And in the cup an union shall he throw, Richer than that which for successive kings In Denmark’s crown have worn.

The only reason I knew a union was a pearl was that every Claudius ever holds up a pearl at this point to demonstrate. But I just looked it up because I was wondering if union was somehow a metaphorical pearl or jewel. What I learned was that union is connected to onion. Its sense as a pearl is connected to its onion-ness. Etymology on-line defines it as a pearl or onion. As if the two were essentially the same. And now I’m very confused – because we do, in fact, have pearl onions – which are usually the ones that go into cocktails. There is circularity to this. Here is Claudius calling a pearl a union, which for a time was the same word as an onion. He puts it in a drink, like it’s a cocktail onion, not a precious jewel. I mean, who wants a pearl in their drink? Seems dangerously easy to swallow.

An onion though – adds flavor. Is Claudius putting an onion in the drink? No. It’s definitely a little ball of poison – either disguised as a pearl or glazed in the killer stuff. But wow. Union. Onion. It’s so obvious when you look at it – but before? I’d not have seen these words as connected in any way.

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