Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Act V, Scene 1

Summary

Romeo is hopeful; he has had a dream that a lady came and woke him from death with a kiss, and that therefore some “joyful news is at hand.” He is interrupted by Balthasar, who has come from Verona to tell him that Juliet is dead and has been buried in the Capulet family monument. Romeo asks if Balthasar carries a letter from Friar Laurence, and Balthasar replies that he has not.

Resolved to return to Verona and kill himself in the vault by Juliet’s side, Romeo seeks out a local apothecary and demands to be sold some poison. The apothecary replies that in Mantua, the penalty for selling poison is death, but that he is so poor and needs the money so badly that he will sell Romeo the poison anyway. He does so in exchange for forty ducats, and Romeo sets off for Verona.

Analysis

By now, the dramatic irony of the play is ceaseless. Here, the audience knows Juliet is not actually dead, but Romeo does not; only a misfortune of timing in the arrival of various messengers has led to this turn of events. The apothecary scene drives home the play’s motif of the division between the upper and lower classes. The apothecary has the power to prevent Romeo from poisoning himself, and he seems to want to obey the law that prevents him selling poison; however, his family’s immediate need for food and shelter is more pressing than his ethical concern, and he sells Romeo the poison.

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