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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Poison
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0630  Wednesday, 8 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Sean Lawrence <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Jul 1998 11:03:26 -0700
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0625  Q: Poison

[2]     From:   Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 07 Jul 1998 18:49:34 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0625  Q: Poison


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Sean Lawrence <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Jul 1998 11:03:26 -0700
Subject: 9.0625  Q: Poison
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0625  Q: Poison

I don't think Shakespeare had a specific poison in mind, any more than
Marlowe had a specific poison in mind for Barabas's "a precious power
that I bought / O fan Italian in Ancona once/ Whose operation is to
blind, infect, / And poison deeply, yet not appear / In forty hours
after it is ta'en."  As Mario Praz pointed out, such poisons are a usual
tool for ruthless (or in this case, desperate) Italians on the
Elizabethan stage.  Barabas earlier claims that he studied physic in
Italy.

Shakespeare's use of the poison is less medical than metadramatic:
Somebody supposedly pretending to be dead is taken for dead, and then
becomes dead.  The edges of pretense are terrifying undefined.

By the way, I think that a poison derived from puffer-fish might have
the desired effect, since it plunges the victim into a deep coma.  A
little too much, though, and it's the coma of death.

Cheers,
Sean.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date:           Tuesday, 07 Jul 1998 18:49:34 -0400
Subject: 9.0625  Q: Poison
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0625  Q: Poison

>Can anyone suggest specifically what poison Romeo and Juliet might have
>used? Thanks!

Uh... does it really matter?  Can't we simply accept a fictional device
necessary to the plot?  Do we have to assume that Shakespeare researched
arcane poisons to find one that works instantaneously?  Must we try to
find some political significance in the fact that Romeo uses poison
rather than some other means?

Romeo's poison is about as significant as whether some 20th century
movie villain uses a 38 or a 44 revolver to off the cops.

Oh...  Juliet takes a POTION, not a POISON.  And there certainly has
been speculation about what sort of potion would succeed in creating
suspended animation for two and forty (which of course really is more
like four and twenty) hours.  But not, to my mind, speculation worthy of
pursuit, for the same reason-it's a convenient plot device, not some
portent of grave significance.

However, Juliet kills herself w/ Romeo's dagger.  She kisses his lips in
hopes of finding poison left on them, which is a great dramatic touch,
but which otherwise she already recognizes if futile, then takes his
dagger and commits a far braver suicide than his.

But let's spend our time on substantive questions, like the relationship
between Romeo and Mercutio, or whether the text offers evidence that the
feud really is not over, just suspended (I've seen a couple of powerful
versions implying that through staging), or  whether Friar Lawrence's
complicity in the rash actions of R & J has any parallel to any
political activity on the part of some prelate or other of either the
establishment Anglican church or the outlawed RC church... or is it
perhaps another proof of Shakespeare's secret Puritan leanings?

Let's be both curious AND scholarly, whenever we can-- that's my
request.

Thanks!

Marilyn Bonomi
 

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