Compare and contrast the roles of the Nurse and Friar Lawrence in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in the following ways:* Consider their contribution to the plot* Select short sections from the play involving these two characters for close study, showing appreciation of dramatic structure and stagecraft* Analyse what they tell us about Elizabethan societyThis essay will focus on the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, and how their actions and opinions affected Romeo and Juliet.
From the outset of the play the prologue dooms them both by stating their “death-marked love”. This makes the part of the Friar and the Nurse in their deaths unclear, as we do not know whether the “star-crossed lovers” would have died without them intervening on their behalf since it was written in the stars. As well as this, it also describes that the consequences of their actions “bury their parents’ strife” giving a twist to the plot which, if the observer was removed from the emotional aspects of the play, could find balanced out the tragedy with a ‘greater good’.Romeo and Juliet are the children of two wealthy families in Verona, the Montagues and the Capulets.
Friar Lawrence and the Nurse are both lower down the social scale than Romeo and Juliet but act as confidants and close friends to them both, the Friar being a spiritual adviser as well. Romeo and Juliet depend on them both and treat them as extended family. In this way they value their advice and have very strong bonds between them. Although the guidance given by both the Nurse and Friar is valued equally, the actual opinion of each character may differ greatly.The Nurse is an out-going character who has wet-nursed and cared for Juliet since she was a baby and, due to the detached supervision of her own mother, Juliet is more likely to turn to the Nurse for advice and guidance.The Nurse is very affectionate towards Juliet, and dotes on her as her own child.
In this way, she wants the best for Juliet and gives her the ‘best’ possible advice according to her beliefs. Unfortunately, since she lacks the greater wisdom of other characters, her guidance is sometimes flawed and she is easily swayed by other characters conflicting opinions.The class boundary between Juliet and the Nurse is easily apparent whenever she talks, probably due to her lack of education. Her language is colloquial and repetitive and often full of irrelevancies. The coarseness and vulgarity with which she talks to Juliet is also apparent, and she does not refrain from talking about sex in her company.”I am the drudge, and toil in your delight.But you shall bear the burden soon at night” – Act 2 Scene 5Her extroverted nature does not lend itself to caution, and the only moment of prudence on the part of the Nurse is when she warns Romeo that he must take the relationship seriously or not at all.
“If ye should lead her in a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behaviour”- Act 2 Scene 4For all the care and attention Juliet is given, the Nurse relishes in teasing Juliet, for example the Nurse goes out to meet Romeo and ask him whether he would marry Juliet, she delays telling her the news for as long as possible. When she finally tells Juliet what he said, she seems more concerned about his appearance than his personality.”Though his face be better than any man’s, yethis leg excels all men’s; and for a hand, and afoot, and a body, though they be not to be talkedon, yet they are past compare.” – Act 2 Scene 5It is this flaw, taking objects, situations and people at face value that leads her to hurt Juliet later in the play when she is confronted with the dilemma of obeying her father and marring Paris but betraying Romeo. She refuses her father’s offer and he then directs violent abuse at her. Juliet looks towards the Nurse for comfort saying “What sayest thou, hast thou no word of joy?”, but is astonished and distressed by her seemingly unfeeling attitude towards her. She does not seem to take into account Juliet’s loyalty and intensity of feeling for Romeo, and instead contradicts her previous praise towards him.
“I think it is best you married with the County.O he’s a lovely gentleman.Romeo’s a dishclout to him” – Act 3 Scene 5In these lines, “dishclout” is used as a derogatory metaphor. It is also used earlier in the play when she speaks to Romeo. She informs him that Juliet “looks as pale as any clout in the versal world” when she suggests that “Paris is the properer”.
This is the last point in the play at which the Nurse has a part, and the next time she is seen, it is following discovery of Juliet’s ‘dead’ body the morning after taking the Friar’s potion. This acts in a strange way as a reprisal for her betrayal of Juliet the night before.Although it may be taken in this fashion, the view could be taken that the Nurse was only looking after Juliet’s best interests and made a few vain attempts at helping protect Juliet from her parents’ anger.Nurse: “You are to blame my lord to rate her so.”Capulet: “And why, my lady wisdom? Hold your tongue.Good prudence, smatter with your gossips, go.” – Act 3 Scene 5The Nurse tries to defend Juliet, but is shouted down by Capulet who complains of Juliet’s ingratitude.
