Study suggests William Shakespeare was on drugs

Pop Goes The News — Was William Shakespeare getting high while writing Macbeth and Hamlet? Scientists say it’s quite possible.

According to an article in the July/August issue of the South African Journal of Science, a chemical analysis of plant residues in four pipes excavated from the playwright’s garden found cannabis residue.

The gas chromatography mass spectrometry was conducted by scientists Francis Thackeray of the University of the Witwatersrand and Nicholas van der Merwe of the University of Cape Town on 24 pipe fragments from the Bard’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Cannabis was detected on eight fragments, Peruvian cocaine was found on two others and nicotine was found on one. (Neither of the pipes with cocaine traces were from Shakespeare’s garden.)

“In Sonnet 76 Shakespeare writes about ‘invention in a noted weed’. This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use ‘weed’ (Cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (‘invention’),” Thackeray opines in his article.

Thackeray raised the possibility about 15 years ago “that at least some of Shakespeare’s writings may reflect an awareness of hallucinogenic stimuli.” In 2001, he wondered: “Was Shakespeare using hallucinogens of the kind that included Cannabis, a substance which is known to stimulate productivity and creativity among writers?”

Thackeray acknowledges the skepticism of Shakespearean scholars but adds: “Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries.”