Long has it been known that George Washington was a stoner. A case could be made for Jesus having been gay, and it probably wouldn’t be too hard to make him out to have been a stoner, too. A third Very Famous Personage can now also be said to have achieved stonerdom: William Shakespeare.
Research in Seth Effrika that employed cutting-edge forensic technology analysed just what was in bongs discovered in the garden of Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. The residue in these clay pipes was studied in Pretoria by means of the sophisticated technique of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and the findings published in the South African Journal of Science. The work was conducted at the narcotics laboratory of the Seth Effrikan police.
24 pipe bowls and stems from Shakespeare’s garden and nearby properties borrowed from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust were examined minutely. Eight of the fragments, half of them from Shakespeare’s garden, were found to contain cannabis and two, cocaine, although those hailed from another property.
It has been speculated that Shakespeare enjoyed the mind-stimulating properties of cannabis. Sonnet 76 contains a reference to “compounds strange” – perhaps cocaine. He wrote that he preferred “a noted weed” to this. Specifically, he wrote of “invention in a noted weed,” which was perhaps professing that this plant provided him with the inspiration for his writing. Professor Francis Thackeray of the University of the Witwatersrand in Jo’burg, who led this team and was himself inspired by the latter sentence fragment, wrote, “I think that Shakespeare was playing with words and (it) is probably a cryptic reference to cannabis.” He further remarked that maybe Shakespeare was aware of the adverse effects of cocaine and preferred weed, just as he ought. Cannabis had been condemned by the church since long before the time of Shakespeare, with Professor Thackeray asseverating, “Writers who were explicit about cannabis could have their books burnt.”
Chemical analyses of other 17th century tobacco pipes revealed that diverse plants were smoked in Europe in Elizabethan times. According to Professor Thackeray, both cannabis and coca were regarded as variants of tobacco. Cannabis had been around for centuries while cocoa was brought back from South America by explorers such as Francis Drake.
Shakespeare’s cannabis usage was first suggested by this team in 2001. Some of their earlier studies have been widely derided, but Thackeray holds the Phillip Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology at the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand, so mayhaps he should not be dismissed lightly. Inspector Tommy van der Merwe of the police Forensic Science Laboratory, who toiled alongside Professor Thackeray, affirmed, “There were very low concentrations of cannabis, but the signature was there,” which is pretty conclusive. Concentrations would have been low because cannabis degrades over time, and there have been four centuries of that.
It cannot be definitively declared that Shakespeare puffed on joints, however, the act took place in his house on multiple occasions, so it isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination. If so, he was doing no more than what many other famous writers did, including Byron and Hunter S. Thompson. Professor Thackeray noted that when Shakespeare’s plays were initially performed, it was likely in smoke-filled rooms.
The study stated, “Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries” – understand that they liked their doobies.