Sunday, July 3, 2011

Shakespeare a Pot Smoker? [Insert Witty Weed Shakespeare Pun Here]

William_Shakespeare_portraitTo toke or not to toke?” “Doobie or not doobie?” “Is this a reefer which I see before me?”

Let’s cut to the chase: William Shakespeare may have smoked pot.

Ten years ago, South African palentologist Francis Thackeray analyzed some pipe fragments found in Shakespeare’s garden and found trace amounts of cocaine and cannabis. Though the pipe pieces are nothing but circumstantial evidence(they were in his garden and that’s all we know), the chemical findings basically hold up. Cannabis was cultivated in Britain during Shakespeare’s lifetime, and coca leaves had been imported to Europe by the Spanish from the West Indes.

Thackeray then decided to find literary evidence that Shakespeare enjoyed recreational drugs, citing the phrases “noted weed” and “compounds strange” from Sonnet 76. This is an incredible reach. Weed didn’t become slang for marijuana until the early twentieth century; it’s likely that Shakespeare was using “weed” to mean “garments” or “style” (more here). The “compounds” are verbal, not herbal, ones. A sonnet that starts “Why is my verse so barren of new pride” isn’t about drugs. It’s about finding new words to express love.

With his physical evidence circumstantial and his literary evidence circumspect, Thackeray’s turned to the body of the Bard himself for answers. He recently applied for permission from the Church of England to examine Shakespeare’s body. Thackeray told Fox News that he plans to use “laser-surface scanning” to determine gender, cause of death, and whether or not marijuana played a role in Shakespeare’s writing process.

It’s a long shot, though. The Church of England has spent centuries honoring the inscription on Shakespeare’s grave in Stratford-upon-Avon:

"Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,/ To digg the dust encloased heare;/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,/ And curst be he that moves my bones."

To get his answers, Thackeray needs the Church to follow Shakespeare’s lead: just light a pipe and relaaaax, man.