Temporary Meddlers: Friars in Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet
By Sarah Friedman
I am an English major and a member of the Honors Program at UMass Dartmouth. My paper “Temporary Meddlers: Friars in Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet” was originally developed as my final research paper for the Shakespeare course that I took in spring 2017 with Professor Jay Zysk of the English Department at UMass Dartmouth. During the course of the spring semester, my class visited the Boston Public Library’s “Shakespeare Unauthorized” exhibit to begin developing ideas for a paper topic.
Portrait of Sarah Friedman
While I was at the Boston Public Library’s “Shakespeare Unauthorized” exhibit, I began to think about how Shakespeare portrays religion in his plays and I developed this concept into a research paper on Shakespeare’s friar characters. Last summer, Professor Catherine Gardner who is the director of the OUR informed me about the peer-reviewed Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council (UReCA) and I decided to revise and submit my paper. The paper was recently approved for publication and in what follows I provide a summary of my argument. To read the entire paper, please feel free to click on the following image.
Front page of Sarah Freedman’s publication in UReCA
During Shakespeare’s lifetime, religion was a controversial topic and the practice of Catholicism in England was illegal. I thought it was particularly interesting that Shakespeare uses Catholic friars as characters in his plays and I wanted to explore what those characters might suggest about Shakespeare’s religious beliefs. Shakespeare grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon and that community was at the center of Catholic resistance in England. His parents were connected with Catholicism and three of his grammar school teachers were Catholic, so that definitely had a strong presence in his early life. I focused my paper on Friar Laurence in the tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, and Duke Vincentio, who disguises himself as a friar in the comedy, Measure for Measure. In both of these plays, Shakespeare seems to be more sympathetic to friars than his contemporaries. He does not portray them as vice characters who break their vows, instead he portrays them as fallible human beings who try to help their communities. In both plays, friars keep secrets and manipulate politics. Friar Laurence performs Romeo and Juliet’s secret marriage, but he does so believing that it might end the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues. Duke Vincentio takes on the identity of a friar, but he uses it to try to stop the corruption that is happening in the city of Vienna. In conclusion, Shakespeare makes it clear that religion and politics are intertwined and earthly matters cannot be easily separated from spiritual matters.