Pubdate: Sun, 23 Aug 2015
Source: Times, The (South Africa)
Copyright: 2015 AVUSA, Inc.
Author: Tanya Farber


SA Researcher Sets World Abuzz With Bardish Dagga Discovery

A SOUTH African scientist has caused an international buzz with new 
evidence that Shakespeare's literary work was taken to greater 
heights with the help of dagga.

Headlines around the world reported on University of the 
Witwatersrand Professor Francis Thackeray's study, which was 
published in the South African Journal of Science last month.

In it, he describes how he borrowed the Bard's pipes from the 
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford upon Avon and did a 
chemical analysis on them in Pretoria at the police narcotics unit.

When the first tests were done 15 years ago, they were pooh-poohed by 
Shakespeare scholars, who claimed that only nicotine was smoked in 
England in the Elizabethan era.

However, in the light of recent evidence that several substances 
other than nicotine had arrived on English shores by the 17th 
century, Thackeray's new paper calls on his critics to reexamine his 
original articles.

His latest paper has sparked global debate, although some media quote 
literary experts as being "doob-ious".

"Chemical analyses of residues in early 17th-century clay tobacco 
pipes have confirmed that a diversity of plants were smoked in 
Europe," said Thackeray, who works in Wits's Evolutionary Studies Institute.

Earlier this year, he analysed more pipes from the Elizabethan era 
and found that a variety of plant material was indeed making its way 
into England in Shakespeare's lifetime and that "much experimenting 
was going on". Even roses and camphor were being smoked.

With Suzanne Young of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, he 
wrote up his forensic botany article earlier this year. It will soon 
be published in the newsletter of the South African Archaeological Society.

"All the evidence is coming together," said Thackeray, adding that 
literary evidence - Shakespeare's frequent references to plants and 
their effects - should be integrated with the chemical results.

For Thackeray, the fascination with Shakespeare and the 400-year-old 
pipes has been a long journey.

He was always fascinated by the dramatist, and was reading his plays 
by age seven. He nearly studied English literature, but went the 
scientific route instead, and completed his doctorate at Yale University.

But the call of the Bard never left him, and one evening, after 
deciding to read all 154 of the sonnets in one sitting, he had his 
"eureka" moment.

One of the sonnets talks of "strange compounds", and "the noted 
weed". "I had a hunch that maybe he was referring secretly to 
cannabis because it could not be explicit. I found references in many 
other Shakespeare texts too."

At that time the Church had forbidden dagga, associating it with 
witchcraft. Books would be burnt if they made reference to the plant.

Following his hunch, Thackeray wrote to the Shakespeare Birthplace 
Trust in 2000 and asked the curator if the trust still had the pipes 
taken from the rubble of the Bard's house after it had been torn down 
- - and if he could undertake nondestructive analyses on them.

"There was such scepticism at that time but now all the evidence has 
come together and we can integrate the arts and the sciences in an 
effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries."

But James Shapiro, a Columbia University professor who has published 
multiple books about Shakespeare's life, is not as convinced that 
Shakespeare was a stoner.

"We don't know what Shakespeare did or didn't do," Shapiro told the 
Huffington Post. "Just because these pipes were found in his garden 
doesn't mean his neighbour's kid didn't throw the pipes over the 
fence. There are a million possible explanations."
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