punishment: “Let my old life/ Be sacrific’d(…)/ Unto the rigour of severest law.” (Act V, Sc iii)
The Prince: “We still have known thee for a holy man.”_ (Act V, Sc iii)_