In Mantua, Romeo mistakenly believes that his dreams portend good news because he dreamed that Julietfound him dead but revived him with her kisses. Romeo's servant, Balthasar, then reports to Romeo that Juliet has died. Romeo, controlling his grief, makes plans to return to Verona. He offers a poor apothecary a large amount of money to sell him poison illegally. The poison will enable Romeo to be reunited with Juliet in death.
Although the audience might expect to find Romeo in Mantua wallowing in the depths of despair over his banishment, he is actually in very good humor. He has dreamed that he died and Juliet's kisses breathed life back into his body. But, as Mercutio says in Act I, Scene 4, "Dreamers often lie." Romeo's soliloquy is full of dramatic irony because the dream anticipates the play's final scene when Juliet awakes in the tomb to find Romeo dead and tries to kiss the poison from his lips.
Tragedy is imminent when Balthasar arrives wearing boots — a harbinger of doom in classical theater. Balthasar gently delivers to Romeo news that Juliet's "body sleeps." Because the Friar's message did not reach Romeo in Mantua, Romeo's good mood shatters instantly.
As fate again mischievously meddles in Romeo's life, his melodramatic idealism gives way to defiant anger, "I defy you stars!" Romeo rages against the malevolent influence of fate — a driving force in the play from the outset. Previously, Romeo lamented being "fortune's fool." Now, he acts out of frustration, anger, and bold defiance.
This moment of defiance marks a change in Romeo's character. Henceforth, he is angry, cynical, and emboldened to defy his fate. His anger and frustration drive him to try to take command over his own life — he decides that if he cannot be with Juliet in life, he will join her in death. His resolve to die echoes Juliet's expression that her last resort is her sanctuary — they have the power to die.
To this end, Romeo visits an impoverished apothecary. The apothecary's dusty, tomb-like shop is a museum of deathly horrors filled with the bodies of dead animals, "skins," "bladders," and "old cakes of roses." The apothecary wears tattered clothes; his face is hung with "overwhelming brows," and "[s]harp misery ha[s] worn him to his bones." This cadaverous apothecary, a personification of death, brokers deathly poison to Romeo.
Romeo wants a poison that will steal life "violently as hasty powder fired." This phrase recalls the Friar's admonition to Romeo that violent loves die "like fire and powder, / Which as they kiss, consume." (II.6.9-11). Haste drives one misfortune to collide with another throughout the play — each event teasing the reader with a morsel of hope, then lurching the action forward toward the tragic conclusion.
Romeo's hasty reaction to Mercutio's death causes his banishment from Mantua; Capulet's rash decision to move up the wedding day precipitates Romeo missing the message from the Friar; and later, Romeo's haste to consume the poison causes him to die just prior to Juliet's awakening. Haste throughout the play acts as a vehicle for fate to draw characters through a series of unfortunate coincidences that form the intricately intertwined plot of the tragedy itself.
presage predict; forecast.
my bosom's lord love.
unaccustomed spirit unusually high spirits.
lifts me above the ground with cheerful thoughts Romeo is almost walking on air.
love's shadows dreams; visions.
post-horses horses kept at a post house, or inn, for couriers and post chaises or for hire to travelers.
weeds garments; clothing.
culling of simples gathering herbs.
a beggarly account of empty boxes empty boxes of little worth.
remnants of packthread remains of strong, thick thread or twine for tying bundles, packages, and so on.
old cakes of roses dried rose leaves pressed into cakes.
penury extreme poverty.
soon-speeding gear fast-acting.
cordial an invigorating medicine that stimulates the heart.