Science expert calls Shakespeare’s death scenes “unrealistic” as poison killed Cleopatra too quickly

He killed more than 70 of his characters on stage, including stabbings, snake bites and beheadings, but even Shakespeare was sometimes wrong.

Scientific analysis of Shakespeare’s complete works revealed that Cleopatra died unrealistic quickly after choosing death by snake.

The murder of Hamlet’s father didn’t make much sense, as pouring poison into someone’s ear accesses a few blood vessels to introduce it into their system.

And Juliet couldn’t take anything that would make her look dead for a full 42 hours, even though a toxin from a puffer fish could have had a similar effect.

Dr Kathryn Harkup, the scientist who closely examined Shakespeare’s death, told the Cheltenham Science Festival: “He’s good at observation, but without necessarily understanding the science of what’s going on.”

Dr. Harkup has described scientific problems with a series of deaths in Shakespeare's plays

Dr. Harkup has described scientific problems with a series of deaths in Shakespeare’s plays

Juliet fakes her own death with a potion that apparently keeps her dead for “two and forty hours”. A chemical called tetrodoxin, found in pufferfish, could make it seem like someone has stopped breathing and slows their heart rate (stock image)

WHAT SHAKESPEARE DID WRONG

  1. Julius Caesar was stabbed 33 times in his play – they were 23 in real life
  2. Cleopatra died quickly – a snake bite to the breast would result in a long and painful death
  3. Poison in the ear – an inefficient way to kill Hamlet’s father, as the poison would be blocked by earwax

In Shakespeare’s time, when the average life expectancy in England was 35 years, hangings were held in public for most crimes and the decapitated heads of traitors were displayed on tips south of the Thames, people were very interested in death, according to Dr. Harkup.

It meant that Shakespeare’s plays had to be gory and gruesome to entertain the audience, with two men killed, baked in a cake and fed to their mother in Titus Andronicus, the poet Cinna in Julius Caesar murdered by a screaming crowd and the character slain from Antigono behind the scenes from a bear in The Winter’s Tale.

However, Dr. Harkup has described scientific problems with a number of deaths in the plays, based on her book Death By Shakespeare.

These include the death of Hamlet’s father, killed by his brother Claudius, who poured poison into his ear.

The name of the poison, ‘höhenon’ or ‘hebona’, is not real and would not work well, according to Dr Harkup, because earwax and cartilage would block the substance from entering the body.

Cleopatra only utters a few lines after clutching a snake to her chest, to bite her, and then another to her arm, and then apparently dies relatively peacefully. This is unrealistic, according to Dr. Harkup, who stated that “this is not a gentle death, it is painful.”

In the tragedy Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, has lost the love of her life and is about to lose her empire, so she arranges for a poisonous snake, or “asp”, to be delivered to her in a basket. of figs.

Dr Harkup points out that a lethal Egyptian cobra should be up to 1.5 meters long, or nearly five feet, making it very difficult to smuggle into a basket of figs.

Cleopatra only utters a few lines after clutching a snake to her chest, to bite her, and then another to her arm, and then apparently dies relatively peacefully.

This is unrealistic, according to Dr. Harkup, who said of the snake’s venom: ‘It will do terrible harm along the way. This is not a gentle death, it is painful.’

Snake venom will indeed cause death from respiratory collapse, but Dr. Harkup said, “It takes time to choke – he’s got a little writhing on his imperial bed to make it through.”

“It has more than a few lines, actually.”

Cleopatra’s choice of where the first snake would please her, on the breast, is one of the most painful parts of the body, according to a study on bee stings.

The murder of Hamlet's father didn't make much sense, according to a scientific expert, as pouring poison into someone's ear accesses a few blood vessels to get it into their system (archive image)

The murder of Hamlet’s father didn’t make much sense, according to a scientific expert, as pouring poison into someone’s ear accesses a few blood vessels to get it into their system (archive image)

In Romeo and Juliet, the female protagonist simulates her own death, with a potion that apparently carries her dead for “two hours and forty” – almost two days – stopping her pulse and breathing.

A chemical called tetrodoxin, found in puffer fish, could make it seem like someone has stopped breathing and dramatically slow their heart rate.

Shakespeare may have heard of it through Japanese traders, who ate fugu – the puffer fish – and risked paralysis and death if he wasn’t properly trained to remove the poisonous parts.

But, Dr. Harkup said, the show suggests there would be no medical problems from taking such a toxin, to which he said, “If you don’t breathe for 42 hours, I suggest there may be side effects.”

WHAT SHAKESPEARE HAD RIGHT

  1. The famous director ‘exit, chased by a bear’ – the bears in London, kept chained for fun, would probably have attacked people if they were free
  2. Dead from a broken heart – this is unlikely but possible in people experiencing emotional shock
  3. Juliet takes poison to appear dead – the venom of a pufferfish could achieve this effect, although puffers were not known in Shakespearean England

A bear killing someone, like in The Winter’s Tale, would be rather unlikely in the general way of things, according to the scientist.

But this is something that Shakespeare probably understood well, as bears brought to London for entertainment were chained, made to dance or involved in the bear lure, where dogs attacked a bear in captivity.

These bears would have “some bills to settle,” according to Dr. Harkup, who said: “The idea of ​​a bear breaking free and attacking someone and eating them was probably a very realistic and well-known event.

“Surely it would have been talked about in Shakespeare’s day.

“So what looks very strange today was probably the least weird part of that play.”

Finally, deaths from a broken heart are also plausible, although Dr. Harkup says this is Shakespeare “stretching things out a bit”.

Mamillius, the child in The Winter’s Tale who apparently dies of a broken heart after learning that his father cruelly imprisoned his mother, may have had a genetic disease affecting his heart, which a sudden shock made fatal.

Lady Capulet, who died of a broken heart after learning of her son Romeo’s exile, may have suffered from “broken heart syndrome” which is caused by extreme stressful events and can rapidly weaken the heart muscle.

William Shakespeare: The playwright, poet and actor whose reputation transcends all other writers

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 – died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor who is widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time.

The playwright continues to hold a unique position in world literature as someone whose reputation transcends that of all other popular writers.

He is credited with producing 39 plays, 154 sonnets and three long poems.

His plays, the most famous of which include Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello, have been translated into all major languages.

They are performed thousands of times a year by actors from all over the world and are studied by millions of students across the UK and elsewhere.

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 - died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor who is widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time

William Shakespeare (baptized April 26, 1564 – died April 23, 1616) was an English playwright, poet and actor who is widely believed to be the greatest playwright of all time

Shakespeare was born and raised in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.

He married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18 and had three children with her: Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith.

At some point, between 1585 and 1592, Shakespeare began his career in London as an actor and writer.

He was the partial owner of a theater company called Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which later became known as King’s Men.

They built the Globe Theater, in Southwark, South London, where they performed many of Shakespeare’s plays.

The theater was destroyed by fire in 1613 but rebuilt the following year before being closed in 1642 and then demolished.

A modern reconstruction of the Globe, called “Shakespeare’s Globe”, was built less than 800 feet from the site of the original theater and opened in 1997.

Shakespeare is believed to have retired to Stratford at the age of 49, before dying three years later.

However, there are scanned records of his private life and considerable speculations continue about his exact physical appearance.

Some questions have also been raised as to whether all the works attributed to him were actually written by others.

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