Botany in Romeo and Juliet

Martin Dub é martin at UMCE.CA
Sun Sep 11 19:30:55 CDT 2005

Here is a question for those fellow botanists versed in Shakespeare's
writings (what I am not, obviously). This was first sent to me by a
certain Mr. Simons living in Ontario, Canada.

'In December I will be playing the role of Friar Laurence in a local
amateur production of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet".  This character is
a Franciscan friar and botanist who attempts to use both his spiritual
wisdom and his scientific knowledge to help Romeo and Juliet (to no avail,
as everyone knows.)

In his very first speech in the play (Act II Scene 3), the friar is giving
a lecture on botany, which also extends into philsophy and psychology.  He
introduces his student to the concepts he is teaching by showing him a
plant, which he describes as follows:

"Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence, and medicine power
For this, being smelled, with that part cheers each part
Being tasted, stops all senses with the heart."

Just on the chance that there might be a real botanist in the audience, I
would like to identify and use on stage a plant which matches this
description.  That would mean some part of it would be fatally (or at
least seriously) poisonous and it would have a small flower whose scent an
aromatherapist would consider restorative.'

Thanks in advance.  Yours answers will be forwarded to that amateur actor.


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