It’s a story that passed under the radar this summer, but studies suggest that William Shakespeare, famous British playwright who wrote Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, and hundreds of other poems and plays, was probably getting high when he wrote his timeless rhymes.
And the scoop is that Shakespeare may have been puffing more than just cannabis!
State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.
Clay pipes that are more that 400 years old were found in the poets garden.
In fact, forensic scientists have postulated the possibility of a pothead Shakespeare back in 2001, when the South African Journal of Science published an article on residues found in the 400-year-old pipes.
So what was Shakespeare smoking?
There were several kinds of tobacco in the 17th century, including the North American Nicotiana (from which we get nicotine).
But what most don’t know is that “tobacco” could also mean cocaine! Cocaine (Erythroxylum) is obtained from Peruvian coca leaves. And it has been claimed that Sir Francis Drake may have brought coca leaves to England after his visit to Peru, just as Sir Walter Raleigh had brought “tobacco leaves” (Nicotiana) from Virginia in North America.
So what about the pipes in Shakespeare’s garden, where he wrote and held rehearsals?
There was unquestionable evidence for the smoking of coca leaves, based on chemical evidence from two pipes in the Stratford-upon-Avon area.
But alas, neither of the pipes with cocaine came from Shakespeare’s garden.
But four of the pipes with cannabis did.
Interestingly, 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.
And the evidence that Shakespeare may have enjoyed a toke or two can be found in his poetry itself.
In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes about “invention in a noted weed”. So one obvious interpretation is that Shakespeare smoked cannabis for inspiration and to stimulate creativity.
A “noted weed,” indeed.