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Philip Weller caricature
Philip and Weller hugging

Welcome to my web site, now under development for more than twenty years.   
-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Romeo and Juliet Navigator:

Detailed Summary of Act 2, Scene 3

Page Index:

Enter Friar Laurence:
Friar Laurence appears with a basket and sets the scene for us: "The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night, / Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light, / And fleckled [dappled] darkness like a drunkard reels / From forth day's path and Titan's fiery wheels" (2.3.1-4). The imagery not only gives us a vivid picture of dawn's mixture of light and dark, but it reminds us of the lovers' situation. Night can be said to be "frowning" because it can be full of uncertainty and danger, and darkness can be compared to a drunkard because it is in the dark that we party hearty and throw caution to the winds. In the night Romeo and Juliet have experienced all of this: uncertainty, danger, and sudden passion. But now the fiery wheels of the sun-god's chariot are chasing away the night and bringing the light of day, with its relentless realities.

The Friar goes on to say that before the sun gets too high he must fill "this osier cage [willow basket] of ours / With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers" (2.3.7-8). The phrase "of ours" indicates that he is doing his duty to his holy brotherhood, and his duty is to gather both poisonous weeds and medicinal flowers. Then, as now, poison can be medicine, and medicine can be poison; too many pain-killers can kill you, and chemotherapy is the practice of administering a poison in hopes that it will kill the cancer cells before it kills the patient. This fact leads the Friar to a meditation on the nature of nature and man. He says, "The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb; / What is her burying grave that is her womb" (2.3.9-10). In other words, everything that grows, grows from the earth, and everything that grows dies and returns to the earth, so that the earth is both tomb and womb. And we find that mother earth nurses many different kinds of children; in Friar Laurence's words: "And from her womb children of divers kind / We sucking on her natural bosom find" (2.3.11-12). It is a wonder, thinks Friar Laurence, that some of those "children" have great healing qualities, and that there is some good in every plant and mineral, even the most dangerous. On the other hand, there's nothing so good, "but, strain'd [wrenched] from that fair use, / Revolts from true birth [natural goodness], stumbling on abuse" (2.3.19-20). Thus, "Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied; / And vice [is] sometimes by action dignified" (2.3.21-22). Everything depends on how natural powers are used; too much of a good thing is dangerous, and a bad thing can sometimes be used for good. These philosophical musing of the Friar foreshadow the character of many of the events to follow, the greatest example of which is that the love of Romeo and Juliet brings them death, and their death ends the hatred between the Capulets and Montagues.

At this point, most texts indicate that Romeo enters, but if he does, he only stands and listens while the Friar continues his thoughts. The Friar picks up a flower and uses it as an example of what he has just been saying: "Within the infant rind of this weak flower / Poison hath residence and medicine power: / For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part; / Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart" (2.3.23-26) . The "infant rind" of the flower is the undeveloped fruit; the hip of a rose in bloom would be its "infant rind." The Friar's point is that great powers of nature reside in even the most innocent-looking flower. If you smell the flower, you will feel better, but if you eat the fruit you will fall into a coma and die. The Friar then goes on to say that what is true of plants is also true of humans: "Two such opposed kings encamp them still / In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will; / And where the worser is predominant, / Full soon the canker death eats up that plant" (2.3.27-30). "Grace" is the power of healing and nurturing; "rude will" is the selfish opposite of grace. The Friar is, in a way, optimistic about the struggle between grace and will, for he believes that the worm ("canker") of death will soon destroy the plant (or human) in which evil is stronger than good.

Enter Romeo:
As Friar Laurence is meditating on the struggle between good and evil in nature and man, Romeo says good morning, apparently surprising the Friar, who exclaims "Benedicte!" (2.3.31), and then starts worrying about Romeo. Speaking in a paternal way, the Friar says, "Young son, it argues a distemper'd [disturbed, confused] head / So soon to bid good morrow to thy bed" (2.3.34). The Friar also says that an old man, who naturally has many worries, finds it hard to sleep, "But where unbruised youth with unstuff'd brain [i.e.,not stupid, but carefree] / Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign" (2.3.37-38). Therefore he concludes that Romeo has awakened early because something is bothering him. Then -- maybe because of the look on Romeo's face -- the Friar has another thought: "Or if not so, then here I hit it right, / Our Romeo hath not been in bed to-night" (2.3.41-42).

