Why does Shakespeare insert the role of the Apothecary into the play?

enotes | Student

In the first scene of Act V, Romeo is told by Balthasar that Juliet's corpse lies in the Capulet's family tomb. His thoughts turn immediately to suicide, and when Balthasar departs he declares, "O mischief, thou art swift/To enter the thoughts of desperate men!" (V, i., ll.35-36). Romeo then recalls that a apothecary's shop is nearby, and knocks forcefully on the door to awaken the druggist. What is striking here is how badly Romeo behaves with the Apothecary. For no reason save his distraught mood, Romeo refers to the impoverished Apothecary as a "caitiff wretch." Knowing that the Apothecary is poor, Romeo offers him forty ducats. The Apothecary is reluctant to fulfill Romeo's request for a sure poison, but relents by saying "my poverty, but not my will, consents" (l.75). To this, Romeo replies in a high-handed manner, "I (pay) thy poverty, not thy will" (l.76). The mistreatment of the Apothecary by Romeo illustrates just how dependent Romeo's identity as a transcendent lover is upon the presence of Juliet. Whenever Romeo is apart from Juliet, he lapses into weakness. At this juncture, believing her to be lost forever, Romeo reverts into the part of a spoiled adolescent.