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      New Study Suggests That Shakespeare Might Have Been a Stoner

      New Study Suggests That Shakespeare Might Have Been a Stoner New Study Suggests That Shakespeare Might Have Been a Stoner New Study Suggests That Shakespeare Might Have Been a Stoner
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      New Study Suggests That Shakespeare Might Have Been a Stoner

      By Charlotte Meredith

      Was William Shakespeare high when he wrote his plays? A scientific discovery is speculating as much, but it could all be much ado about nothing.

      A study examining 400-year-old pipes excavated from the garden of the world's most famous playwright suggest the bard may have been smoking something stronger than tobacco.

      The results of forensic testing, published in the South African Journal of Science, examined 24 pipe fragments loaned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which were unearthed from the English town of Stratford-Upon-Avon where Shakespeare lived.

      Using advanced gas chromatography methods, researchers detected cannabis on eight fragments, nicotine on one, and two that contained traces of cocaine derived from Peruvian coca leaves. Four of the pipes containing cannabis apparently came from Shakespeare's garden.

      Fans of Shakespeare have long speculated on whether or not cannabis fueled his genius, with some even tenuously interpreting passages in his work to infer drugs and the use of narcotics.

      In Sonnet 76, he wrote about "invention in a noted weed," which could be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use "weed", or cannabis, while he was writing.

      Professor Francis Thackeray of the University of Witwatersrand, who lead the study, wrote that several kinds of tobacco were known to early 17th-century Englishmen. He argued that the sonnet exert could be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use "weed" for creative writing.

      In a report for The Conversation, he added: "In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with 'compounds strange', which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean 'strange drugs' (possibly cocaine)."

      But literary experts have dismissed the claim, instead arguing that "noted weed" is referring to a well-known style of clothing, and "compounds strange" to mean a form of poetic construction.

      Thackery's paper appears to lack any concrete evidence that Shakespeare actually smoked weed. But Thackeray says: "One can well imagine the scenario in which Shakespeare performed his plays in the court of Queen Elizabeth, in the company of Drake, Raleigh and others who smoke clay pipes filled with 'tobacco.' However, there were several kind of 'tobacco' in those days."

      It's not the first time Thackeray has examined the link between Shakespeare and his possible use of drugs, having first argued his case in 2001.

      His claims were widely derided by Shakespearean scholars. Responding to the research in 2001, a skeptical Professor Stanley Wells from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust told the BBC the conclusions were "regrettable."

      He said: "I think it's trying to suggest that Shakespeare was not a great genius, but somebody who produced his writings under an artificial influence.

      "There are about 8 million cannabis takers in this country at the present time. Are they producing anything comparable to Shakespeare's sonnet, I ask myself? I doubt it."

      Ann Donnelly, curator of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust museum, also seemed unconvinced.

      "People love to come up with reasons for saying Shakespeare was not a genius. I don't think there's any proof that he was helped in any way by taking narcotic substances," she said. 

      In the past, Thackeray has also called on the Church of England to open the graves of Shakespeare and his family to determine whether or not he used marijuana.

      "If there is any hair, if there is any keratin from the fingernails or toenails, then we will be in a position to undertake chemical analysis on extremely small samples for marijuana," Thackeray told LiveScience in 2011.

      Follow Charlotte Meredith on Twitter: @CHMeredith

      Topics: europe, shakespeare, england, uk, britain, drugs, cannabis, pot, weed, crime & drugs, science

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