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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Herbs
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0623  Thursday, 15 March 2001

[1]     From:   Takashi Kozuka <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 14 Mar 2001 20:38:13
        Subj:   Herbs (Used to be Weed)

[2]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 03:22:38 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0606 Re: Ghosts and Weeds


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takashi Kozuka <
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Date:           Wednesday, 14 Mar 2001 20:38:13
Subject:        Herbs (Used to be Weed)

A couple of years ago my mom bought a book for me as a birthday gift.
It's called Shakespeare and Herbs. I believe it was originally written
in Japanese, rather than translation (from English). (I vaguely remember
that the author was a Japanese woman.) Unfortunately, I cannot give any
more useful information about the book, not only because I'm in the UK
and the book in Japan, but also because the book has been packed in a
box as my mom has just moved. SHAKESPEReans in Japan may be able to
offer some more information about the book.

Takashi Kozuka
PhD Student
Centre for the Study of the Renaissance
University of Warwick (UK)

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[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Thursday, 15 Mar 2001 03:22:38 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0606 Re: Ghosts and Weeds
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0606 Re: Ghosts and Weeds

Stuart Taylor writes:

> However, the _herbal_ was
> essentially a genre at
> the time, although I can't comment on the
> availability or circulation of
> these compendia of botany, medicine and folklore.

I did a bit of research on "herbals" last year.  If you go to the rare
book room of the British Library and request herbals, you will get
stacks and stacks of them.  Many were published, many have survived, and
many more had their circulation extended by being copied into
commonplace books and other manuscript forms.  Although one theory holds
that many surviving copies of a text indicate that the books were
"bestsellers" although not necessarily *read* at the same rate that they
were sold (the idea being that a much-used book would be worn out and
not survive), the sheer quantity of different editions of the same
herbals and the number of copies still available suggests they were very
well known.  Perhaps the answer to why so many copies survived is that
the purchasers or users DID copy information of interest into more
easily used formats, much as some cooks today will copy a favorite
recipe onto note cards for everyday use, rather than keep the glossy
book on the counter.

The herbals are fascinating.  I don't recall specific information on
hallucinatory effects, but the different volumes that I have looked at
describe plants with general "calming" or spirit-lifting effects,
aphrodesiacs, abortifacients and contraceptive plants, and much more.
Many of the herbals also shed light on the tangled relationships between
medicine, folklore and alchemical concepts.  (In the past fifteen years
or so, there have been quite a few interesting secondary studies of the
herbals as well, if one is unable to get to the herbals themselves.
More info available on request.)

As a very general guess, I think it is probably reasonable to assume
some Shakespearean familiarity with one or more "herbals."  The
likelihood increases when we remember that Shakespeare's son-in-law was
a physician.  Hall's Croft in Stratford has a lovely herb
garden...whether Hall himself kept such a garden on the property, or
used his own herbs in treatments I don't know.

I'm reluctant to speculate on whether people used botanicals for
"recreational" purposes, in the sense that we understand the concept of
"recreational drug use" today, even if they were aware of psychoactive
properties in various plants.  My first response is to ask: when there
were so many more urgent uses for the plants in question (curing
illness, curing impotence, terminating problematic pregnancies, etc.,
etc., etc.), AND when such a reliable recreational drug as alcohol was
easily available, why should a busy early modern person bother with
complicated herbal preparations simply for "recreational" purposes?

Of course, maybe I'm missing the point here...!

Cheers,
Karen Peterson
 

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