Was Shakespeare a Stoner?

Shakespeare conspiracies are nothing new. Scholars have questioned the Bard’s authorship for years, wondering if perhaps the “essayist Francis Bacon; poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe; theater patron Edward de Vere” could have been the geniuses behind famed plays such as Macbeth and Hamlet. Others, however, simply believe that William Shakespeare was a true genius.

And now, once again, a new theory has been unearthed. According to USA Today, a team of scientists led by Francis Thackeray, an anthropology professor at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, were “loaned 24 “tobacco pipe” fragments from Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon property by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.” Cannabis traces were found in several pipes. The article quotes Thackeray: “We can’t be sure that the pipes which we analyzed were those of Shakespeare, but they were from his garden, and they were dated to the early 17th century.”

This news will likely send Shakespearean scholars flocking to their beloved plays and sonnets in search of veiled references to weed. Perhaps marijuana dispensaries (especially those in the famously high states of Colorado or Washington) can await influx of Shakespeare-obsessed pot-smokers in search of the next great puff, a tendril of smoke to inspire their own great dramatic masterpiece.

The Huffington Post, however, cites Columbia University professor James Shapiro as a skeptic. Though Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 does mention a “noted weed,” Shapiro rejects the interpretation that Shakespeare is referencing marijuana use, noting “that there’s no evidence that people in Shakespeare’s time even used the word ‘weed’ to refer to marijuana.”

Writers have been creating masterpieces whilst under the influence of various substances for centuries. This is certainly no surprise. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, amongst others, were known for their excessive drinking habits. If Shakespeare did indeed write his masterpieces while high, does this really change anything? How does it affect our readings of his breadth of work, if at all?

This news only adds to the long (and growing!) list of things we still aren’t quite sure about regarding Shakespeare’s true identity. His mystique is nearly as famous as his writing.

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