Thus, the reason for her complete reversal of opinion may have been that she saw no way around what Capulet had decreed. The Nurse, in a spate of insight may have considered between Juliet’s life after running away with Romeo – with no money, status, or shelter – and her life if she married Paris – a rich, highly influential, and well kept lifestyle. The latter would have been theoretically better but without Romeo, it is fatally flawed.The Friar’s approach to life is altogether different than the Nurse’s. He is at first portrayed as a wise and contemplative character who is helpful and well-meaning. He philosophises upon many things and often uses plants and nature as a focal point for his ideas. One of his core beliefs is that everything has a potential for good and bad, and that this holds with people as well.
He gives an example of a plant in his garden, whose flower has a pleasant smell and makes you feel good, but eating it would kill you.”Within the infant rind of this weak flowerPoison hath residence, and medicine power;For this being smelt with that part cheers each part;Being tasted, stays all senses with the heart.” – Act 2 Scene 3In the same scene, Romeo confesses to the Friar that he has broken up with Rosaline, to which the Friar replies “That’s my good son”.
This implies that the Friar thought that Romeo was too young and when Romeo explains he has found someone else, he is very suspicious of its nature and suspects it is because beauty only. This could be explained as wise or simply pessimistic, depending on the point of view.”Young men’s love then liesNot truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” – Act 2 Scene 3The Friar has a special friendship with Romeo, but unlike the Nurse, has no contact with his parents – removing him from many of the obligations the Nurse undertakes. He is partly a father figure for Romeo and seems content to listen patiently to him. Romeo has no hesitations about confiding in him and happily tells the Friar about Juliet and his passion for her.At that time, early marriage was the ‘done thing’ and so Friar Lawrence has no qualms about marrying them after considering the implications of a marriage between the two lovers – a peace between the two houses.
“For this alliance may so happy prove,To turn your households’ rancour to pure love” – Act 2 Scene 3One of the Friar’s quotes – “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.” Has a large implication on the rest of his actions. He fails to follow his own advice, and later in the play makes rash decisions leading his to need to rush about to fix them, and in doing so, fail – thus leading to Romeo and Juliet’s death.The proceeding actions of the Friar and the Nurse do nothing to slow down the marriage of Romeo and Juliet, who are married by the Friar, quickly and secretly.When Romeo is banished, the Friar can only philosophise about his predicament. This is entirely ineffectual and causes Romeo to become maddened to the point where he threatens to stab himself. This is a point in the play where the Friar has the least control over the situation and the Nurse takes the initiative by restraining Romeo and snatching away the dagger. Even after this, the Friar still seems unable to comprehend the grief Romeo feels and tells him to act sensibly.
“Hold thy desperate hand.Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art.Thy tears are womanish, thy wild acts denoteThe unreasonable fury of a beast.Unseemly woman in a seeming man.”This is entirely inappropriate as Romeo’s actions can be justified by the situation he is in.
The Friar continues to look at ‘the wider picture’ and tells Romeo that by killing himself, he would kill Juliet too, and by such an action he would sin against his own personality and the love he shares with Juliet. He explains to Romeo that he has had great fortune in being able to stay alive, but deep down knows the reality of the situation and cannot expect Romeo to change his point of view.A point in the play where events could have been drastically changed is at this particular time. Both the Nurse and Friar Lawrence neglect to inform either the Capulets or the Montagues, whose acknowledgement of the situation may have stopped the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, but may not have brought the houses together as fully.Instead, the Friar starts on a desperate scheme in order to stop Juliet from killing herself and makes a rash decision to give her a drug that will make it look as though she is dead.Due to the complexity of the Friar’s plan, there is no ‘backup’ scheme that can be used in the event of a failure. In order for it to work, each ‘link’ in the plan must work flawlessly – which it does until only a seemingly small detail – the delivery of a letter to Romeo explaining what has been done – it unaccomplished due to a plague to the city.
This throws all of the subsequent events into disarray and the Friar panics. His an example of his contradictory beliefs are shown when he is hurrying towards the vault where Juliet is lying, in order to warn Romeo that she is not actually dead.”Saint Francis be my speed. How oft tonightHave my old feet stumbled at graves.”In his haste to get to the vault, he trips and stumbles – reminding us of what he said at the start of the play – “They stumble that run fast”.
