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.

Cymbeline – The Play I Knew Nothing About

I vaguely remember a director telling me this was their favorite of Shakespeare’s plays when I was little. Upon hearing my plan to see every Shakespeare play, my uncle warned “good luck with Cymbeline.” What was this mythical play? And who is Cymbeline, anyway?

The Shakespeare Challenge: Can I not start with Cymbeline?

I’ve had some trouble getting started with this project. There are so many plays, and it’s been hard to pick just one to start with.

I thought about starting with All’s Well that Ends Well, starting with the stages of man monologue (you know, “All the world’s a stage…“) for my birthday.

But it seemed like maybe I should start with something unknown, so I looked at the plays I’d really never heard of (Pericles is a play?).

I figured I was overthinking it, and considered starting reading something I did know, like Romeo and Juliet.

But then they discovered the bones of Richard the Third, and I thought I should do a timely play and glom on to world interest.

But every time I tried to start reading a play, something would stop me. I came back to the challenge of getting to know Cymbeline.

Do you know anything about Cymbeline?

Cymbeline Paris

First off, I thought Cymbeline was a girl’s name. False. This is about a king named Cymbeline. But I’m not the only one with this confusion. I googled it, and the top ranked sites for Cymbeline are for the Cymbeline (a designer) wedding dresses.

After I established that the full name of the play is “Cymbeline, King of Britain” (his gender is so clear with the complete title), I stumbled upon Ferretbrain’s podcast of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Cymbeline.”

The Ferretbrain podcast is hilarious. I can’t lie, while I was listening to the podcast, I was one of those awkward people walking alone, giggling awkwardly to myself. Thanks to the Ferretbrain commentary, I bit into the play calling Clotus “Stupidhead” and with the assumption that this was a crazy absurd play.