Shakespeare May Have Been a Stoner

Theories about the widely unknown life of William Shakespeare abound, from the popular idea that he was actually multiple writers, or that he was Sir Francis Bacon or Christopher Marlowe. But a new theory is, really, far more fun than any of the old staples: that he was a stoner. 

According to The Independent, South African forensic technology has been used to determine the substance present in residue from the pipes found in Shakespeare’s garden in Stratford-upon-Avon. The writer/potential stoner’s clay pipes were analyzed in Pretoria for over-400-year-old traces of weed, using a technique with a long-winded name that’ll probably not mean much to anyone not deeply involved in the study of dead playwrights’ pipes:  gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Cool!

This all became of interest when an article published in Country Life magazine referenced a 1597 botanical book called Herbal, that bore an illustration that had (perhaps incorrectly) been identified as  Shakespeare, but may have actually been Sir Francis Drake, who was thought to have brought coca leaves to England from Peru; two pipes analyzed from the Stratford area suggest that cocaine was, indeed, smoked at the time there, but the pipes from Shakespeare’s garden, the study found, didn’t contain it: rather, four pipes from the premises were found to contain cannabis.

Based on the results of the study, The Independent noted that “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.” Francis Thackeray, a professor from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, links the theory to Sonnet 76, in which the Bard (if, indeed he was one stoned person and not, as that other conspiracy theory goes, many) speaks of “invention in a noted weed.” And while it may seem farfetched, or like the insinuation is that Shakespeare verbally time traveled to use a 1900s marijuana colloquialism, CNN quotes an email from the professor, saying, “I think that Shakespeare was playing with words and (it) is probably a cryptic reference to cannabis.”

Regardless, at least we can now add to the endless theories the question of whether we think Shakespeare was more of an Abbi or an Ilana.