Pubdate: Wed, 19 Aug 2015
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Michael A. Stusser


Evidence, textual and physical, about the Bard's indulgence.

Wanna know how William Shakespeare was so far ahead of his time in 
regard to wondrous wordplay and wildly imaginative scenes and 
sonnets? Well, it could be that the loquacious Bard was hitting the 
bong! According to a recent report in The Independent, forensic 
analysis of 400-year-old fragments found cannabis residue on pipes 
and stems scattered on Shakespeare's property.

A team from the Institute of Evolutionary Studies in South Africa 
conducted a chemical analysis of the 17th-century artifacts, 
excavated in 2001, from Stratford-on-Avon, and found marijuana on 
eight of 24 clay samples on the grounds, including four pot-positive 
pipes from his own garden.

Lead researcher Professor Francis Thackeray (University of 
Witwatersrand) thinks weed may have helped inspire history's greatest 
playwright, pointing out a line from Sonnet 76.

"In Sonnet 76 he writes about 'invention in a noted weed.' This can 
be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use 'weed' 
(cannabis) for creative writing ('invention')," Thackeray went out on 
a limb to explain. "In the same sonnet it appears that he would 
prefer not to be associated with 'compounds strange,' which can be 
interpreted, at least potentially, to mean 'strange drugs' (possibly 
cocaine). Sonnet 76 may relate to complex wordplay relating in part 
to drugs, and in part to a style of writing associated with clothing 
('weeds') or literary compounds."

Two additional pipes from the excavation area did indeed test 
positive for cocaine-or coca leaves-said to have been brought back 
from Peru in the late 1500s by Sir Francis "Vacuum-Cleaner" Drake. 
While these coca-contraptions were near Shakespeare's domicile, they 
weren't actually on his property, so it's doubtful Bill was hitting 
the crack pipe.

Plenty of stuffy scholars are scoffing at the notion Shakespeare used 
cannabis (while probably themselves scraping dusty ancient snuffboxes 
for residue). "I suppose it's remotely possible that Shakespeare and 
his family were getting a buzz from what they were smoking," 
harrumphed Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt, "but I very much 
doubt that it played any meaningful role in his life." Not willing to 
give up his own afternoon hot toddys, the English prof continued, 
saying, "Alcohol is a much more likely stimulant for Shakespeare's 
imagination, and even that is probably unimportant." Uh, FYI, Prof, 

Given his place and time, you couldn't really blame the brilliant 
Bard for craving a little pick-me-up during his famous 18-hour 
writing binges. Tea, coffee, espresso, and RedBull were unavailable 
then, and everyone, including the Sweet Swan of Avon, has a vice. In 
fact, Brits had been hitting the pipe for centuries, as well as using 
hemp for paper. (Pope Innocent VIII put a damper on open use when he 
singled out cannabis as an unholy sacrament of the Satanic mass. 
#ReeferMadness) In fact, in 1563 Queen Elizabeth I issued a formal 
decree forcing land owners of 60 acres or more to grow cannabis or be 
smacked with her cane (and a UKP5 fine).

It is of course possible that this is much ado about nothing, and 
that someone else was smoking ganja out of the Bard's bud-pipes. 
Nevertheless, I have decided to throw some scientific evidence of my 
own (read cockamamy hearsay) into the marijuana mix, proving once and 
for all that Shakes was a sacred stoner: It's said that Shakespeare 
coined over 2,000 words in his lifetime, including eyeball, gossip, 
gnarled (gnarly, dude!), unreal (Bro!), dwindle, puking, laughable, 
rant, hobnob, buzzer, besmirch, beached, bedazzled, cold-blooded, 
zany, addiction, arch-villain, new-fangled, swagger, and drugged! 
Heigh-ho and Great Tilly-Valley, that's buzzed brainstorming at its best!

And more obvious evidence-his inspired insults! No poet could come up 
with linguistic gymnastics such as beslubbering, clapper-clawed, 
beef-witted, loggerheaded, flap-mouthed, bum-bailey, unmuzzled, 
onion-eyed, and miscreant without being high as a pox-marked pignut!

To inhale or not inhale, that is the question. A report from 
Psychology Today notes that cannabis can evoke psychotomimetic 
symptoms, or what's known as "peak consciousness," allowing users to 
break free from pedestrian associations and connect seemingly 
unrelated concepts-a key element in creative thinking. Whether or not 
Shakespeare smoked salvia or imbibed indica, I bid you adieu with 
wondrous and trippy words from The Tempest, Act III, Scene 2-evidence 
he's high on life, or weed, or the wings of angels.

At thy request, monster, I will do reason, any reason.-

Come on, Trinculo, let us sing.

(sings) Flout 'em and scout 'em,

And scout 'em and flout 'em.

Thought is free.
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