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Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England$
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Tanya Pollard

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780199270835

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199270835.001.0001

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“A Thing Like Death”: Shakespeare's Narcotic Theater

“A Thing Like Death”: Shakespeare's Narcotic Theater

(p.55) 2 “A Thing Like Death”: Shakespeare's Narcotic Theater
Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England

Tanya Pollard (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter considers the juxtaposition of sleeping potions and poisons, and their parallels with the uneasy relationship between comedy and tragedy in two plays by Shakespeare. In Romeo and Juliet, the typically comic devices of the sleeping potion and the false death meet with fatal complications. Similarly, in Antony and Cleopatra, references to narcotically induced oblivion are identified with the seductive pleasures of Egypt and Cleopatra, yet ultimately lead to the lovers’ deaths rather than the happy ending of comedy. The chapter frames its readings of the plays around contemporary medical debates about narcotic drugs such as opium and mandragora. Looking at complaints from anti-theatrical tracts about the theater’s capacity to lull spectators into sleepy oblivion, it shows how the escapism of the theater was identified with the dangers of pleasurable narcotics.

Keywords:   Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra, comedy, tragedy, escapism, sleeping potion, opium, mandragora

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