Higher Ground: Doo-bie or Not Doo-bie . . . What Was the Question?

Evidence, textual and physical, about the Bard’s indulgence.

Wanna know how William Shakespeare was so far ahead of his time in regard to wondrous wordplay and wildly imaginative scenes and sonnets? Well, it could be that the loquacious Bard was hitting the bong! According to a recent report in The Independent, forensic analysis of 400-year-old fragments found cannabis residue on pipes and stems scattered on Shakespeare’s property.

A team from the Institute of Evolutionary Studies in South Africa conducted a chemical analysis of the 17th-century artifacts, excavated in 2001, from Stratford-on-Avon, and found marijuana on eight of 24 clay samples on the grounds, including four pot-positive pipes from his own garden.

Lead researcher Professor Francis Thackeray (University of Witwatersrand) thinks weed may have helped inspire history’s greatest playwright, pointing out a line from Sonnet 76.

“In Sonnet 76 he writes about ‘invention in a noted weed.’ This can be interpreted to mean that Shakespeare was willing to use ‘weed’ (cannabis) for creative writing (‘invention’),” Thackeray went out on a limb to explain. “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). Sonnet 76 may relate to complex wordplay relating in part to drugs, and in part to a style of writing associated with clothing (‘weeds’) or literary compounds.”

Two additional pipes from the excavation area did indeed test positive for cocaine—or coca leaves—said to have been brought back from Peru in the late 1500s by Sir Francis “Vacuum-Cleaner” Drake. While these coca-contraptions were near Shakespeare’s domicile, they weren’t actually on his property, so it’s doubtful Bill was hitting the crack pipe.

Plenty of stuffy scholars are scoffing at the notion Shakespeare used cannabis (while probably themselves scraping dusty ancient snuffboxes for residue). “I suppose it’s remotely possible that Shakespeare and his family were getting a buzz from what they were smoking,” harrumphed Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt, “but I very much doubt that it played any meaningful role in his life.” Not willing to give up his own afternoon hot toddys, the English prof continued, saying, “Alcohol is a much more likely stimulant for Shakespeare’s imagination, and even that is probably unimportant.” Uh, FYI, Prof, #MarijuanaIsSafer.

Given his place and time, you couldn’t really blame the brilliant Bard for craving a little pick-me-up during his famous 18-hour writing binges. Tea, coffee, espresso, and RedBull were unavailable then, and everyone, including the Sweet Swan of Avon, has a vice. In fact, Brits had been hitting the pipe for centuries, as well as using hemp for paper. (Pope Innocent VIII put a damper on open use when he singled out cannabis as an unholy sacrament of the Satanic mass. #ReeferMadness) In fact, in 1563 Queen Elizabeth I issued a formal decree forcing land owners of 60 acres or more to grow cannabis or be smacked with her cane (and a £5 fine).

It is of course possible that this is much ado about nothing, and that someone else was smoking ganja out of the Bard’s bud-pipes. Nevertheless, I have decided to throw some scientific evidence of my own (read cockamamy hearsay) into the marijuana mix, proving once and for all that Shakes was a sacred stoner: It’s said that Shakespeare coined over 2,000 words in his lifetime, including eyeball, gossip, gnarled (gnarly, dude!), unreal (Bro!), dwindle, puking, laughable, rant, hobnob, buzzer, besmirch, beached, bedazzled, cold-blooded, zany, addiction, arch-villain, new-fangled, swagger, and drugged! Heigh-ho and Great Tilly-Valley, that’s buzzed brainstorming at its best!

And more obvious evidence—his inspired insults! No poet could come up with linguistic gymnastics such as beslubbering, clapper-clawed, beef-witted, loggerheaded, flap-mouthed, bum-bailey, unmuzzled, onion-eyed, and miscreant without being high as a pox-marked pignut!

To inhale or not inhale, that is the question. A report from Psychology Today notes that cannabis can evoke psychotomimetic symptoms, or what’s known as “peak consciousness,” allowing users to break free from pedestrian associations and connect seemingly unrelated concepts—a key element in creative thinking. Whether or not Shakespeare smoked salvia or imbibed indica, I bid you adieu with wondrous and trippy words from The Tempest, Act III, Scene 2—evidence he’s high on life, or weed, or the wings of angels.

At thy request, monster, I will do reason, any reason.—

Come on, Trinculo, let us sing.

(sings) Flout ’em and scout ’em,

And scout ’em and flout ’em.

Thought is free.

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