A plant by any other name would taste as sweet. You might assume Shakespeare would agree with such paraphrasing of his work after findings originally published in 2001 in the South African Journal of Science
were once again brought to light. The study, authored by Francis Thackeray, indicates that William Shakespeare, often considered the most brilliant playwright in history, may have also liked to smoke weed in his more leisurely moments.
UPDATE: Other Writers Who Have Smoked Cannabis
While the jury is still out on whether Shakespeare smoked cannabis, it’s worth noting that many literary figures past and present have indulged in the herb for both medical and recreational purposes. Horror legend Stephen King, though not a smoke-weed-everyday kind of guy, has been advocating legalization since the early ‘80s. However, authors have allegedly been stoking their creative process or simply relaxing with the aid of cannabis for centuries including the likes of Baudelaire, Dumas, Hugo, Balzac and let’s not forget all of the beat writers. The use of cannabis isn’t really a stretch for creative minds so, if Shakespeare did partake, he’s in good company.
Mr. Shakespeare in the Garden with Clay Pipes
A series of clay pipes were collected from the garden of Shakespeare’s residence in Stratford-upon-Avon. The clay pipes were scraped with clinical precision, allowing for the scientific analysis that turned up trace amounts of marijuana residue. Of course, this is not enough to claim without a shadow of a doubt that Shakespeare would often smoke weed. In fact, some scholars have even pointed out that there is no proof that the clay pipes in question even belonged to Shakespeare. Yet, the discovery of the pipes on the playwright’s property lend to the suspicion that he did in fact smoke weed, whether regularly or not.
Smoke Weed Everyday? Possible but Not Probable
When the study was first revealed, Professor Stephen Greenblatt, an authority on the life and works of Shakespeare, laughed off claims of Shakespeare as a pothead, keen to smoke weed in copious amounts. “I suppose it’s remotely possible that Shakespeare and his family were getting a buzz from what they were smoking but I very much doubt that it played any meaningful role in his life,” he clarified to Harvard Magazine
. He continued to refute ideas of a “smoke weed everyday” Shakespeare, pointing out that allusions to cannabis were few, if any, across the author’s vast body of work.
Notes on “Noted Weed”
Thackeray defends his claims as to the likelihood that Shakespeare liked to smoke weed, citing a passage from the author’s “Sonnet 76” in which he references “noted weed” and “compounds strange.” “Noted weed” could be an obvious allusion to Shakespeare’s proclivity to smoke weed though this theory has earned no support from professional academics. Likewise, Thackeray explained in an email to CNN that “compounds strange” is a likely reference to a chemical drug such as cocaine. Two clay pipes surveyed in the study contained traces of a cocaine based on a coca leaf recipe, though these particular pipes were not collected from Shakespeare’s estate. If the author did like to smoke weed regularly, could this have contributed to surreal masterpieces like A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Greenblatt further clarifies that, through accounts of Shakespeare’s life and a familiarity with his writing, it would seem the genius was much more prone to a drink than a toke. Scholars have also pointed out that in Shakespeare’s time, cannabis was used for a lot more than just smoking. Cannabis was a major crop in England, second only to wheat. With the exception of Thackeray’s take on the “Sonnet 76” line about “noted weed”, the opinion is that Shakespeare was referencing clothing as opposed to a longing to smoke weed.
Antisocial Behavior Indicative of a Pothead?
An antisocial tendency of Shakespeare is also noted by Greenblatt as a further indicator that the playwright may not have liked to smoke weed as much as Thackeray indicates. The Shakespeare expert explained that when invited to partake in social soirees, the brilliant writer would often blame pain as an excuse to retire. However, if the pain were not simply a fabrication, it’s possible Shakespeare may have actually been retiring to smoke weed as a means of easing the discomfort.
No one’s trying to dull the genius of the playwright or claim that Bill Shakespeare was his day’s Bill S. Preston, Esq. But the skilled and prolific writer who likes to smoke weed isn’t rare. With Baudelaire, Stephen King, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Robbins partaking of the leaf, Shakespeare would actually be in good company.