If love is a drug, then Romeo and Juliet pushes that belief to its extremes. You could have noticed that the play’s 3rd biggest function after the lovers is Friar Laurence, the play’s would-be pharmacist. Yet why is the Friar so interested in drugs and home cures, and also what component do they play in Shakespeare’s tragedy?

As many of us know, harmful substances have the right to be medicinal in little doses, and also this was construed in Shakespeare’s work too. As soon as we have actually injections to stop us native getting details diseases, that injection actually has a small dose of the disease itself—it’s small, yet it’s just sufficient to kick-start ours body into fighting that off and also make us immune to the illness. Our familiar word ‘pharmacy’ says how both poison and also cure space connected: it originates from the Greek native ‘pharmakon’ and means both toxin and remedy.

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How could we usage this idea come think around Romeo and also Juliet?

Like a pharmacist, Shakespeare is interested in building material that have the right to be both healthful and deadly. As soon as Romeo is emotion love-sick over Rosaline, Benvolio motivates him come cure self by seeking the end more poison: ‘take thou some infection to the eye / and also the rank toxicity of the old will die’. In accordingly pharmaceutical terms, miscellaneous that seems harmful can actually it is in restorative. Health, in other words, deserve to be accomplished via illness. After all, this is a play that seems to tell us that good can arise native harm— Juliet’s ‘only love’ springs from her ‘only hate’—but the flip-side of that method that too much of a good thing can also be harmful. Together Friar Laurence warns, ‘these violent delights have violent ends’.

Pottering roughly his friary’s herb garden and also running a type of Veronese pharmacy, the Friar is really interested in things that are able to perform both great and harm:

Within the infant rind the this weak flower

Poison on foot residence, and medicine power.

For this, being smelt, with that component cheers each part;

Being tasted, remains all senses through the heart.

Two together opposed queens encamp them still

In man and also herbs.

The ‘weak flower’ can smell nice and also cheer united state up, yet eating it would certainly be deadly. The twin potential for great and bad, the Friar suggests, is in ~ us, too, and also we have to be careful around how we provide our own medicinal or poison potential. Prefer herbs and flowers, we deserve to kill or heal.

It’s no accident the the Friar is therefore interested in the unpredictable potential the nature. He’s about to oversee a romantic drama that quickly tips right into tragedy, in i m sorry both he and his pharmaceutical substances will certainly play a vital role. It’s the Friar who supplies a medicinal means out that Juliet’s terrible case in act 4 step 1, as soon as she is called by she father that she need to marry Paris (impossible for her to do, as she’s currently secretly married come Romeo). The is in this desperate scenarios that the Friar says an alternative: a ‘remedy’ the will market her ‘a thing choose death’—in various other words, a coma to make her family believe she’s died. Together we can probably every agree, these space dangerous things to it is in meddling in.

As far as the Friar’s concerned, he’s supplying Juliet a cure that will certainly ‘remedy’ her situation. But, as we’ve already seen, the medicine in this pat is often only a little step away from the poisonous. It’s perhaps not surprising offered the Friar’s medicine interests, then, the in order because that this medicinal cure to work, it in reality behaves prefer poison—stopping Juliet’s pulse and also breath, draining the color from she cheeks, and making her body ‘stiff and also stark and also cold’. Also if it’s only temporary, this is a medicine that will certainly in a feeling actually death Juliet, and it’s no wonder that she worries about the remedy being a ‘poison which the Friar subtly hath ministered’ to kill her. In a pat that renders clear just exactly how blurry the line in between toxin and cure deserve to be, Juliet seems to it is in well conscious of the hazard she’s taking.

As we know, things don’t precisely go come plan. The letter come Romeo that defines the Friar’s plot stops working to come in time, and also Juliet’s death-like state proves to be as well convincing. In the end, Romeo is pushed to winter Juliet’s actions. Remember the Romeo also uses a language of toxic cure once he kills himself, thinking Juliet has died: ‘Come, cordial, and also not poison, go through me to Juliet’s grave; for there have to I usage thee’. Romeo no much longer sees a difference between poison and also remedy. Because that him, poison is a medicine drink, and playing on the Latin word because that heart (‘cor’ or ‘cord’), the broken-hearted Romeo finds that poison as the just thing may be to heal him.

Like the Friar’s ‘weak flower’, and also like Juliet’s ‘remedy’, Romeo’s ‘cordial poison’ includes a an effective mixture: it has actually the strength to execute harm, but likewise has the potential to heal. Possibly it’s for this reason that as soon as Juliet wakes up, she additionally talks around Romeo’s poison not as something that is straightforwardly harmful, but rather as a ‘restorative’ the will end her life. That course this ‘restoratives’ are lethal come Romeo and Juliet, but as the play provides clear, their fatality is the remedy that is required to cure Verona’s ‘ancient grudge’ and also ‘their parents’ strife’.

© The Shakespeare world Trust, London 2021. All civil liberties Reserved. Registered in England and also Wales No. 1152238. Registered charity No. 266916


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