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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: July ::
Re: Poison
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0637  Friday, 10 July 1998.

[1]     From:   Kurt Daw <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 11:04:25 -0400
        Subj:   Poison

[2]     From:   Stephanie Cowell <
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        Date:   Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 15:43:04 -0500
        Subj:   Re: Romeo's Poison, Part II


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Kurt Daw <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 11:04:25 -0400
Subject:        Poison

With all due respect to Marilyn A. Bonomi, the question about what
poison may be implied in the final scene of *Romeo and Juliet* is not
really as insubstantial as she assumes and doesn't deserve quite the
amount of scorn she heaped upon it.

We might well accept it as a plot device, but it is still one that has
to be acted. A player is certainly going to want to know the most
concrete information possible, even if it involves a good deal of
speculation. It is (from the point of view of this actor/director) a
perfectly scholarly question to wonder what poisons were in common use,
which had a place in the public imagination, and if there is any
information available about which poisons Shakespeare might have had a
working knowledge.

A good deal of time went into trying to find this information out for a
production that I directed several years ago, because the Romeo was
intelligently concerned about how this scene should be played. His final
monologue is actually rather long, especially since we were (for the
purposes of scholarly investigation) using the Folio text. We were
unable to find the information from "Shakespearean" sources, but did
eventually get some help from the medical community about the nature of
symptoms of various kinds of poisons. The actor eventually played a
rather grimly realistic death scene that was startlingly effective and
far from the romantic cliche. I make no claims for this to be the
definitive way to play the scene, but it is an interesting way. My point
is only that you don't get to production answers by dismissing the
questions as a "plot device." The question seems to me quite legitimate,
and worth some exploration.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Cowell <
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Date:           Thursday, 9 Jul 1998 15:43:04 -0500
Re:             Romeo's Poison, Part II

I should have mentioned perhaps why I wanted to know the specific poison
Romeo used so I would not have been accused of dwelling on tertiary
details!  A young college student is being encouraged by her biology
teacher to write an interdisciplinary paper on Shakespeare/science. She
came up with Renaissance poisons and Romeo and Juliet.  It's a community
college and a way of getting the young woman more interested in
Shakespeare, a subject foreign to her and many of her friends. So the
cause is worthwhile if the request seems odd. She was deeply moved that
the question might be asked of so many serious scholars. So if you know
any more poisons Romeo may have imbibed, do let me know.  Hemlock?? Who
knows? The girl might end up writing a great scholarly book on
Shakespeare and plants twenty years down the road and  be grateful to
the list for starting her!

Many thanks!

Stephanie Cowell
 

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