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]

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.

Writers from Shakespeare's time to the present have speculated about the identity of hebenon (or hebena, as it appears in some early editions of Shakespeare's work). In favor of it being yew are the familiarity of yew as a poison and the similarity in symptoms. In favor of ebony (specifically, guaiac) are the fact that ebony was sometimes written with an h, but arguing against it is the low toxicity of guaiac. In favor of henbane is its toxic nature and the possible origin of hebenon as metathesis from henbane. Other authors question whether there is sufficient evidence to resolve the issue, or even whether Shakespeare's attention to botany and pharmacology was sufficient to say he meant a specific plant. [cite book | url = http://books.google.com/books?id=_m7k1Oi-cakC&pg=PA110&lpg=PA110&dq=hebenon+henbane&source=web&ots=eu8dtBErXl&sig=KPYDD9SUuodWRIp6C0oJo3ooOF4&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=3&ct=result | title = An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction | author = Anatoly Liberman, J. Lawrence Mitchell | publisher = U of Minnesota Press | date = 2008 | isbn = 9780816652723 | pages = 110–111 ]


Further reading

*cite journal | url = http://www.jstor.org/pss/3713817 | title = "Cursed Hebenon" (Or "Hebona") | author = Henry Bradley | journal = The Modern Language Review | volume = 15 | issue = 1 | date =Jan. 1920 | pages = 85–87 | doi = 10.2307/3713817

External links

* [http://www.chennaionline.com/columns/variety/05botanic01.asp a column] by K.N. Rao, Professor of Botany in Chennai, India

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Look at other dictionaries:

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