Draught of Living Death: Harry Potter and Shakespeare

Draught of Living Death

Portia the Lawyer and I had this conversation watching Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Clearly, one of us was an English major and one of us just read Cymbeline.

Living Death Potions in Shakespeare

While Romeo and Juliet used it first, at least these two plays feature a death-like sleeping potion as a polt device.

Juliet (R&J) and Innogen (Cymbeline) both take the potion and both of them wake up next to someone they presume to be their dead husband. Innogen is betrayed by both Clotus’s attire and lack of head into thinking he’s Posthumus – in everyone’s defense with this costuming, at that point in the play, she’s passing herself off as a boy named Fidele.  Unlike Juliet, she’s not a teenager with the crazy hormones and doesn’t kill herself. Well done, Innogen.

What’s interesting is what they know about when they take the potion. Juliet knows what she’s in for – and has co-conspirators. But it’s unclear what Innogen knows about the drug. Her (crazy) stepmother procured what she THOUGHT was poison, under the auspices of using it to kill the pesky cats and dogs. As everyone’s helper in Cymbeline, Pisanio was supposed to give it to Innogen to kill her, but she doesn’t take it until much later in the play. I didn’t read closely enough to ascertain whether she knows she’s taking a sleeping potion, or if she thinks it’s something else.

…and the apothecaries who make it

Juliet’s apothocary was enabling her defiant love – she got the potion to feign death as a way to escape from her family’s bonds and be properly married to Romeo.

Cymbeline’s Queen’s doctor was preventing murder – he wouldn’t give the Queen the poison she requested, because who trusts a crazy queen with something actually deathly?

With the centuries and miles between these plays, I wonder whether they were using the same type of potion, and if so, how they learned it. Given that the Draught of Living Death is on the curriculum at Hogwarts, could this be a standard thing? And if so, why have I only found it in these places?

Given that Hogwarts was founded c. 1000, it could have trained Romeo and Juliet’s apothecary (set in the 1500s or 1600s) and learned from the lineage of Cymbeline’s Queen’s doctor, Cornelius (from AD 0ish). It’s fun to think of how these universes might collide.

UNRELATED: Potions with Portia

On the related theme of potions, Portia the Lawyer brought us butterbeer for Harry Potter movie time:
Butter Beer
I think the recipe is something like:

  • Cream Soda
  • Butterscotch liquor
  • Whipped cream vodka

Zombies and Living Death

I acknowledge that I’m looking at a particular type of potion in a particular context. This is not to say that there aren’t other real-life and fictional living death incidences. Mostly, zombies. But that’s for another day.

Are you related to Shakespeare?

Coming with a name like “Shakespeare” is a burden to bear.  I bet if you counted all the questions people asked you over the course of a week, “How are you?” and “May I take your order?” and “Can I see your ID?” would rank pretty high. In my world “Are you related to Shakespeare?” (idk) or better “Do people always ask you if you’re related to Shakespeare?” (yes) is easily in my top 10.

Shakespeare’s on my credit cards, my checks, my resume, my business card, my non-driver’s license… so everyone asks. I love the chance to talk to people, and having a conversation starter on every card I carry is great. My canned answer of “Well, my Dad’s from England, and my parents are theatre professionals” works for most people.

But then there are the people who start throwing quotes. Who reference the Bard’s life and work. And if they start Hamlet’s “Speak the Speech” or Juliet’s “Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”, I can chime in. But I’m woefully undereducated on the whole corpus of Shakespeare. And I’m not as useful at Shakespeare trivia as I think I should be (he was born in the 1500s? 1600s? 1400s?).

Even growing up around theatre, I’ve seen only 10 of his plays in production – most were mediocre at best. And while I loved reading Macbeth, slogging through Julius Ceasar was a terrible experience as a 14 year old. I’ve somehow missed seeing Macbeth, Hamlet, and a Midsummer Night’s Dream on stage or on screen, and I’ve never actually read any of the Richard or Henry plays.

Embarrassing as it is to admit, I’ve found many of the productions of Shakespeare I’ve seen flat out boring. Logically, Shakespeare’s works must be good, or nobody would bother asking about my name – Shakespeare would be a nobody. Don’t get me wrong, I want to love his plays, but it’s easy to get turned off by one too many passionately created and lovingly performed, but ultimately snore inducing productions.

I have faith, though. When I was 20, Dad and I went to an amazing production of Romeo and Juliet at the Globe Theatre in London. I was riveted. With minimal sets and props, and simple, period costumes, actors spoke Shakespeare’s words and I could hear them, not the rhyme and the iambs, but the thrust of the play. I loved it. That’s how Shakespeare should be. I want to find that in all of his works.

In preparation for my milestone 30th birthday, I was considering whether I needed a 20s bucket list (I don’t) or some big event to mark my new number (not really). But a decade long challenge seemed like a good idea:

  • Challenge 1: See a good production of every Shakespeare play – hopefully one that I can lose myself in.
  • Challenge 2: Read the corpus of Shakespeare’s works (even the contested ones), and bone up on those quotes and soliloquies the Shakespeare buffs throw around.
  • Challenge 3: Study to win all rounds of “Things inspired by Shakespeare” trivia categories by re-watching 10 Things I Hate About You, and finding movies, operas, books, ballets, paintings, music, and other derivative or Shakespeare-inspired works.
  • Challenge 4: Get to know (as well as anyone can) the man with my name, so I can hold up my side in an argument over whether he actually wrote all of the plays that bear his hame.