The Bard inhaled: Shakespeare was a stoner
Maybe the next time you go to a Shakespeare play and find yourself unable to follow what's going on, take comfort: he might have been all high on Mary G. Juana when he wrote it.
This 2001 news item from the National Geographic has been resurrected in recent days to bolster support for the legalization of marijuana, or at least protection of the "medical marijuana" loophole that is allowing many who need it to use it -- and some who don't, as well.
The report, originally published in the South African Journal of Science, states that "a study of several 17th-century smoking pipes, including a number found in the garden of Shakespeare's home in England, has revealed traces of cannabis . . . The South African Police Services Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria analyzed the stems and bowls of 24 clay pipes and found traces of tobacco, suggestive evidence of cannabis -- and mysteriously, two of the pipes showed signs of what looks like cocaine."
Dr. Francis Thackeray, head of paleontology at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria initiated the study. In an interview with BBC News, Thackeray stated: "This project was initiated in part by a re-reading of Shakespeare's sonnets, in particular, sonnet number 76, where Shakespeare refers to â€˜invention in a noted weed.' "â€˜Weed' can refer to cannabis or marijuana, or dagga as it is known in South Africa. And â€˜invention' refers to writing. So we put forward a hypothesis that Shakespeare may have used cannabis as a source of inspiration."
Is there textual evidence to support this claim? His characters do tend to go on and on, you know, soliloquizing. Comparing this to that, contrasting opposites ad infinitum. Othello and Macbeth are notably paranoid. Hamlet, famously, can't make up his mind -- is he baked?
On the other hand, there is no recorded instance in any of the various version of Shakespeare's extant works in which a craving for grape soda and potato chips is mentioned.
If you are comfortable extrapolating the inference from the evidence at hand, then the Bard of Avon would join the ranks of the noted who reputedly got high -- including evidently Alexandre Dumas, Rimbaud, Oscar Wilde, the Founding Fathers, Joan of Arc, Jesus and Moses. And Bing Crosby.
It's nice to know that there are people out there who can get high and still accomplish something in a day. Still, the debate over the drug's legality won't be settled by citing stellar or horrifying examples of pot smokers. Economics will undoubtedly determine the drug's future. It's the nation's largest cash crop, and it's doubtful that the government can continue long to watch all that untaxed income flow by without harnessing it.
Would a nation of unabashed stoners be as effective, or would we all run around giggling and forgetting where we left our car keys?
Let's give Shakespeare the last word on the subject. Here's Friar Laurence in "Romeo and Juliet":
O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain'd from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.