Botany in Romeo and Juliet - a summary

Wed Sep 14 18:51:57 CDT 2005

I like Jongerden's answer - you can "pick your poison."

Dick J.

----- Original Message -----
From: Martin Dubé <martin at UMCE.CA>
Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2005 6:14 pm
Subject: Botany in Romeo and Juliet - a summary

> Dear All,
> Thank you very much for all your replies.
> I got the following guesses about the id of that plant:
> Nerium oleander
> Convallaria majalis
> Daphne mezereum
> Conium maculatum
> Solanum sp.
> Digitalis purpurea
> Atropa belladonna
> Papaver somniferum
> Then I got a reference about Shakespeare's plant:
> World of Shakespeare's Plants by Alan Dent
> Edition: Hardcover
> Price: $4.95
> and I found on internet an other book of the same kind:
> However, you will agree with me that the following answer from Harry
> Jorgenden is certainly the most enlightning:
> ............................
> I (Freek Vrugtman) passed the question to Harry Jongerden, author 
> of "This
> Other Eden", a book about the Shakespeare garden at Stratford, 
> Ontario,and plant imagery in the Bard's plays. For many years 
> Jongerden was in
> charge of this garden. You will find his response below.
> Freek Vrugtman
> Carlisle, Ontario
> freek.vrugtman at
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject:  RE: [Fwd: [TAXACOM] Botany in Romeo and Juliet]
> Date:  Mon, 12 Sep 2005 09:51:49 -0400
> From:  Harry Jongerden <hjongerden at>
> To:  'freek.vrugtman at' <freek.vrugtman at>
> Hi Freek,
> Nice to meet you, if only by email!
> No one, to my knowledge, has deduced a particular plant from this
> passage.  I have read all the books on Shakespeare's plants and no one
> suggests that Shakespeare had a particular plant in mind here.  It's
> possible that someone has written a scholarly article and 
> attempted an
> i.d., but this is unlikely and it would be unwise.
> It is typical of Shakespeare that if he has a particular plant or 
> flowerin mind, he says so, either directly, or indirectly and 
> poetically, by
> giving more clues.  In this passage Fr. Laurence is stating what was
> common knowledge to doctors and apothecaries of the day, that a 
> small dose
> of a particular medicine can cure, while a large dose can kill. Many
> plants fit this category of medicine/poison.  Digitalis (Foxglove) or
> Aconitum (Monkshood or Wolfbane) come to mind.  Both would be 
> impracticalto have at hand for the run of this play unless they're 
> available as
> artificial flowers.  If I was to pick the likeliest example of Fr.
> Laurence's general description, it would be Digitalis - reviver of 
> heartsor stopper of hearts.
> It's interesting how this passage presages the action of the play. 
> Both
> Romeo and Juliet take potions near the play's end.  Keeping in 
> mind that
> nearly all medicine was plant-based in Shakespeare's day, we see 
> Juliettake a potion from Fr. Laurence to put her to sleep and 
> feign death, while
> Romeo gets a deadly potion to kill himself from the apothecary.
> I'm happy to answer any more questions,
> Harry Jongerden
> Designer/Horticulturist
> Royal Botanical Gardens
> hjongerden at
> ...............................
> Nice isn't it :)
> Martin

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