April 26th, 2004

Powell’s Books – Review-a-Day – The Tempest (Oxford Shakespeare) by William Shakespeare, reviewed by Times Literary Supplement

Mycotoxicology is the study of poisoning caused by fungi. Unlikely though it seems, this field of study offers evidence that the pains Prospero inflicts on Caliban, which would have been recognized by a Jacobean audience as real and familiar, had physical causes. Although Shakespeare and his audience could only have known Caliban’s symptoms as those induced by witchcraft, medical science since the late seventeenth century has defined those symptomsthem as the symptoms of disease of ergotism, a form of poisoning caused by a fungus infestation of cereals, especially rye grain.

Which also means that it’s time to pay the Piper. The Pied Piper of Hamlin, specifically, who’s tunage may be related to ergot poisoning.

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