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Hebenon



Hebenon is a botanical substance described in William Shakespeare's tragic play Hamlet as being the agent of death in Hamlet's father's murder that set in motion the events of the play:

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body;
And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood; so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust
All my smooth body.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand,
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd:
-Ghost (King Hamlet, Hamlet's Father) spoken to Hamlet
[Act I, scene 5]

Additional recommended knowledge

This is the only mention of hebenon in any of Shakespeare's plays. It is not hemlock, as hemlock is explicitly mentioned in several other writings of his.

K.N. Rao, Professor of Botany in Chennai, India writes that hebenon is variously taken to mean yew, ebony or henbane. Professor Rao presents evidence that hebenon is yew: "In all probability, hebenon is yew. Yew is closely associated with death, grown in churchyards and cemeteries. It is poisonous, especially after the twigs and leaves are left to ferment for some time. It is a "distillment" that is referred to and so we may not be far wrong in assuming that hebenon, as employed in the passage, means the yew. Yew is Taxus baccata of the conifers."[1].

 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Hebenon". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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