Drug testing Shakespeare: Did he or didn't he?
English dramatist William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), circa 1600. (Getty Images)
July 2nd, 2011
07:30 AM ET

Drug testing Shakespeare: Did he or didn't he?

Editor's Note: The following piece comes from Global Post, which provides excellent coverage of world news - important, moving and odd.

Did he or didn't he? That is the question.

Actually, the question of whether or not William Shakespeare was a pothead is one of several mysteries about the bard that Francis Thackeray, director of the Institute for Human Evolution in Johannesburg, South Africa wants to look into.

And in his quest for answers, the anthropologist said that he has formally asked the Church of England for permission to open the graves of Shakespeare and several close relatives, all of whom are buried under a local church in Stratford-on-Avon in England.

Thackeray's proposed exhumation of the bard is meant to address a mystery that has been niggling at the anthropologist since 2001, when he discovered evidence of marijuana and cocaine on clay pipes found in the garden of Shakespeare’s old house and wondered about possible herbal inspiration, according to Atlantic Wire.

Cannabis was grown in England at the time and was used to make textiles and rope. And some have pointed out that Shakespeare alluded to drug use in references such as a mention of a "noted weed" in Sonnet 76.

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But there are other questions to be answered too. Thackeray wants, first off, to establish that the remains are, in fact, those of Shakespeare, according to Fox News. He also would like to ascertain the cause of the bard's death.

Shakespeare's skeleton could reveal clues about his health and death, but the question of his drug use can only be resolved by the presence of hair, fingernails or toenails in the grave, Thackeray said, according to LiveScience.

Thackeray said that chemical analysis on "extremely small samples" of keratin left in Shakespeare's fingernails or toenails can be sampled for marijuana, and chemical analysis of his teeth could also provide clues about his smoking habits, but it wouldn't prove what exactly was in the pipe, according to Slate.

Whether or not Shakespeare smoked pot, one thing that's certain is that he didn't want to be dug up, Atlantic Wire says. His tombstone, located in the Church of the Holy Trinity, reads: "'Blessed be the man that spares these stones. And cursed be he that moves my bones."

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Thackeray is aware of the curse, but said that his research would use a portable technique called laser surface scanning, which would allow him to digitally scan the skeleton without moving it, according to Time. And, the anthropologist clarified, the curse “does not refer to teeth.”

The Church has denied any knowledge of the project, according to Fox News. But Thackeray said the paperwork is filed, according to LiveScience.

"The application has been submitted," he said. "We are now just simply waiting for a formal response. … We respect the fact that it will take time to have our proposal examined and assessed."

Examples of people wanting to know whether or not famous historical figures got high aren't new, Mother Jones points out:

"But this might be the first time a scientist has ever gone so far as to actually try to dig up a body to prove it. With the upcoming release of Anonymous, a film based on the fringe theory that Shakespeare was a fraud, it looks like the Bard just can't catch a break these days."

Read more at Global Post.

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Topics: Culture • Global • Odd • United Kingdom

soundoff (68 Responses)
  1. trickbunny

    Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?

    July 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  2. mejazzbo

    There are so many contradictory theories on WS's life and works. Might be it isn't actually WS buried in the grave.

    July 2, 2011 at 1:27 pm | Reply
    • herbert juarez

      O.K. dude who kifed shakespears' body?Is he at bernies again?

      July 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  3. Erickson

    In one hand, a dead man should rest in peace. In the other hand, humanity must know more about the existense of this genius... Dig up or don't dig up... That's the question!

    July 2, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  4. Timoteo

    Who gives a damn if he smoked a spleef?
    Leave him alone and rest in peace.

    July 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  5. Spicoli

    Yo Shakes! Fire up that crack joint!!! 😀

    July 2, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  6. NWHead

    I think that we should all pull a long toke at 4:20pm today and let the immortal words of Mr. Shakespear ring in our heads....." You too Bob?"

    July 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  7. QuitJuding

    Who cares? It is bad for you.

    July 2, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  8. thegratefulbread

    "And, the anthropologist clarified, the curse “does not refer to teeth.” yeah but the curse refers to bones, and teeth are bones. Although i'm sure there is no real curse on Shakespeare's tomb

    July 2, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  9. fernace

    Yes, he imbibed! Weed, coke, alcohol laudanum, "wotev da hail" he felt improved his creativity, as humans have throughout the ages! It really is unecessary to dig him up to confirm! Let the dead rest in peace. His final wish is on his tombstone & should be honored. All animals on the planet participate in plant based mood altering. There's an oasis in the Sahara (I believe) where all kinds of animals gather to eat the fermented fruit from a tree, 1ce a year. They get shnockered & this is not the only place it occurs. The funny thing is, animals that normally are predator & prey, peacefully eat the fruit side by side, because all usual interaction has temporarily been suspended.....to get high! I think it's safe to say that using drugs is normal! It's when it becomes the focus of our lives that problems ensue. A little recreational weed smoking never hurt any1!!

    July 2, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  10. Pedro

    If you've ever read any of William's work stoned, it's clear he was pretty lifted.

    July 8, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Reply
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