Botany in Romeo and Juliet

Richard Jensen rjensen at SAINTMARYS.EDU
Mon Sep 12 08:36:11 CDT 2005

Let's try Nerium oleander.  It produces very toxic cardiac glycosides and, in
at least some cultivated forms, can be quite fragrant.  It's also native to
the Mediterranean region, so it could easily have been known to Shakespeare.

Dick J.

Martin Dubé wrote:

> 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.
> Martin

Richard J. Jensen              | tel: 574-284-4674
Department of Biology      | fax: 574-284-4716
Saint Mary's College         | e-mail: rjensen at
Notre Dame, IN 46556    |

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