The Bawdy Bard and “The Noted Weed”: Researchers Find Traces of Cannabis and Cocaine in Pipes at Shakespeare’s Homes

200px-Shakespeare<img src="" alt="180px-Herbal” title=”180px-Herbal” width=”150″ height=”130″ class=”alignright size-thumbnail wp-image-13524″ />A study of pipe stems and bowls from the homes of William Shakespeare by the South African Police Services Forensic Science Laboratory in Pretoria has made an interesting discovery: traces of cannabis and possibly cocaine. The report by the South African Journal of Science suggest that Shakespeare might have tripped the light fantastic like a seventeenth century Hunter S. Thompson.

O thou weed,
Who art so lovely fair and smell’st so sweet
That the sense aches at thee, would thou hadst ne’er been born.

Othello, 4. 2

The interest in analysis of the stems and bowls was triggered by a reference in one of Shakespeare’s sonnets to the “noted weed.”

180px-Sonnets-Titelblatt_1609In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes:

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.

Police suspected that he may have been describing the effects of pot.

The concentrations were low but positive, according to the police.

“O true apothecary! Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.” Romeo and Juliet (V, iii, 119-120)

The pipes and bowls came from different houses, including the “Harvard House” in Stratford-upon-Avon, the home of the mother of John Harvard after whom Harvard University was named. While cocaine was not produced in its modern form until 1855, coca leaves were introduced into Europe in the 16th century.

O thou invisible spirit of wine! If thou hast no name to be knownby, let us call thee devil!
Othello: act 2, scene 3

The use of cannabis in Elizabethan England was well known and well documented.

The notion of Shakespeare smoking pot brings a new meaning to some of his best known quotations:

“Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes, being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers’ tears. What is it else? A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet”
Shakespeare love quote from Romeo & Juliet – Act 1, Scene 1

Indeed, there is now question whether the quote in Henry V, act 1, scene 3 was meant to be ”
Henry V: act 1, scene 3, was meant to be “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale” or “I would give all my fame for the ale of pot.”

I suppose the question is not whether Shakespeare could write 200 literary work while high but whether he remembered writing them. This may explain his prolific writing career: he may have thought he was constantly working on his first play.

If true, this could undermine some anti-drug campaigns since kids can now say, “let me get this straight, you are telling me that if I don’t stop smoking weed, I’ll end up like William Shakespeare?”

For the full story, click here.

46 thoughts on “The Bawdy Bard and “The Noted Weed”: Researchers Find Traces of Cannabis and Cocaine in Pipes at Shakespeare’s Homes

  1. It Sublime performing the music in that video. Sorry, about the semi-correct link. It’s what YouTube regurgitate in response to my query.

    I blame the weed.

  2. Note to Professor(s): I suffer my fame for that “Ale of Pot.” I wrote and you did not realize that Shakespeare and I were kindred brethren. When they get through scraping the Bowls, Pipes and Stems for the resin. I want them as a family heirloom. You see we are brethren.

    O’ where art thou pipes and bongs,
    How I do long to see thee here,
    The Ales have set me sail,
    I am now ready to bow before thy feet for the fragrance of the nectar of the weed which is so sweet.

    I’ll smoke the pipe and bongs, meerschaum I have have none,
    So please return them to my brethren as we can share the spirit, kindred as it may be.

    With the weed so sweet maybe he can find a lady for the night.

  3. Grateful Dead: Truckin

    What in the world ever became of sweet Jane?
    She lost her sparkle, you know she isn’t the same
    Living on reds, vitamin C and cocaine
    all a friend can say is “ain’t it a shame”

  4. Hops and Cannabis are relatives, that’s why stoners used to be called hop heads.

    Interestingly enough, I have had an actual Ale of Pot. I imagine they just switched out hops for dried cannabis flowers. It just tasted like a mediocre home brew (I think it was a brown Ale) with something gone horribly wrong in the hopping process.

