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?”

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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?

  3. 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 ;-)).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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…”

  7. “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

  8. 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

  9. 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.

  10. @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.

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. Let’s have a round in honor of Mike’s excellent report!
    Yea!! Mike!!

  15. 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).

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