Poison In Romeo & Juliet

When one thinks of Romeo & Juliet, one usually thinks of a tragic love story. Although it is true that love is a predominant theme in the play, perhaps Shakespeare was trying to tell the reader something else. One lesson can be revealed in the form of poison.

Friar Lawrence with Poison

Poison is a major factor in this play; in fact, it is what directly causes the deaths of Romeo and Juliet themselves. The first time poison is even mentioned in the play is in the beginning of Act 2 Scene 3. Before Romeo talks to Friar Lawrence about his affair with Juliet, Friar Lawrence is tending his herbs, musing about the badness and goodness of plants. He says that in some “plants, herbs, and stones… to the earth some special good doth give.” For instance, many herbs can be used as medicines, to cure diseases, which was especially rampant in Shakespeare’s times.  However, “if strained from that fair use, revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.” In other words, despite herbs’ medicinal uses, it can if used improperly be a lethal thing, such as drugs and in this case, poison. So, to sum it up, plants are naturally good things, but if mishandled, they can do harm instead of good.

However, that is not the key point. The key point comes later when the Friar states “in man as well as herbs- grace and rude will; and where the worser is predominant.” Here, we see the Friar comparing man to herbs. So all that was stated in the previous paragraph can also be applied to man. Man, according to Friar Lawrence, is naturally good, but if mishandled, they can do bad. And since “the worser is predominant,” usually there are more of bad men than good men.

All of this then leads to a big question. You know by now that if mishandled, men can become bad. But the problem is- mishandled by who? Or what, in this matter? To answer this question, let’s look at the few places where poison is mentioned in the play. One mention is when upon Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment, Lady Capulet tells Juliet she will “send to one in Mantua, where [Romeo] doth live, shall give such an unaccustomed dram that he shall soon keep Tybalt company.” To paraphrase it: Lady Capulet will send a person to Mantua, Romeo’s place of banishment, and have him kill Romeo through the use of poison. Now, what causes Lady Capulet to have this kind of motive? Obviously, it is the death of Tybalt, which results in anger. But more specifically, the underlying cause is her anger at the Montagues.


Another mention of poison is the poison Romeo buys from the apothecary in Act 5 Scene 1. The apothecary knew fully well that the poison Romeo wanted to buy was illegal to sell. He knew this morally, and this again can be referred to as Friar’s belief that all plants are naturally good. However, in the end, the apothecary ends up selling this poison, because Romeo pays “thy poverty and not thy will.” In other words, the drug dealer ends up accepting the money due to his poorness. One can see here of the “mishandling” of the plant of the apothecary. One can say that the apothecary is being “mishandled” by his own poverty, but in fact, he is being mishandled by something much larger, something in which I will reveal soon.

The last mention of poison is Juliet’s sleeping potion. Although it is technically not poison, it does give the effect of a poison, which is death. Now, what was Juliet’s primary reason to have this potion? First of all, it was so she couldn’t marry Paris. One can translate that into so that she can defy her parents’ wishes. So let’s put that as the primary motive.

Looking back at the mentions of poison that I have written about, one should be able to see a pattern. In the first mention (by Lady Capulet), the motive was hatred of the Montagues, or in essence the Montague-Capulet feud. The second mention (by apothecary) was motivated by poverty. The last mention (the paragraph above) was motivated by Juliet’s desire to defy her parents’ wishes. Notice that all of this is pointing to society, in general. The feud between the two families was in a sense societal, poverty is in a sense caused by society, and Juliet’s defiance is a result of the societal value in which daughters had to marry whoever their parents wanted them to marry to. Overall, you can say that society itself is the cause of these poisons.

And when I say “poisons,” I mean it literally, as in the three poisons that I have mentioned, and figuratively. Because, if you think about it, society was the cause of the eventual ultimate poison- the poison which killed the love between Romeo and Juliet. What was a sweet, naturally good love between Romeo and Juliet was eventually poisoned by society- the feud, the apothecary’s poverty, etc.

So, back to the beginning. What was Shakespeare trying to tell the audience through poison? Perhaps it is to illustrate the theme of society’s hold on the individual. That the individual cannot be free and do what he wants freely. That society is in a sense a poison to the individual, causing each and every one to go bad, and thus, in this case, resulting in a tragedy. Referring to what the Friar said about plants, we the individuals are like the plants, naturally good. But because of the constraints of society, we are being mishandled by it, and thus, we all turn into “poison.” I believe that this was what Shakespeare was trying to show.


Shakespeare’s Love Letter

Happy post- post-Valentine’s day! For today, I will continue the series on the philosophy of love. One of the many things that we think of when we hear about love and Valentines is love letters. Nowadays, love letters are not that common. What a modern person usually does today is send a love tweet and that kind of sort. Um, seriously? Where is the love there? All I see is some boring c–p. Unfortunately  it seems as if love letters are becoming endangered.

I don’t know why this is happening; I mean, when one reads a love letter, one gets a sense of love just looking at the handwriting and smelling the aroma of a letter. When one writes a love letter, one usually has to put some thought into the writing and effort into the decorating. And it just seems so emotional and beautiful. I even remember a teacher who actually spend a whole class time just talking about how it felt like to receive a love letter.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful love letters I have seen is from Shakespeare. Well, it’s not exactly a love letter, but it would definitely look wonderful as a love letter. If I was a girl receiving this letter, you bet that I would go galloping straight towards Shakespeare and ask him to marry me. Check out his love sonnet below:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest;
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

If you do not understand what is being said, then let me explain it to you. The first line obviously indicates that Shakespeare will be comparing his love to a summer’s day. However, as we all know, sometimes summers can be not that much of a good day. Sometimes, the summer can get really hot; however, in line two, Shakespeare says that his love is “more temperate” than summer. In other words, his love will always be just right. From lines 3 to 8, Shakespeare lists out the bad things about summer; he does this so as to contrast this against the superior qualities of his love later on. For instance, in line 4, summer “has all too short a date,” or in other words, the summer sometimes feels too short. This contrasts against line 9, in which the love’s “eternal summer shall not fade.”

But perhaps the most beautiful part about this sonnet are the last three lines. In line 12, what do you think “lines” mean? At first, I thought it was referring to the wrinkles on one’s face when one grows old. However, after a bit more analyzing, I realized that the lines actually refer to these actual lines of this sonnet. So basically, line 12 means that as his love grows among these lines, and in line 13- and as long as men are able to live and read this sonnet, line 14- this love that exists between Shakespeare and his lover will always live. In other words, Shakespeare’s love is embedded into this sonnet, and whoever reads this sonnet will always know of this love.

This perhaps ties into the view of love that love is eternal. Shakespeare must have believed it; what he wrote in the last three lines was basically saying that even after he died, his love will still exist. Love can never be broken, even after death. Christians also believe this, for they believe “love is God,” and if God is eternal, then so is love. And even if I wasn’t a Christian, I would still believe this, too. Love is a powerful force that will always exist. No matter how many tribulations, love will always exist, whether it is love for a child, a friend, a teacher, or a parent. My grandmother died, but I still love her to this very day.

Of course, Shakespeare didn’t just believe love was eternal. He also had much more other opinions, which will lead us into the next post.