William Shakespeare‘s clever wordplay and enduring themes might not be the only way that the playwright proved to be ahead of his time. New evidence suggests that William may have partaken in smoking marijuana.
Analysis of pipe fragments found close to William’s famed Stratford-on-Avon home have yielded some interesting results. According to data published by the South African Journal of Science, cannabis residue was identified on eight of 24 fragments in the nearby area of Shakespeare’s former grounds. Four of those weed-positive relics were found right in William’s former garden.
Even more surprising than the indication that The Bard may have smoked weed, there were also two pipes from the excavation area that tested positive for another substance — cocaine, or coca leaves possibly bought back by Sir Francis Drake from his visits to Peru.
Unlike the pipes showing marijuana use, those showing signs of cocaine use were not found directly on the grounds of Shakespeare’s property — which makes it more doubtful that William himself engaged in smoking coca leaf. Furthermore, the researchers involved in the project think there is proof in Shakespeare’s sonnets that he preferred weed to coca leaves.
“In Sonnet 76 [William] writes about ‘invention in a noted weed.’ This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use ‘weed’ (Cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (‘invention’). 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). Sonnet 76 may relate to complex wordplay relating in part to drugs (compounds and ‘weed’), and in part to a style of writing, associated with clothing (‘weeds’) and literary compounds (words combined to form one, as in the case of the word ‘Philsides’ from Philip Sidney).”
Speculation about whether or not Shakespeare used cannabis has mounted as the drug has become less taboo. Francis Thackeray, the same South African researcher behind the cannabis pipe analysis, has been pushing for Shakespeare’s remains to be exhumed in order to further academic understanding of the famed playwright’s life. Those efforts have thus far been unsuccessful, partially because of references in William’s work that may indicate an uneasiness about exhumation, reported The Telegraph.
Though some may scoff at the discovery, Thackeray urged the scientific community to take the findings about Shakespeare’s weed habits seriously.
“Chemical analyses of residues in early 17th century clay ‘tobacco pipes’ have confirmed that a diversity of plants were smoked in Europe. Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand William Shakespeare and his contemporaries.”
[Image via Flickr and David Ramos/Getty Images]