His calm attitude towards the situation has not prevailed and he has wasted time. As well as this, the Friar ends by blaming the stars for the tradegy that occurred.When the Friar attempts to convince Juliet to leave the vault as he has heard a voice, he blames the problem not on his (or anyone else’s) actions, but on a higher power.’A greater power than we can contradictHas thwarted our intents.’When confronted with the Prince and other characters at the end, he admits involvement even though he feared being punished.
The Friar explains the sequence of events that led to the tragedy and, in telling the truth, discloses the Nurse’s involvement.He is believed because of his status as a ‘holy man’ and offers his life as a penance for his fault.This is interesting and shows part of the Friar’s character not seen before. He may have offered his life honestly, and accepted that he would have to pay with his life. On the other hand, he uses the words “let my old life be sacrificed some hour before his time” which make the death sentence seem cruel as he is old and killing him would not be much of a forfeit for him.Although the Nurse and Friar are not the main characters in the play, they influence the story greatly and act as vehicles for the plot. While other character respond and deal with the events that happen, the Nurse and the Friar make situations and are the ‘doers’, preferring to alter the circumstances they are in to their own (if slightly misjudged) ends, rather than adapt round them.
A pivotal moment in the play is when the Friar decides to give Juliet the potion that will make look as if she is dead. We know that his beliefs are that plants, like people, have both good and bad properties. In this way, we can look at the potion in two ways – it was used for good and helped Juliet, or it was abused, and led to her death.
Juliet had begged the Friar to help her and was determined to kill herself rather than be married to Paris. Because she was prepared to face death, Friar Lawrence gives her the potion as a means of getting out of it alive. The fact that due to other circumstances she died after taking the potion is not significant when she would have killed herself anyway – the potion just allowed her to put it off.Both the Nurse and Friar are actively responsible for bringing the lovers together and helping their relationship progress. It is the nurse who identifies Romeo at the banquet and it is she who acts as the messenger between the two, helping with the arrangement of their marriage.
She is also responsible for assembling a rope ladder that allows Romeo to sleep with Juliet the night after their marriage.The Friar also facilitates the relationship by secretly marrying them and then arranging Romeo’s night with Juliet. After Romeo is banished, he offers a ‘last chance’ plan that gives Juliet hope that she will be alright.Both let the lover down in their own ways – the Nurse by being less educated, becomes less useful to Juliet as the problems increase and cannot see how the problems can be solved after Juliet’s arranged marriage. The Friar, while meaning well, forgets his own guidance, and in a hurry to complete his plan ‘stumbles’.The Nurse and Friar are both very close to Romeo and Juliet, and reveal their secret thoughts and feelings.Due to the nature of a play, actors must not just say the lines as if reading them aloud, but insert exaggeration, pauses, and gestures so that the audience can feel that what they are seeing is as real as possible.
In Act 2 Scene 3 – The Friar is visible in his small garden outside his cell. The lighting will simulate dawn and will illuminate the various herbs and flowers growing nearby. The opening line, “The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night” is said as the stage has no narrator, and so a time of day must be set by speech and lighting. The Friar should be wearing robes and other priestly garments, modestly decorated so as to convey a humble character. As he unhurriedly collects herbs into a wicker basket, he should be saying his lines with an air of reflection and calmness, occasionally looking closely at a specimen before placing it in his basket. When Romeo arrives he should run quickly in and look around for the Friar, before seeing him and walking over excitedly.
He should wear ordinary period costume and look slightly unkempt.The Friar should notice Romeo’s presence and look unfazed but enquire with moderate interest why he has woken so early. With a small smile, he should suggest that “Romeo hath not been in bed tonight”.When explains where he has been, he should do so enthusiastically and with a far-away look in his eyes, so that the audience sees he is remembering something. As he explains that he has fallen in love with Juliet he should gesture and jump round the Friar as if making sure he has heard him.While Romeo is telling him this, the Friar should stop picking after hearing that he loves a Capulet and when finished stand slowly and say with a chiding tone that Romeo used to be in love with Rosaline.While walking slowly towards another part of the garden, Romeo should be jumping about excitedly beside him, questioning his reason for not being happy for him.
