Botany in Romeo and Juliet

Vince Smith vsmithuk at YAHOO.CO.UK
Mon Sep 12 08:48:44 CDT 2005

Dear Martin,

I am not a botanist, however the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)  
springs to mind. It is a common as a wild-flower in Great Britain,  
has been described in the medical literature for some time, was  
(perhaps is?) used by herbalists, and contains digoxin and digitoxin  
- drugs that strengthens the contraction of the heart. In fact I  
think it is still used to treat heart conditions today. In many  
respects if fits Shakespeare's description, but just don't use a real  
one for the play - its poisonous!




Dr. Vincent S. Smith
Illinois Natural History Survey
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Champaign, IL  61820-6970
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On 11 Sep 2005, at 19:30, 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

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