“Take It Slow, Romeo”:
Learning from Friar Lawrence’s Advice in Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, holds an important place in our culture today. The unfortunate story of the two young lovers have been performed, made into movies, and they are still being read and discussed in classes today. The movie edition of Romeo and Juliet by Franco Zeffirelli (1968) stays closely to the setting of the play of 16th century Verona (even though it may never be known exactly how Shakespeare wanted his play to be performed). The movie also emphasizes the bawdy comedy of the play, as well as the tragic end that Romeo and Juliet meet due to their families’ never-ending feud. Because the play contains many universal messages, the setting of the play could be altered to speak to different bodies of audiences. One of these important messages from the play is that one should not act to quickly. One needs to think carefully before taking action.
One of the many prominent themes of the play is love – specifically, falling too quickly in love. It is true that the two families’ stubborn unwillingness to end their feud leads to the deaths of the Montague’s only son, and the Capulet’s only daughter. However, it is also true that Romeo and Juliet fall in love instantly. When Romeo asks Friar Lawrence to marry him and Juliet right away, Friar Lawrence is surprised to hear that Romeo has gotten over his love for Rosaline so quickly. Nevertheless, he agrees to help with Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, in hope that this will help end the two families’ feud. Unfortunately, this is only Friar Lawrence’s hope, and all Romeo hears is a ‘yes.’ And as soon as he does, he is eager to get out of Friar Lawrence’s cell. Even when Friar Lawrence tells him, “Go wisely and slowly. Those who rush stumble and fall” (2.3.101), it only goes in Romeo’s one ear and out the other. If Romeo and Juliet had considered Friar Lawrence’s message, maybe it could have warned them about the consequences of their marriage would have on both their families. Or maybe not, since they were too blinded by love to ever truly consider anything else.
It is important to always take things one step at a time. Friar Lawrence says to Romeo, “…love moderately. Long love doth so./ Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow” (2.6.14-2.6.15). Here, he explains the importance of being moderate by describing the dangers of being too fast or too slow. This advice is not solely relevant to Romeo and Juliet. This is an important message that all of us could benefit from. I wonder if Romeo and Juliet’s story could have turned out differently if they had taken things a bit slower. At the same time, I realize that it had been Romeo and Juliet’s fate to live and die as “star-crossed lovers” (Prologue, line 6) and that they would have met a tragic end, no matter what.
Even though Shakespeare set the story in 16th century Verona, the story of Romeo and Juliet continues to speak to us today. The play’s messages concern love, family feuds, reputation, and fate. These are important aspects of society that continue to influence our lives. And as we read or watch a performance of the play, maybe we ourselves should consider Friar Lawrence’s message: To take things neither too quickly nor too slowly, but to take things one step at a time.
Folger Shakespeare Library. Romeo and Juliet from Folger Digital Texts. Ed. Barbara Mowat, Paul Werstine, Michael Poston, and Rebecca Niles. Folger Shakespeare Library, 24 November, 2017. http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org
Shakespeare, William, et al. Franco Zeffirelli’s Production of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Paramount Pictures Corp., 1968.