In Romeo and Juliet, potions represent emotional escape. Romeo and Juliet both find themselves, at crucial moments in the play, turning to potions and poisons to deaden themselves, temporarily or permanently, to the misery and desperation they’re facing. When Juliet’s parents inform her that they plan to marry her off to Paris against her will, she visits Friar Laurence and demands he find a way to get her out of the marriage. The friar procures a potion that will make Juliet appear dead for a period of 40 hours so that she can be buried, snuck away, and reunited with Romeo. Juliet agrees to the plan, and Friar Laurence promises to write Romeo, exiled in Mantua, to inform him of the scheme. However, the Friar’s letter never makes it to Romeo—and after Juliet is buried, word reaches Romeo that she is truly dead. Desperate to be reunited with his love, Romeo purchases poison from a poor apothecary in Mantua, vowing to travel to Juliet’s crypt, take the poison, and die by her side. For both Romeo and Juliet, then, potions and poison are a symbol of escape—a means of turning away from the pain of the present moment. The fact that Romeo and Juliet both seek chemical escape from their problems, creating a web of confusion which ends in their very real deaths, further symbolizes their youth, their privilege, and their inability to deal with the adult problems they’ve created for themselves. Rather than deal with the fallout of their choices, Romeo and Juliet separately decide to use tinctures, fatal and benign, to bring a swift end to their troubles. They believe themselves to be adults and want to make adult choices—but ultimately, both of them are ill-equipped to claim responsibility for the consequences their actions have.
Potions and Poisons Quotes in Romeo and Juliet
For naught so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
Nor aught so good but, strain'd from that fair use,
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on the abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.