William Shakespeare (26 April 1564 (baptised) 23 April 1616)

Clay pipe fragments excavated from Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon home contain small amounts of cocaine and myristic acid - a hallucinogenic derived from plants, including nutmeg. The pipes, which were examined with the help of Inspector Tommie van der Merwe of the South African Police Service's Forensic Science Laboratory, also show hints of residues of cannabis. Of the 24 fragments of pipe loaned from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to University of the Witwatersrand, cannabis was found in eight samples, four of which came from Shakespeare's property. The findings were published in the South African Journal of Science.

Evidence of cannabis use by Shakespeare is also found in Sonnet #76, the "noted weed" sonnet, where he seems to be saying a "noted weed" inspired his creativity:

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.

What other weed could Shakespeare have been noting? Some have speculated that his reference to "compounds strange" could be the cocaine. But California NORML director Dale Gieringer is skeptical of this, noting that cocaine wasn't available in Europe at Shakespeare's time; it begs the question of whether the pipes were contaminated by modern hands.

"Compounds" are also mentioned in Sonnet #118:

Like as, to make our appetites more keen,
With eager compounds we our palate urge

“What potions have I drunk of Siren tears," he wrote in Sonnet #119.

Shakespeare's father John was a glovemaker and mayor of Stratford who had a sudden downturn in fortunes when his side business—dealing in illegal wool—was cracked down on by the government that controlled the legal market. PBS's website says John was on the surface an upstanding member of the community, but "in the parlance of our times, John Shakespeare was also a dealer. Not that he traded narcotics, but he did trade illegally in the hottest currency of the day, wool."

The wool industry at this time was a state monopoly and the transference of material strictly controlled. John looks to have been quite successful in his illegal trade as a 'brogger,' using the money to buy property. "William uses many terms familiar from the wool trade in his works, so it is likely he was familiar with his father's activities. Accompanying his father on deals would also have brought him into contact with exactly the kind of shadowy amoral figures who would later populate his plays." (PBS)

The family was Catholic, and as that faith was repressed by force, William's maternal grandfather was publicily executed. William, who had been well educated as a youth in the Elizabethan educational revival, reading Ovid and learning Latin, suddenly was without the means to attend University. Instead he married, making him ineligible for an apprenticeship either. He reportedly turned to poaching deer off the local Lord's property, and was beaten and imprisoned for it.

Like Jesus, Shakespeare had "lost years," 10 years when little is known about his whereabouts and activities. He may have taught school at Horton tower in Lancashire, spent time at the seashore, and eventually joined an acting troop. When he started writing plays he was unfavorably reviewed against the more educated Christopher Marlowe, but the public overwhelmingly chose Shakespeare (and still does).

Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1595) turns on a magic flower:

Fetch me that flower; the herb I shew'd thee once:
The juice of it on sleeping eye-lids laid
Will make or man or woman madly dote
Upon the next live creature that it sees.

One of his last and most powerful plays, The Tempest (1610) also has a magical theme: Prospero, the sorcerer and ousted Duke of Milan, uses his magical powers to conjure up a storm that drives his enemies to shipwreck on the island he rules.

Source: E. Stoddard, Pipes show cocaine smoked in Shakespeare's England, Reuters, March 1, 2001.

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