Document Type


Article Version


Publication Date



As part of a university-wide project to explore Shakespeare’s classic play, Romeo and Juliet, from a variety of perspectives, an interdisciplinary talk was presented to the university community on the chemistry of the potions and poisons referenced in Romeo and Juliet. To draw the multidisciplinary audience in and to teach about forensics as well as pharmaceutical herbs and chemicals, the presentation was given from the perspective of how a modern crime scene investigator would approach the famous play’s final death scene without any prior knowledge of the situation. An autopsy of Juliet’s body might have revealed the presence of the chemicals, hyoscine and atropine, that come from the plant Atropa belladonna. The autopsy could reveal whether the Friar had set out to sedate Juliet or if he had attempted to kill her. An autopsy of Romeo’s body might have revealed the presence of aconitine from the plant Aconitum napellus. Using a classic story to teach about chemistry, basic ideas were introduced about forensics and pharmacology, emphasizing the importance of dose when determining the effect of a drug on the human body.


Copyright 2012 The American Chemical Society

This is the author's pre-print version of a work that was submitted for publication. A definitive version of the article was published in Journal of Chemical Education 2012, 89(5), 629-635. DOI: 10.1021/ed200289t

Publication Title

Journal of Chemical Education

Published Citation

Harper-Leatherman, A.;* Miecznikowski, J.R. “O True Apothecary: How Forensic Science Helps Solve a Classic Crime." Journal of Chemical Education, 2012, 89 (5), 629-635.