Skip to main content
Shakespeare & Beyond

A 16th-century love charm of frog bones

In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, much of the comedic conflict derives from the application of the nectar of a magic flower. Under its influence, the queen of the fairies (Titania) becomes enamored of a donkey, and, through a bit of a mix-up, a spurned woman (Helena) suddenly finds herself desired by the man who rejected her and her friend’s lover.

Oberon and Titania

Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Georg Goldberg, 19th century. Folger Shakespeare Library. ART File S528m5 no.27 (size M)

As Oberon, the king of the fairies, tells Puck:

“The juice of it on sleeping eyelids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.” (2.1.176-9)

Now imagine if Oberon, instead of dripping flower nectar on Titania’s eyes, slipped on her finger a ring containing… frog bones. That would be more in line with a certain love charm found in this 16th-century book of magic, or grimoire. The book, part of the Folger collection, contains a description of a “love experiment” that will cause a woman to “never rest till she hath been with thee”—which involves burying a frog for more than a week!


I have worked as a volunteer Tudor at Asbee’s Farm (Mary Arden’s) and we have always had a plague frog hanging in the window to safeguard against plague. Interestingly none of the staff or volunteers have contracted plague, so obviously it works.

Kate Phinn — February 3, 2022