Shakespeare could have been high while writing his masterpieces – study

A 1640 copy, in contemporary sheep binding, of William Shakespeare's first collected edition of his Poems sits on display at Sotheby's auction house in New York © Shannon Stapleton
South African researchers have found traces of cannabis and several others substances on pipes from the Shakespeare’s garden, raising speculation as to whether Shakespeare was under the influence while writing his works.

South African scientists conducted a chemical analysis of pieces of broken pipes found in Shakespeare’s garden in in Stratford-upon-Avon, finding cannabis on four pipes. The results of their work were published in the South African Journal of Science.

During the study, researchers used gas chromatography mass spectrometry, which is a technique sensitive to residues of different substances – even if smoked more than 400 years ago.

Along with pipes from Shakespeare’s garden researchers also studied pieces of pipes from the neighboring areas. Scientists managed to find not only cannabis but also Peruvian cocaine from coca leaves on some of them.

These results show that cannabis and cocaine were widespread in the Elizabeth period. Francis Thackeray from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg believes that both drugs were regarded as just variants of tobacco in the XVI century.

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At the same time traces of cannabis on the pieces of pipes do not prove that Shakespeare smoked marijuana. Professor Thackeray, however, believes that it is entirely possible.

“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 smoked clay pipes filled with ‘tobacco’,” he wrote in an article published in the Independent.

‘‘Shakespeare may have been aware of the deleterious effects of cocaine as a strange compound. Possibly, he preferred cannabis as a weed with mind-stimulating properties,’’ he added.

The professor has also tried to find proof of his hypothesis within Shakespeare’s works:

“Why write I still all one, ever the same / And keep invention in a noted weed,” wrote Shakespeare in Sonnet 76.

Thackeray believes that this could be a reference not just to poetic innovation but to using a drug (weed) for writing.

Sir Francis Drake as well as Sir Walter Raleigh are both thought to have brought many ‘unknown’ plants back to Europe such tobacco, cocaine and potatoes.