The names “Romeo” and “Juliet” have passed in our language as a symbol for love. For centuries, no story of love has been more influential, prominent and emotional than The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. In the extraordinary track of the play, the unconquerable love, heroic actions, and faithful vows of the two lovers finger our hearts hard like a spiky thorn and soft like the delicate silk. Who is to blame for the deaths in the play? Friar Laurence certainly holds the responsibility. He marries the two lovers, offers Juliet to drink the potion, fails to send the letter to Romeo in time,and runs selfishly away from the vault for fear of trouble.
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Friar Laurence marries Romeo and Juliet even though he forebodes that this hasty marriage may lead to a catastrophic outcome. When Romeo informs Friar Laurence about his marriage to Juliet, the Friar hesitates because their love emerges too sudden and too unadvised that it may end just as quick:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume (II, VI, l. 9-11).
The Friar, in particular, questions Romeo?s temperament towards love. The love of Romeo to Rosaline shows that Romeo is fickle, superficial and immature towards love:
Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear,
So soon forsaken? Young men?s love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes (II, III, l. 70-72).
Despite these misgivings, Friar Laurence chooses to marry Romeo and Juliet because this may help end the feud:
In one respect I?ll thy assistant be,
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households? rancor to pure love (II, III, l. 97-99).
Being a religious and holy man, the Friar always believes the good side of things. However, he should have a second thought, for the feud between the two families has been ancient and brutal. Can the alliance of Romeo and Juliet really help to end the feud? If it can?t, then is he aggravating the matter by allowing Romeo and Juliet to be together? Should he rule this marriage without the acknowledgement of their parents? Later on, this marriage does provoke a brawl, which takes the lives of Mercutio, Tybalt, and Lady Montague. Had Friar Laurence not made Romeo a relative to the Capulets by marrying him to Juliet: Mercutio would not have been slain by Tybalt; Romeo would not have killed Tybalt for revenge; and Lady Montague would not have died from the grief of Romeo?s banishment.
The Friar offers Juliet the potion, which hypnotizes her for 42 hours in order to avoid the marriage with Paris. When Paris finds Juliet dead on the day of their marriage, he feels being cheated and angry towards Juliet:
Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain!
Most detestable death, by thee beguiled,
By cruel, cruel thee quite overthrown!
O love! O life! Not life, but love in death! (IV, V, l.62 ? 64)
In spite of his anger, his love for Juliet is truthful. On night of that day, Paris lays flower on Juliet?s tomb and weeps for her death: “The obsequies that I for thee will keep nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep” (V, III, l. 16-17). When Romeo is present, Paris becomes enraged and blames Romeo on murdering Juliet by slaying her dear cousin Tybalt. Paris draws out his sword and tries to avenge Romeo for Juliet?s death but in time slain by Romeo: ” O, I am slain! If thou be merciful, open the tomb; lay me with Juliet” (V, III, l. 72-73). Paris devotes his love to Juliet and is willing to die with her, but predetermined fate means that Juliet?s affinity with Romeo comes before her marriage to Paris. If Friar Laurence didn?t plan to let Juliet drink the potion and “die”, Paris would still be alive.
Friar Laurence is to blame for the death of Romeo for he fails to send the letter, which informs him about the plan. The Friar depends his entire plan on a letter to Romeo:
In the meantime, against thou shalt awake,
Shall Romeo by my letters known our drift,
And hither shall he come, and he and I
Will watch thy waking (IV, I, l.115-118).
The Friar makes his plan in such a hustle that he hasn?t thought about the possible failures or an alternate plan. When Romeo hears that Juliet is “dead”, he blames fate for taking Juliet?s life: “Is it e?en so? Then I defy you, stars!” (V, I, l.25). Romeo hurries to Juliet?s vault where he drinks the drug and dies beside his love: “Here is to my love. O true apothecary, thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die” (V, III, l.11-12). If Romeo had received the letter from the Friar, his state of mind and actions would have been completely different.
Lastly, the Friar?s selfishness is to blame for the death of Juliet. When Juliet wakes up, the Friar tells her that Romeo is dead and his whole plan is abolished. He directs Juliet to escape with him before the watch comes:
Come, I?ll dispose of thee
Among a sisterhood of holy nuns.
Stay not to question, for the watch is coming.
Come, go, good Juliet. I dare no longer stay. (V, III, l. 161-164)
Juliet refuses to leave, and the Friar exits selfishly for fear that he will be in trouble if anyone finds out his involvement in the affair. If the Friar did stay with Juliet and took the dagger out of her hand in time, Juliet would not have irrationally killed herself.
The hasty marriage, wrongful use of the potion, failure to send the letter, and selfishness of the Friar are the causes for the deaths that occurred in the play. In spite of the many coincidences and references to heaven and stars, Romeo and Juliet however, is not totally a tragedy of fate. Each character has his/her freewill and is responsible for his/her actions. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet should be designated as the failure of human responsibility or human error rather than fate. Who should be blamed for this tragedy may remain long controversial, but the story of the two star-crossed lovers will remain timelessly in the world of literature. “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (V, III, l.320-321).