Then, as he nears the stage sides he should stop and look considerately at Romeo while talking half to himself and then , as he begins walking again say “But come young waverer, come with me…..”.
When he says “For this alliance…” he should pause thoughtfully before finishing his sentence and as Romeo realises that the Friar will help him he should be very exited. Then, the Friar should turn towards him and say meaningfully “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.
” Before the lights dim and the act ends.In Act 5 scene 3 – Lines 147-159 – The Friar is with Juliet when she wakes up in the vault. The lighting should be a small spotlight illuminating a marble platform with Juliet’s body on top. Romeo should be lying by the side – dead, and Paris should be just visible on another nearby plinth. The Friar should hold a small lantern that illuminates Juliet’s face, and other gothic fixtures may be present such as dark stone pillars and cobwebs showing that they are inside a dry, dusty, vault and that it has lay unkempt for decades.
Juliet should be wearing her burial clothes and have a shroud over her body.When she rises, she should do so very slowly and deliberately, as if waking from a long sleep. When she sees the Friar she should appear contented with his presence and slightly lethargic when talking to him. The Friar should appear slightly distraught, but keep an anxious face and body language.
When he hears the noise, he should look very keen to leave and glance towards the exit, while avoiding Juliet’s questions. Juliet should become slowly aware of the Friars mood and begin to look worried when she senses that all is not well.The Friar should tell Juliet of Romeo’s death with little apparent feeling, while all the time, keep glancing towards the exit.
His offhand remark about ‘disposing’ of her should be greeted by a look of horror on Juliet’s face, and she should shrink away from him as he continues on.When he sees that she will not come, he should mutters about not being able to stay any longer and quickly hurries off, looking back and seeming tormented by the two priorities of saving Juliet, and saving himself.The Friar serves as a religious symbol throughout the play, and represents the Roman Catholic Church.This sense of heightened religion gives the relationship a stronger ‘power’ and is a reminder that other powers – such as God – control us.
The Nurse, on the other hand, acts as light relief and emphasises the baser instincts and sensual nature of the relationship through her humour.The Friar and Nurse provide an insight into the Elizabethan society in which William Shakespeare lived. The relationship between Juliet and her Nurse would have been a common one for many rich families in that period. The arranged marriage of Juliet and Count Paris arranged by her father would have also been common in the families of the Elizabethan period due to the differences between each class of society – a rich and high status family would marry their children into a similar family.The “cold humour” that the Friar talked of when discussing his potion was part of the limited medical knowledge at that time.
‘Humours’, as they were called, were four different substances that were made inside the body. When food was eaten, it was converted into four liquids by the liver – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. They were all associated with different behaviours – sanguine; hopeful, courageous and amorous – phlegmatic; cool, apathetic and sluggish – choleric; angry and easily annoyed – and melancholic; depressed and in low mood respectively.
Usually the humours were in balance with each other and behaviour was sensible, but if there was an imbalance in the humours, people would become one of the above.I think that the role of the Nurse and Friar in the tragedy is small, but the compound effect of many characters mistakes caused the deaths of the two lovers. For example Romeo and Juliet both took decisions which led to their deaths, but this is only part of the story. They behaved as they did because of the situation they found themselves in and because of the way in which people treated them. There is almost none in the play who does not bear some responsibility for their deaths – even the Prince could be accused; if he had been more forceful with his actions against the feuding families, the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt would not have happened.
Romeo would not have killed Tybalt and therefore not been punished, bypassing the need for Friar Lawrence’s complicated plan and avoiding the tragedy.The role of fate in the play is something that could be discussed in great detail. Was it just coincidence that Capulet should send out the invitations to the feast using a messenger who could not read, just at the moment when he will meet Romeo and so ask him to read the list for him.
Also, it is strange that at a crowded party, where there are many attractive young girls, Romeo should see Juliet.There is only one point in the entire play where a character is mildly more to blame than any other – the Friar leaves Juliet by herself in the tomb, with Romeo and Paris both dead nearby. This is when she takes her own life, if the Friar had stayed longer, or forced her to come with him, she may have lived. Although this is akin to saying if Romeo had not drunk the poison, he would not have died, so my argument is flawed.I think that the Nurse and Friar are to blame, but just as much as other characters who interacted with Romeo and Juliet. If any one thing is to be blamed – it is the stars.