Romeo confirms that the Friar has hit it, and the Friar exclaims, "God pardon sin! wast thou with Rosaline?" (2.3.44). Apparently he's afraid that Romeo has been sinning with the girl he has long longed for, but Romeo reassures him that he's forgotten all about Rosaline and gives a poetic explanation of the fact that he hasn't slept all night: "I have been feasting with mine enemy, / Where on a sudden one hath wounded me, / That's by me wounded; both our remedies / Within thy help and holy physic lies" (2.3.49-52). Romeo is making a joyful joke. He knows that it sounds like he's been in a fight, but we know that the "wounds" he's talking about were inflicted by Cupid's arrows. Those wounds can be healed by marriage, and that -- we know -- is the "physic" (medical attention) which Romeo wants from the Friar. But the Friar doesn't know what we know; for all the Friar knows, Romeo could be asking him to tend to actual wounds.

Romeo apparently enjoys the confusion he is causing, because he then adds to it by saying, "I bear no hatred, blessed man, for, lo, / My intercession [plea for help] likewise steads [helps] my foe" (2.3.53-54). The Friar replies, "Be plain, good son, and homely [plain] in thy drift [meaning]; / Riddling confession finds but riddling shrift" (2.3.55-56). In other words, if Romeo doesn't clearly confess his sins, he won't receive clear forgiveness. At this, Romeo drops the riddles, tells the Friar what has happened, and asks him to perform the wedding ceremony that very day.

In a few moments Friar Laurence will agree to do as Romeo asks, but first he makes fun of Romeo's sudden change of heart. As he is chiding Romeo, the Friar also expresses his doubt that Romeo really knows what love is. The Friar says that if Romeo can suddenly drop Rosaline in favor of Juliet, it shows that "Young men's love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes" (2.3.67-68). And all those tears that Romeo shed for Rosaline "were salt water thrown away in waste, / To season love, that of it doth not taste!" (2.3.71-72). Real love, the Friar is saying, doesn't need to be seasoned with salt, because real love is not a matter of pain and suffering. The Friar goes on to tell Romeo that his sighs for Rosaline are still floating above their heads, that his groans for Rosaline are still echoing in the Friar's ears, and that the stain of a tear shed for Rosaline can still be seen on his cheek. Thus, since his change of heart has been so sudden, Romeo should "Pronounce [proclaim] this sentence [lesson] then, / Women may fall, when there's no strength in men" (2.3.79-80). Men liked to say that women were too quick to fall in and out of love, but the Friar is telling Romeo that he ought to tell the world that women can be forgiven for being changeable, because men are no better.

Romeo tries to defend himself by saying, "Thou chid'st me oft for loving Rosaline" (2.3.81), as though he expects the Friar to approve of the fact that he has stopped loving Rosaline, but the Friar answers, "For doting, not for loving, pupil mine" (2.3.82). In the Friar's opinion, what Romeo felt for Rosaline was a silly crush, not true love. Romeo protests that the Friar "bad'st me bury love," but the Friar shoots back, "Not in a grave, / To lay one in, another out to have" (2.3.83-84). The image of putting a corpse in the grave only to take out another corpse is grotesque, but it makes the Friar's point, which is that he is afraid Romeo has merely exchanged one infatuation for another. Romeo then asks the Friar to stop chiding, because there really is a difference between his old love and his new one: "Her I love now / Doth grace for grace and love for love allow; / The other did not so" (2.3.85-87).

Romeo's declaration that he and Juliet have a mutual love appears to mollify the Friar somewhat, but he doesn't let Romeo entirely off the hook. The Friar says of Rosaline, "O, she knew well / Thy love did read by rote and could not spell" (2.3.87-88). To "read by rote" is to "read" the way toddlers do, when they have had a story read to them so many times that they have it memorized. To "spell" is to really read by sounding out the words and making sense of them. Rosaline, according to the Friar, knew that Romeo was only in love with love, and that Romeo only sighed and suffered because he knew that was what lovers are supposed to do. Nevertheless, the Friar is willing to marry Romeo and Juliet, and he explains why: "In one respect [for one good reason] I'll thy assistant be; / For this alliance may so happy prove, / To turn your households' rancour to pure love" (2.3.90-92).

Romeo doesn't say a thing about the "households"; all he cares about is that he will be married to Juliet. He wants to get things moving right away, and the last thing we hear is the Friar delivering another bit of wisdom: "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast" (2.3.94).