  5. Forensic science is more of a hard science than psychology.

    You mistake evolving methodology from a relatively new branch of science as being critical error, thus betraying that you really have no understanding of how science works and evolves in general much less the specifics of forensics. What is going on in forensic sciences is laying the ground work for what works and what doesn’t for the long term. We are talking about a scientific endeavor about 150 years old all said and told. That’s a very young science compared to math of physics, both of which have had (and continue to have) massive changes in what is considered the “common knowledge and wisdom” of the respective branches of study. There are no harder sciences than math and physics. Some tests are of more value than others. That is why we use the Method. It helps separate the wheat of knowledge from the chaff of bad results. We’ve come a long way from phrenology to DNA testing, but the constant is self-correction and the pursuit of better science in the name of justice. Maybe someday our forensic teams will be like the ones Det. Mary Choy employs in Greg Bear’s “Slant” – they essentially freeze the whole situs of the crime and patiently dissect it one layer of data at a time. Science is a constant process of discovery and revision. At one time, everyone thought the world was flat until simple geometry proved them wrong (psst, it was the Greeks too, NOT Columbus, who figured out the Earth was a sphere). Just like at one time forensic scientists thought the bumps on your head predicted your proclivity for criminal behavior and no one knew what the Hell use a fingerprint could be used for if at all. But science changes often when confronted with new fact. As such, forensics laughs at phrenology today, but fingerprinting is a very useful and power tool.

    Forensic science relies upon the scientific method: hypothesize, construct an experiment, collect data, confirm/deny/modify hypothesis, re-test. Nothing unreliable about that method and eventually relevant error will continue to approach zero as bad principles and methods are disposed of in favor of new principles and methods built upon the body of knowledge gained by previous/weaker/wrong/not as complete a data source experiments and tests run in the past. Science is a accretion of knowledge, not a finite intellectual destination. Contrast this to psychology where inherent limitations in testing humans ethically limits the construction of experiments. This leads to greater error overall and is why psychology is considered a soft science. The very nature of the work defies total quantification of data that a hard science like forensics doesn’t have to deal with. Everything they do is quantifiable. Forensics is a hard science. It relies ultimately on math, chemistry and physics – the very hardest of sciences. You disagree with hard sciences at your own risk. Gravity is the most democratic force in the universe. Disrespect it or disbelieve in it and see how long it takes you to get hurt or killed. No, not only is forensics a hard science, it’s the best kind of science : rigidly tested, constantly challenged and constantly improving. Is it perfect? No. But it has a greater chance of error approaching zero than psychology does given the current state of testing technology (although technological breakthroughs may be changing things for psychology – it has a chance to migrate into being a hard science at some point in the near future as non-intrusive real time brain scans get better).

    Thus I have no confidence in your conclusion that forensic science “isn’t actually science”.

    It’s a hard science all right.

    You disagreeing with the application or quality of said science is simply an opinion. In this case, a wrong opinion.

  6. “A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet””

    This is a most eloquent description of pot smoking. That Shakespeare dude sure was a genius.

  7. Gyges,

    Might I suggest an infusion rather than a brew or distillate. Think grappa. It’ll be green and taste nasty (use something better than Everclear, that was an error not of my doing as the initial experiment was a gift) but use something at least 80 proof. I’ve tried cutting the bitterness with honey but all that does is make the booze give you a worse hangover. It’s better to go “raw” and have a chaser handy. Preferably something sweet like a Coke although a beer works (better a darker beer, the remnant taste in the infusion over powers most lagers and pilsners).

    Try to fill at least 1/3 to 1/2 the volume of the bottle with plant material. As with anything, quality of ingredients is important but in this case you can somewhat compensate for quality with quantity. Let it sit in a warmish spot until the bottle is so green you can’t see through it (or close). It will eventually turn a kind of British racing green. Usually takes a week to ten days.

    I guarantee it’s a wild ride. You’ll be looking for Mr. Toad to go along for a fact.

    Do not exceed two shots until you’ve tested the results. Do not plan on being mobile or in public. Use final product with extreme caution. In no case do I suggest more than 4 shots over the course of an evening unless you just like losing time.

