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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *