It’s fun to imagine the scene: William Shakespeare, bent over parchment with quill in hand, penning Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream while baked. But that’s what some new research suggests: that the literary great wasn’t just talented, he was a stoner.
But the findings don’t actually indicate Shakespeare was a full-fledged stoner or wrote his famous works while high. They only confirm that the playwright smoked marijuana, and that’s about it. Some other evidence, however, may support that theory.
First, the science. A group of scientists in South Africa analyzed the residue on some pipe fragments dating to Shakespeare’s time — about 400 years old, United Press International reported.
These pipe fragments were excavated from spots around Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford -Upon-Avon, and some from the alleged stoner’s garden. Twenty-four of these were on loan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, The Telegraph reported.
Scientists analyzed the pieces with a technique that’s so sensitive, it can pick up residues leftover from smoking centuries ago, The Independent added. And they found a few interesting residues in Shakespeare’s pipes: four of them were found to contain marijuana residue.
Four other pipes were also used to smoke pot, and two contained Peruvian cocaine, but they weren’t Will’s. While possibly a stoner, he never touched that stuff.
All this evidence really shows is that at one time or another, the famous literary great enjoyed a toke. But there’s some other hints that he was more than an occasional user — and the clues come from the man’s own work.
In one of his Sonnets, number 76, the purported stoner wrote about “invention in a noted weed,” which study authors suggest may mean he turned to marijuana to inspire his writing. In another sonnet, he wrote about “compounds strange,” which could refer to his dislike for stranger drugs, like cocaine.
And it turns out, Elizabethan England had more than one stoner in its midst. Smoking of tobacco, cannabis, and cocaine was quite popular. Sir Francis Drake brought back some coca leaves from Peru and Sir Walter Raleigh introduced England to tobacco, grown in Virginia.
At least one of the pipes studied also contained tobacco.
The varied residues uncovered from these old pipes perhaps don’t prove that Shakespeare was a noted stoner, but it does show that he and his neighbors in 17th century England stuffed a wide variety of plants in their pipes.
Which begs the question — if William himself wasn’t lit when he wrote King Lear, how about his audience?
[Photo Courtesy Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock]