What inspired the beautiful words written by William Shakespeare? The answer may be complicated in nature, but according to a recent study, it is now known that at least part of that inspiration is likely stemmed from cannabis.
In 2001, a South African scientist named Francis Thackeray tested 24 pipes from Stratford Upon Avon, Shakespeare’s birthplace and adult residence. The results showed that eight of the pipes, which were used more like bongs, showed traces of marijuana.
A recent paper by the researcher in the South African Journal of Science has renewed interest in the original findings, which were largely criticized by Shakespearean scholars at the time. A process called gas chromatography mass spectrometry was used to test the residue in the bowls and stems of the pipes, determining that while eight showed traces of cannabis, only one showed evidence of tobacco plant residue.
While it is widely known and accepted that Shakespeare and others during that time smoked pipes filled with what was simply called “tobacco,” it is now clear that the term was probably used for a variety of plants.
While the use of cannabis was common in England at the time, perhaps the hardest part of the evidence to ignore is the fact that four of those pipes used to smoke marijuana were found right in Shakespeare’s garden. Still, that is not the only thing that Thackeray is cites to convince fans that the famous author smoked cannabis. He says:
“In Sonnet 76 Shakespeare writes about ‘invention in a noted weed.’ This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use ‘weed’ (cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (‘invention’).”
Interestingly, the same sonnet may also indicate a distaste for cocaine, which was also found in two of the pipe samples from the property (although not in the actual garden). Thackeray continues:
“In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with ‘compounds strange,’ which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean ‘strange drugs’ (possibly cocaine).”
The sentiments that Shakespeare displays in this sonnet are not dissimilar to that of many modern-day artists and musicians, showing that cannabis has likely been the preferred product for inspiring song and word for a lot longer than originally thought.
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 is referenced by Thackeray’s study. Sonnet 76 reads:
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?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.
This post was originally published on August 11, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.