Constructing and Portraying The Apothecary’s Character in Romeo and Juliet

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About this sample


Words: 1634 |

Pages: 3.5|

9 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

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Words: 1634|Pages: 3.5|9 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Constructing and Portraying the Apothecary’s Character in Romeo and Juliet
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The essay discusses William Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet," focusing on the character of the Apothecary and its thematic significance in the context of fate and the individual's struggle against society.

The essay begins by highlighting the theme of fate in the play, emphasizing how celestial authority drives the characters toward their tragic destinies. It mentions that Romeo and Juliet's love, initially seen as a stroke of fortune, ultimately leads to their downfall due to the family feud. This sets the stage for the role of the Apothecary in the narrative.

The essay explores the theme of the individual's struggle against society, highlighting how the Apothecary's decision to sell poison reflects a society that neglects its impoverished members. It also delves into the moral implications of selling the poison and Romeo's realization that money itself is a poison.

Additionally, the essay discusses how Shakespeare uses the Apothecary's characterization and setting to create a mood of foreboding and evil, contrasting with the earlier hopeful mood in the play. The Apothecary's actions foreshadow the tragic consequences that await Romeo and Juliet.

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Role of the Apothecary in "Romeo and Juliet"
  3. To Portray the Theme of Destiny and Fate
    To Establish a Particular Mood
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


"Romeo and Juliet" stands as one of William Shakespeare's iconic plays, recounting the tragic tale of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, who ultimately take their own lives. Set in the tumultuous city of Verona, torn apart by a bitter civil war between two noble families – the Capulets and the Montagues, Shakespeare's narrative unfolds with a sense of destiny, hinting at the ill-fated journey of the titular characters from the outset.

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Shakespeare weaves a tapestry of diverse characters in "Romeo and Juliet," each serving a purpose in the intricate web of the plot. Even the seemingly obscure characters contribute to Shakespeare's deliberate design, reinforcing key themes throughout the play. One such character is the Apothecary, who, despite appearing peripheral, plays a significant role. In Act Five, Scene One, his interaction with Romeo underscores the themes of fate and the clash between societal norms and individual choices. Furthermore, it enhances the connection between symbolism and the prevailing mood. The aim of this literary essay on "Romeo and Juliet" is to analyze the roles the Apothecary serves in the play.

The Role of the Apothecary in "Romeo and Juliet"

To Portray the Theme of Destiny and Fate

Foremost among the themes in "Romeo and Juliet" is the omnipresent concept of destiny. This element is introduced early on through the prologue, which presents the audience with "a pair of star-cross'd lovers" whose destinies are entwined in a tragic end, destined to resolve the feud between their warring families (1.1.6). Throughout the narrative, celestial forces guide the characters inexorably toward the fateful conclusion, entwining their destinies with dramatic irony.

Romeo's uninvited presence at a party hosted by Lord Montague, his family's sworn enemy, marks the beginning of this fateful journey. Here, he falls deeply in love with Juliet, Montague's daughter, a realization that dawns too late, given the enmity between their families. Nevertheless, the intensity of young love propels them to clandestinely marry. In this stage of the narrative, fate might appear as a benevolent force that brings together these two seemingly incompatible souls.

However, as the plot unfolds, fortune turns its back on the ill-fated lovers. The feuding families intrude on their wedded bliss, resulting in a series of deadly altercations on their wedding night, leading to the deaths of two men—one Capulet and one Montague, and Romeo's banishment from Verona. In his absence, Juliet is hurriedly betrothed to another suitor, and her marriage is arranged without her consent. Desperate to escape this unwanted union, Juliet turns to Friar Lawrence, the compassionate clergyman who had previously married her and Romeo. He provides her with a potion that induces a death-like slumber and sends word to Romeo about their plan. Tragically, Romeo never receives the Friar's message and only learns of his beloved's apparent demise. Consumed by grief, Romeo recalls an impoverished apothecary he had encountered earlier. He seeks out the Apothecary in his dismal shop and persuades him to sell a vial of poison for a steep price. This decision marks the beginning of Romeo's physical demise and ultimately seals Juliet's heart-wrenching fate when she awakens to discover her lifeless love beside her.

While the Apothecary primarily serves as a tool in the destiny of the ill-fated lovers, he also embodies Shakespeare's thematic exploration of fate. It is not a mere coincidence that Romeo, in his banishment to Mantua, encounters this impoverished apothecary. Romeo's recollection of this detail occurs shortly after he is misled into believing that Juliet has met her demise. In the depths of his despair, he reflects upon his initial encounter with the apothecary:

Noting this penury, to myself I said,

"An' if a man did need a poison now,

Whose sale is present death in Mantua,

Here lives a wretched soul who would sell it to him." (5.1.49-52)

The Apothecary appears so emaciated and forlorn that Romeo presumes the man's resilience could be swayed. Despite the severe consequences attached to selling poison, Romeo speculates that the apothecary's dire circumstances might make him more susceptible to persuasion.

Romeo's speculation proves accurate, highlighting yet another thematic thread woven throughout the play—the struggle between an individual and society. The Apothecary is draped in "tattered weeds," wearing nothing more than simple rags, and his emaciation rivals that of famine-stricken individuals (5.1.39). Despite his dire circumstances, he initially declines Romeo's offer to purchase the poison, citing the law as the reason. He refuses, even in the face of death, to facilitate Romeo's own demise. Romeo persists, however, asserting that "Contempt and destitution hang upon thy back; The world is not thy friend, nor the world's law" (5.1.72-3). In essence, Romeo argues that the Apothecary need not abide by the law due to the social disdain he endures. More explicitly, the law is no ally to the Apothecary because it impedes his business. Romeo's words pinpoint the Apothecary's vulnerability by contending that his societal oppression is not his fault but rather a consequence of a world that "affords no law to make thee rich," implying that there is no counterbalance for the laws that restrict the Apothecary's trade (5.1.74). In this sense, Romeo suggests that the Apothecary possesses a right to meet his needs, even if it means acting unlawfully, given the extreme neglect he has endured.

