Romeo and Juliet

Potions and Poisons Symbol Analysis

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Potions and Poisons Symbol Icon

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

The Romeo and Juliet quotes below all refer to the symbol of Potions and Poisons. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Romeo and Juliet published in 2004.
Act 2, Scene 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Friar Laurence (speaker)
Related Symbols: Potions and Poisons
Page Number: 2.3.17-22
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 5, Scene 3 Quotes

O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. — Thus with a kiss I die.

Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), The Apothecary
Related Symbols: Potions and Poisons
Page Number: 5.3.119-120
Explanation and Analysis:
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Potions and Poisons Symbol Timeline in Romeo and Juliet

The timeline below shows where the symbol Potions and Poisons appears in Romeo and Juliet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 2, Scene 3
Fate Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
...weeds, and flowers in the faint light of dawn. Friar Laurence, who makes tinctures and potions from the plants he collects, knows that the earth is both nature’s tomb and its... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Family and Duty Theme Icon
...plan to do just that is already in motion—she is planning on sending instructions and poison to a friend who lives in Mantua, ordering the man to kill Romeo on sight.... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 1
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...ensure she is in her room alone, then drink the contents of the vial. The potion within, the friar explains, is designed to make whomever drinks it sleep deeply—and appear dead—for... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Juliet begs Friar Laurence to give her the vial of potion, determined to see the plan through. The friar gives it to her, then wishes her... (full context)
Act 4, Scene 3
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Family and Duty Theme Icon
...about many possible kinks in the plan she and Friar Laurence have made. If the potion doesn’t work, she’ll have to marry Paris; on the other hand, if it works but... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
...her forever. He embraces Juliet and kisses her one last time, then takes out the poison, drinks it, and dies, remarking how “quick” the apothecary’s drugs are. (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Family and Duty Theme Icon
...She looks upon Romeo’s corpse and, seeing a cup in his hand, realizes he has poisoned himself. She checks the cup to see if there is any poison left, so that... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...Paris—but only drove Juliet further into her grief. The friar admits to giving Juliet a potion which would make her appear dead so that she could run away with Romeo, then... (full context)