Romeo is alone in Mantua. He wakes from sleep, proclaiming that his dreams have portended “some joyful news.” He dreamed that Juliet found him dead, but with a kiss, breathed life back into him, revived him, and made him an emperor. Romeo sees his servant Balthasar approach—knowing the man brings news from Verona, Romeo greets him excitedly, asking him how Juliet is doing. “Nothing can be ill,” he says, “if she be well.”
Romeo has been dreaming of Juliet, imagining her abilities to restore his loneliness and put an end to his social exile. Romeo ignored his last dream, which portended death, but chooses to rejoice in this happy one, which predicts a return from—or life after—death itself.
Balthasar tells Romeo that he has terrible news that he must nonetheless deliver, as is his duty: Juliet is dead and buried in the Capulet crypt. Romeo calls out, “I defy you, stars,” and then urges Balthasar to prepare some horses so that he can leave Mantua and return to Verona. Balthasar begs Romeo not to do something “wild” and dangerous, but Romeo orders Balthasar to do what he says. He asks if there are any letters from Friar Laurence, but Balthasar says there are none, then hurries away.
Alone, Romeo declares that one way or another, he will lie with Juliet later that night. He states that he has heard of an apothecary in Mantua who carries poisons in his shop. He hurries to the man’s shop and calls for him to open the door. The apothecary answers Romeo’s knock, but when Romeo offers the man coins in exchange for poison, the apothecary states that Mantua’s law threatens those who sell such things with death.
Romeo’s desire to lie dead with Juliet in her grave rather than go through life without her shows just how desperately and dramatically devoted to love he is. His expression of grief is self-destructive and violent, just as many of his expressions of his love for Juliet have been frighteningly intense and tinged with violent thoughts and speech.
Romeo says he can see the desperation in the pale, thin apothecary’s eyes, and begs him to take the money—he bribes the man by giving him much more than the poison is worth. The apothecary takes the deal and offers up the poison, warning Romeo that it’s strong enough to kill 20 men. Romeo hands over the coins, stating that money is the truly dangerous poison. The apothecary hurriedly retreats into his shop, and Romeo heads for Verona—and for Juliet’s grave—where, he proclaims, he will use the contents of the vial upon himself.
Romeo is just as desperate as the apothecary and realizes that he can extort the man with coins. Romeo wants to die quickly—he doesn’t want to face a life without Juliet, or, for that matter, the consequences of all the futile and destructive actions he’s taken to try to be with her.