As the UK wrestles with the gradual acceptance that it may have to look at full legalisation of cannabis in the coming years, inspiration might be drawn from one of England’s most famous sons.
No doubt politicians will be looking at William Shakespeare’s work to help deliver stimulus to a speech on the question of Britain’s future policy on marijuana, but it may be worth examining the Bard’s lifestyle for the answers.
According to evidence from forensic scientists in South Africa, it is highly likely that William Shakespeare – the greatest playwright the world has ever known – was an avid user of weed.
Professor Francis Thackeray BScHons, MPhil, MSc, PhD – honorary research professor at the University of Witwatersrand – examined plant residues found in a collection of 17th century clay pipes unearthed in Stratford-upon-Avon. Some of the pipes came from the garden of Shakespeare’s home – ‘New Place’.
The pieces, loaned from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, were examined using a ground-breaking technique called gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.
Remarkably, the boffins discovered traces of cannabis in eight of the fragments – four of which came from Shakespeare’s garden. Two samples also showed traces of cocaine, but neither were from New Place.
It’s often been speculated that Shakespeare used or was at least quite familiar with marijuana as he alludes to illicit substances in several pieces of work.
Most notably, is his reference to “invention in a noted weed” in Sonnet 76 is often interpreted as meaning the writer may have used cannabis to help with creative writing. He also pens “compounds strange” which is also believed to be a reference to other drugs.
Thackeray’s work on the artefacts has received a mixed response, with many Shakespeare aficionados giving his theories the cold shoulder. The scientist, however, remains convinced the heady aroma of weed hung in the air around Stratford-upon-Avon when the Bard was in his home town, and certainly in the alleyways of London.
“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’,” the professor says.
“However, there were several kinds of ‘tobacco’ in those days.”