Pipes with Cannabis Traces Found in Shakespeare’s Garden, Suggesting the Bard Enjoyed a “Noted Weed”

William-Shakespeare-68 Hours

Not more than 10 days ago, Jonathan Crow high­light­ed for you Adam Bertocci’s Two Gen­tle­men of Lebows­ki, a book that asks you to sus­pend dis­be­lief and imag­ine, What if…William Shake­speare had writ­ten The Big Lebows­ki?

Now comes news that makes the col­li­sion of the Bard’s and Lebowski’s worlds some­what more plau­si­ble. Accord­ing to The Tele­graph, “South African sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that 400-year-old tobac­co pipes exca­vat­ed from the gar­den of William Shake­speare con­tained cannabis, sug­gest­ing the play­wright might have writ­ten some of his famous works while high.” Lebows­ki could relate.

If you want to get into the specifics, you can read the pré­cis pub­lished in The South African Jour­nal of Sci­ence called “Shake­speare, plants, and chem­i­cal analy­sis of ear­ly
17th cen­tu­ry clay ‘tobac­co’ pipes from Europe.” It details how a team, led by anthro­pol­o­gist Fran­cis Thack­er­ay at the Uni­ver­si­ty of the Wit­wa­ter­srand in Johan­nes­burg, used a “sophis­ti­cat­ed tech­nique called gas chro­matog­ra­phy mass spec­trom­e­try (GCMS)” to ana­lyze “pipes [that] had been exca­vat­ed from the gar­den of William Shake­speare.” The results of their study? They “indi­cat­ed Cannabis in eight sam­ples, nico­tine (from tobac­co leaves of the kind asso­ci­at­ed with Raleigh) in at least one sam­ple, and (in two sam­ples) def­i­nite evi­dence for Peru­vian cocaine from coca leaves of the kind which Thack­er­ay et al. asso­ci­at­ed with Drake who had him­self been to Peru before 1597.”

Thack­er­ay also finds lit­er­ary sup­port for the idea that Shake­speare had a taste for Cannabis, not­ing that in “Son­net 76 Shake­speare writes about ‘inven­tion in a not­ed weed’. This can be inter­pret­ed to mean that Shake­speare was will­ing to use ‘weed’ … for cre­ative writ­ing (‘inven­tion’).” The pré­cis goes on to add: “In the same son­net it appears that [Shake­speare] would pre­fer not to be asso­ci­at­ed with ‘com­pounds strange’, which can be inter­pret­ed, at least poten­tial­ly, to mean ’strange drugs’ (pos­si­bly cocaine).” You can read Son­net 76 in full here:

Why is my verse so bar­ren of new pride,
So far from vari­a­tion or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found meth­ods and to com­pounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep inven­tion in a not­ed weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Show­ing their birth and where they did pro­ceed?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argu­ment;
So all my best is dress­ing old words new,
Spend­ing again what is already spent:
For as the sun is dai­ly new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Shake­speare Cours­es: Primers on the Bard from Oxford, Har­vard, Berke­ley & More

Read All of Shakespeare’s Plays Free Online, Cour­tesy of the Fol­ger Shake­speare Library

What Shake­speare Sound­ed Like to Shake­speare: Recon­struct­ing the Bard’s Orig­i­nal Pro­nun­ci­a­tion

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Shakespeare’s Globe The­atre

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Comments (3)
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  • Lori Gibson says:

    Hmm­mm… If there is no proof who Shake­speare real­ly was, how could this tru­ly be his gar­den?

  • Graham Dowden says:

    The pré­cis of pro­fes­sor Thack­er­ay’s arti­cle (which Open Cul­ture cites approv­ing­ly) says that Shake­speare “would pre­fer NOT [my caps] to be asso­ci­at­ed with ‘com­pounds strange’ ”. But this is pre­cise­ly back­wards. The whole point of the poem (which, I would ven­ture to say, has absolute­ly noth­ing to do with cannabis or cocaine) is that he would LOVE to be able to come up with the fash­ion­able ‘new-found meth­ods’ of express­ing his love, but he can’t. “Com­pounds strange’ are com­pounds of trendy, new­fan­gled LANGUAGE, not com­pounds cooked up in chem­i­cal labs. The ‘not­ed weed’ line is admit­ted­ly some­what obscure, but near the bot­tom of the poem he laments that all his best efforts result mere­ly in “dress­ing old words new”, and since ‘weed’ or weeds meant cloth­ing in his day, his point in the ‘not­ed weed’ line is sure­ly that his much-to-be-desired ‘inven­tion’ always winds up get­ting kept but­toned up inside his ‘not­ed’ (i.e., his famil­iar and imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able) style.

    He does­n’t mean a word of it, of course, since what he’s real­ly doing is thumb­ing his nose at the notion that a pow­er­ful, hon­est poem like this one needs some kind of flashy new way of get­ting its feel­ing across. If irony is dying, it’s dying because we are los­ing our abil­i­ty to pick up on it, and Open Cul­ture isn’t doing us any favours by (a) get­ting Shake­speare wrong and (b) obscur­ing him in a cloud of mar­i­jua­na smoke.

  • Maharg Nedwod says:

    What if the Open Cul­ture piece was tongue in cheek all along? Where does that leave Pro­fes­sor Dow­den’s solemn lec­ture on the demise of irony?

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