  8. Buddha,

    Actually I was at a home-brewers party, and one of his buddies brought it for us to try. I only have enough money for one vice at a time, and I enjoy a good beer way to much to switch.

    I like Fraoch’s Heather and Scot’s pine ales, which are incredibly well done, I haven’t tried any of their other three (gooseberry, elderberry, and kelp) traditional ales, but keep meaning to get around to it. Midas Touch is another good one, but I wouldn’t want it more then once a year. There’s other beer in Dogfish head’s “ancient ales” series, but I haven’t been able to get a hold of any of them.

  9. The pipes in Shakespeare’s homes might have been well-used but they certainly weren’t smoked by the genius who wrote the plays. The Avon resident was probably illiterate.

    No matter who you’r3e candidate is – and to combat the dull rigid academics please sign the Declaration of Authorship here:

  10. from Romeo and Juliet Act II,
    SCENE III. Friar Laurence’s cell.

    Enter FRIAR LAURENCE, with a basket


    ***”O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
    In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
    For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
    But to the earth some special good doth give,
    Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use
    Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
    Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
    And vice sometimes by action dignified.
    Within the infant rind of this small flower
    Poison hath residence and medicine power:
    For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
    Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
    Two such opposed kings encamp them still
    In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
    And where the worser is predominant,
    Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

    Enter ROMEO…”

  11. Gyges,

    Kelp ale.

    Hmmm. I’m pretty open minded. I even like kelp. A bit of mixed seaweed salad is always good with sushi. But I’m just not feeling the love for kelp ale. I could be wrong. It might be ambrosia. Call me a skeptic.

    A true infusion can make for a good beer. Lindeman’s comes to mind although they have the additional advantage of being a Lembic ale. But please! No Bud Lime or whatever it is they call that pre-artificial limed beer or any of that other “flavored cereal malt beverage” junk. That stuff is just wrong and it puts perfectly good limes out of business. We gotta look out for our little green citrus brothers in this time of high unemployment. Some of the worst FCMB offenders don’t even taste like they were designed for human taste buds at all. It could be the Zima-like substances are the First Wave. I’m just sayin’ . . . if you fly trillions of miles to conquer a planet, wouldn’t you want a cold one waiting for you when the invasion is done? Oppressing and enslaving a population is thirsty work! But I digress.

    A nice ale sure sounds good.

    Hmmm. It is Friday too.

    If my postings later grow incoherent or I start drunk posting to old girl friends, I don’t want anyone to think Gyges has led me astray. No. I’m not being led to temptation.

    I’ll drive there my self.

    Then homeward! And on to Bacchanalia!

    If I play my cards right, I may even get tased in my front yard.

  12. Medical procedure today. Everything is excellent. This though is the perfect article to post on, but I’m still too groggy to do it the humorous justice it deserves. Nice groggy though, sort of akin to what Old will might have been experiencing.

  13. Mike,

    Rest easy, my friend. No one expects you endanger your health for our education and amusement. May your recovery be swift and uneventful.

  14. Buddha,

    On closer inspection the kelp ale is from barley grown on kelp beds.

    I’m not a huge fan of fruit lambics, have to really be in the mood for a Gueuze, and am nowhere near brave enough to try a straight lambic. If you like lambics you may want to try getting your hands on a bottle of Berliner Weisse, or a Flanders Red (Duchesse de Bourgogne seems to be one of the more available Reds).

  15. Gyges,

    Took off early. Took easy way out and bought Späten Octoberfest (on sale). Not exactly what I was in the mood for but it will go well with the Greek food I am making tonight.

  16. Buddha,

    My favorite Marzen\octofest is from Ayninger, but Spaten’s always good too.

    Don’t have much experience with Greek food, but Marzen’s (or any beer with a spot light on malts) go great with red meat that’s got a nice char to it.

  17. “pot will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no pot” Jerry Garcia.

