Is it possible William Shakespeare smoked weed? — Well, maybe

Posted Jun 5, 2019 by Karen Graham
Back in 2001, a South African anthropologist named Francis Thackeray used tech from a narcotics crime lab to see what sorts of substances might have been smoked in 400-year-old pipe fragments unearthed in Stratford-upon-Avon.
A man carries a volume of Shakespeare's complete works ahead of the parade in Stratford-upon-Av...
A man carries a volume of Shakespeare's complete works ahead of the parade in Stratford-upon-Avon in central England on April 23, 2016
Leon Neal, AFP
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, allowed South African research scientists from the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria to analyze twenty-four clay pipe fragments found on the grounds of William Shakespeare's home.
Some of the fragments contained nicotine and cocaine residue - more than likely from Peruvian coca leaves. The fragments containing the cocaine residue were not from Shakespeare's garden. Of eight pipe fragments with a chemical signature similar to cannabis, four of the fragments were from Shakespeare's back garden.
It is important to keep in mind that the pipes come from a time when hemp was used widely in the production of rope, clothing, and paper, and when marijuana was used to treat certain medical conditions. However, the discovery of the pipes laced with several narcotics lends credibility to the theory that people in Renaissance England used drugs for pleasure.
Birth place of William Shakespeare  Stratford upon Avon  England.
Birth place of William Shakespeare, Stratford upon Avon, England.
Did the Bard smoke pot?
Thackery thought the results of the gas chromatography tests were compelling evidence that Shakespeare could have been high while writing some of his works, even though the "residues of Cannabis are suggested but not proven," according to the study published in the South African Journal of Science: Jan/Feb2001, Vol. 97 Issue 1/2, p19.
Well, you can imagine what happened. There was quite a backlash from historians and Shakespeare scholars. They were outraged at even the suggestion that the Bard might have enjoyed smoking the occasional bowl or two.
Over a decade later, Thackery published an appeal in the South African Journal of Science on August 7, 2015, asking that the "Shakespearean community give attention to articles that were published more than a decade ago and which were largely criticized by Shakespearean scholars at that time. Chemical analyses of residues in early 17th-century clay ‘tobacco pipes’ have confirmed that a diversity of plants were smoked in Europe. Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries."
A group of English clay pipes  from the early 17th to late 19th century  none complete  Bedford Muse...
A group of English clay pipes, from the early 17th to late 19th century, none complete, Bedford Museum, 2010.
Simon Speed
To back up his argument, Thackery cites Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76, which refers to “invention in a noted weed” and an aversion to “compounds strange.”
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth and where they did proceed?
And Sonnet 118 divulges:
Like as, to make our appetites more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge. (1-2)
An image showing direct comparisons between the Shakespeare of the Cobbe Portrait  the Chandos Portr...
An image showing direct comparisons between the Shakespeare of the Cobbe Portrait, the Chandos Portrait and the Droeshout Engraving.
Brice Stratford
Do these words suggest Shakespeare was familiar with the drugs in question? Probably, however, there is no proof that he actually used them. Perhaps the bigger question lies in what we don't know about Shakespeare.
There is a great void between the public adulation of Shakespeare and historical knowledge of the man himself. The Atlantic points out that Shakespeare died in 1616, while the 2001 study says the pipe fragments "probably date to the 17th century.” Another point - No one really knows how much time Shakespeare actually spent at his final home of New Place, and his birthplace became an inn in the early 17th century.
As for this journalist, I ask you, "Did he smoke weed, or did he not smoke weed. That is the question."