The moral dilemmas surrounding the sale of poison to Romeo also tie into the theme of an individual's struggle against society. While the Apothecary is fully aware of the grave consequences associated with selling poison to Romeo, he resists Romeo's offer only momentarily. As they complete the transaction, the Apothecary defends his decision, asserting, "My poverty, but not my will, consents" (5.1.75). Here, the Apothecary acknowledges that he is trading one form of poverty for another, as his destitution does not dissipate with financial gain; it merely takes the shape of moral bankruptcy. The Apothecary's apparent lack of guilt for providing death to the despairing Romeo is further exemplified by his brevity, as he refrains from further comment on the moral matter. It is Romeo who recognizes the immorality in the transaction, articulating:

"There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls,

Doing more harm in this wretched world,

Than these poor mixtures that thou mayest not sell.

I sell thee poison, thou hast sold me none." (5.1.80-4)

Romeo's words identify money as the true poison and observe that society's prohibition on selling poison is misapplied, considering the greater malevolence wrought by money. The Apothecary, though a minor player in this moral theme, underscores that it is society, rather than the individual, that is as destitute as he is. Intriguingly, Romeo's final words do not condemn the Apothecary but instead implicate himself and society as the perpetrators of the crime.

To Establish a Particular Mood

In addition to employing the Apothecary as a thematic reinforcement within the play, Shakespeare relies on his characterization in Act Five, Scene One, to craft a distinct mood that conveys a particular perspective on poison. Romeo's vivid depiction of the Apothecary and his establishment exerts a potent influence on the atmosphere. According to Romeo, the Apothecary resembles a walking corpse. As for his shop, Romeo observes a chilling assortment of animal hides, a tortoise shell, and remnants of thread, along with old rose cakes (5.1.42). The shop appears nearly deserted as Romeo approaches, and when the Apothecary emerges, Romeo might as well be conversing with a specter from a mausoleum. Here, the Apothecary and his shop symbolize the malevolent nature of deadly concoctions, mirroring their own death-like appearances. Just as the Apothecary's vial of poison is intended to drain the life from the living, his destitution, what Romeo deems the true poison, has drained vitality from him. This is essentially what Romeo means when he queries, "Art thou so destitute and steeped in wretchedness, and yet afraid of dying? Starvation is evident in your sunken cheeks, and need and oppression are evident in your eyes" (5.1.69-70). In essence, Romeo is implying that the Apothecary is so close to death himself that he has nothing to fear.

The mood in Act Two, Scene Three, differs significantly from the Apothecary's introduction and similarly reflects the play's viewpoint on poison. A contemplative friar gathers herbs in the early morning's "streaks of light" that precede the full rise of the sun, an event he poetically describes as "fleckled darkness...reels From forth day's path and Titan's [fiery] wheels" (2.3.2-4). As the Friar fills his basket, he muses on the inherent value of herbal remedies, which possess a "powerful grace" for healing and thus are virtuous (2.3.15). Nevertheless, he acknowledges that "stumbling on abuse, Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied" (2.3.20-1). In plain terms, the Friar is emphasizing that misusing drugs is as detrimental as their proper application is beneficial. Apart from this insight, the overall perspective is that drugs serve healing purposes, aligning with the hopeful mood of a dawning day.

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In summary, what Shakespeare adeptly illustrates through the thematic and artistic portrayal of the Apothecary is the antithesis of the notion that only virtues become vices when "misapplied" (2.3.21). In the context of the Apothecary's role, his influence is underestimated when we assume that selling poison will harm only Romeo. The Apothecary's deadly vial exudes such malevolent intent that, in claiming Romeo's life, it also claims Juliet's. As destiny would have it, the mood within the Apothecary's spectral realm foreshadows this tragic outcome. One can only hope that, despite the ruin of Romeo and Juliet, the Apothecary found solace in his 40 ducats.


  1. Shakespeare, W. (1597). Romeo and Juliet. [Link to the edition or specific source you are using.]
  2. Greenblatt, S. (2016). The Norton Shakespeare. W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Berry, R. L. (2005). Romeo and Juliet: A Sourcebook. Routledge.
  4. Hall, K. (2018). Shakespeare's Literary Lives: The Author as Character in Fiction and Film. Oxford University Press.
  5. Goddard, H. C. (2009). The Meaning of Shakespeare (Vol. 2). University of Chicago Press.
  6. Branam, J. D. (2006). Poison and Romeo and Juliet: Friar Laurence’s Drugstore. Shakespeare Quarterly, 57(4), 405-430.
  7. Mowat, B. A., & Werstine, P. (Eds.). (2007). Romeo and Juliet (Folger Shakespeare Library). Simon & Schuster.
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The introduction provides sufficient background for the topic, and a strong thesis statement is present. The body is divided according to the main points and contains ample evidence. However, none of the citations have the author’s name; the author’s name should be used in the first citation in a paragraph from a given source. The essay lacks a defined concluding paragraph. Few errors in grammar were identified.

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Constructing and Portraying the Apothecary’s Character in Romeo and Juliet. (2021, November 17). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 24, 2024, from
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