  18. @gocart mozart: “A madness most discreet, a choking gall and a preserving sweet”

    That’s very good… it’s referencing love but it I think it could reek of pot. Shakespeare (whoever he was) loved his double entendres. A sly wink to the audience is still the biggest comic device around. Makes everybody feel clever.

  19. I hope you’re doing well Mike and put on something good to listen to when you got home- such a waste to let a good pharmaceutical go unaccompanied :-)

    GWLSM, JG was a man of great talent and insight. Yes he was.

  20. Mike S. –

    Didn’t know you were having a procedure but glad you’re already back and posting.

    And on this topic:

    “I used to smoke marijuana. But I’ll tell you something: I would only smoke it in the late evening. Oh, occasionally the early evening, but usually the late evening – or the mid-evening. Just the early evening, midevening and late evening. Occasionally, early afternoon, early midafternoon, or perhaps the late-midafternoon. Oh, sometimes the early-mid-late-early morning. . . . But never at dusk.”

    – Steve Martin

  21. “Who steals my purse steals [my st]ash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands:”

    –Othello, Act 3, Sc. 3

  22. Mike S,

    Hope you have a speedy recovery. I’ll try to amuse you by taking issue with something Buddha said…


    I’m the same way, but I smoke at dusk, too…


    Absolutely true. I’ll never forget what I remember from the first time I saw the Grateful Dead live.😉

    Gyges and Buddha,

    I’ve used just the stems and vodka and the results are not as potent, but still enjoyable. My personal preference is for ginger snaps. Hold on a sec while I have a cookie…


    I hate to take issue with the treatise you wrote in support of forensic science (which I mostly agree with), but you listed math as one of the sciences and I have to disagree. Mathematics is not a science at all (although it has been called ‘the queen of the sciences’). Math is about creating abstract intellectual structures using formal rules rather than using the scientific method to understand an aspect of the universe. While there are similarities between the process of proving a theorem and the scientific method, there is a fundamental difference between using a methodology to gather evidence to support a hypothesis and creating an unquestionably true argument that a theorem is correct. That being said, there is certainly a strong correlation between how ‘hard’ a science is and how much math it uses. Anyway, as someone who was trained as a mathematician and became a scientist, I’ve probably thought about this far more than is good for me, but you were the one who brought up philosophy of science issues on a thread about pot and Shakespeare…

    “All the world’s a stage…”

  23. Science is a constant process of discovery and revision. At one time, everyone thought the world was flat until simple geometry proved them wrong (psst, it was the Greeks too, NOT Columbus, who figured out the Earth was a sphere).

    Keep this in mind when discussing Global NoT Warming theory next month.

  24. Slarti,

    I will concede to your higher resolution definition of math. While more accurate, I do not think my lower resolution definition impaired the point I was making. I hope not anyway.

  25. Buddha,

    Like I said, I agree with your point about forensic science being a hard science. The fact that mathematics is an art and not a science is kind of a pet peeve of mine (and besides, I had to comment on the ‘Shakespeare smoked pot’ thread ;-)).

  26. I thank everyone for their good wishes, I’m doing very well and following my prescriptions to the letter, which is certainly in the spirit of this thread.

    Re: the theme of this thread, given your last post, are you perhaps over indulging in the Bard’s predilections?

  27. Mike,

    Glad to see you as always.


    I guess I’ll have to find out tonight if the beer works with Greek food. Mespo’s kitchen gremlins, obviously scarred off by his new appliances, attacked my sink last night as I was putting final prep on. So here I sit waiting on the plumber. Fortunately the tzatziki sauce ought to be even better having sat in the fridge all night.

  28. Mike S hope you are doing well and I wish you a speedy Gonzalez recovery. That was a copy of Buddahs post but the awnswer to your question is yes.

  29. Buddha,

    I’ve been thinking that maybe an American Pale Ale would be the way to go. They’re lighter, generally have a nice citrus flavor\aroma from the hops. You could also do Anchor Steam, it’s similar, but with a cleaner flavor (they use lager yeast at ale temperatures) and it features Northern Brewer hops, which don’t have that citrus flavor.

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