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Shakespeare & Beyond

Possets, drugs, and milky effects: A look at recipes, Shakespeare's plays, and other historical references

posset recipe
posset recipe

Shakespeare’s plays are full of references to food and cookery, but they’re not always very appetizing. In Hamlet, the ghost of elder Hamlet describes the effect of the poison that Claudius pours into his ears, how it winds its way through the veins of his body and suddenly “doth posset / And curd, like eager droppings into milk, / The thin and wholesome blood” (1.5.68-80). But what does it mean for something to posset and curd? And why would Shakespeare want to describe the congealing of blood in these kinds of terms?

What is posset?

Posset is a drink similar to our modern eggnog. It is made by pouring heated and spiced cream over a warm mixture of eggs, sugar, and alcohol. The result is a rich custard full of calories and fat that can sometimes curdle. This, in part, may explain why the earliest use of the word is a fifteenth century translation of Latin balducta or bedulta, i.e., “the curds of milk” (OED).


Great post, thank you! But in the second recipe, I think it’s only fair to readers to explain that ‘sodden’ means boiled, i.e. boil it down to half the quantity, and doesn’t have its modern meaning. They could be quite confused otherwise. Keep up the good work!

D Banham — February 21, 2020

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