The Cobbe portrait, claimed to be a portrait of William Shakespeare done while he was alive.

Were the works of Shakespeare inspired by Cannabis? Scientists find traces of drugs on pipes

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Were the globally renowned literary works of the master playwright himself written with a little inspiration from drugs? That is the question posed by South African scientists who studied tobacco pipes from Shakespeare’s home and found traces of cannabis.

Shakespeare, an influential figure of Elizabethan England, is known for his plays and sonnets, and is considered to be the most famous writer of the English language.

400-year-old Pipes of the Playwright

A grouping of 17 th century tobacco pipe pieces were found at William Shakespeare’s historic property in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The pipe fragments were examined by anthropologists and botanists using sophisticated forensic methods, and researchers detected cannabis on eight of the fragments — four of which were excavated directly from the Bard’s garden, according to TIME.

John Shakespeare's house, believed to be Shakespeare's birthplace, in Stratford-upon-Avon.

John Shakespeare's house, believed to be Shakespeare's birthplace, in Stratford-upon-Avon. ( CC BY 2.0 )

The analysis, published in the  South African Journal of Science, speaks on the chemical tests done on the clay pipes—a technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS). These non-destructive chemical tests revealed traces of drugs on the pipe bowls and stems, including: cocaine, hallucinogens, and compounds created by the burning of cannabis.

The pipe fragments from Shakespeare’s garden contained traces of cannabis, while the other pipe pieces revealing residues of Peruvian cocaine and other drugs were from a different location.

Mysterious Messages of ‘Compounds Strange’

Study author and anthropologist Francis Thackeray of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa suggests that Shakespeare may have referred to drug use in some of his works.

Thackeray points to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76, which reads: “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...”

Title page from 1609 edition of Shake-Speares Sonnets.

Title page from 1609 edition of Shake-Speares Sonnets. Public Domain

The ‘noted weed’ might be interpreted to mean that the playwright was “willing to use ‘weed’ (Cannabis as a kind of tobacco) for creative writing (‘invention’),” says Thackeray.

He continues, “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).”

In this the researchers believe Shakespeare might have been fully aware of the pernicious effects of cocaine, and dismissed it, preferring cannabis as a stimulant instead.

Digging up the Truth

News magazine The Wire reports that Francis Thackeray once sought to exhume Shakespeare’s skeleton in an attempt to determine the cause of death (which remains mysterious), and perhaps glean more information on his potential drug habits in a forensic and non-destructive manner. Any grooves found between the canine and incisor teeth might reveal to researchers if he was chewing on a pipe as well as smoking from it.

The exhumation did not happen, and just as well, for William Shakespeare is said to have had a strong obsession with burial, and a fear of exhumation. He tried to ensure his bones would lay restfully by having a warning carved into his tombstone: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones/ And cursed be he that moves my bones”.

Is the accusation of drug use by Shakespeare much ado about nothing? Certainly drug use throughout the ages , including 17 th century England, is not such a shocking revelation.

The forensics tell the tale of the diversity of plants that were smoked in Elizabethan England, but since the pipes cannot be conclusively tied to the Bard himself, the question of whether William Shakespeare used cannabis to inspire his writings remains speculation. On the other hand, study author Thackeray has been arguing this perspective for more than a decade, and has attracted some derision from Shakespearean scholars. They “dismissed the suggestions that the author's genius was fueled by drugs,” reports The Telegraph.

Thackeray and his colleagues appeal to the historians, noting that “Literary analyses and chemical science can be mutually beneficial, bringing the arts and the sciences together in an effort to better understand Shakespeare and his contemporaries.”

Shakespeare's funerary monument in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare's funerary monument in Stratford-upon-Avon. Public Domain

Featured Image: The Cobbe portrait, claimed to be a portrait of William Shakespeare done while he was alive. Circa 1610. / Cannabis leaf, deriv.


Hamlet is a modernisation of a very ancient story, Amlodhi is the original. I therefore wonder if he actually wrote anything. With a name like Shakespeare I wonder if in fact he even existed as it is not an English surname. Read “Hamlets Mill”     

Moonsong's picture

Many poets and writers were inspired by a number of substances. Coleridge drank laudanum, as did Edgar Allan Poe, as did Lord Byron. Native Americans have a long spiritual tradition where their Shamans or wise men make use of mushrooms or other hallucinogens as they believe this not only lowers inhibitions but also allows certain creative forces to rech their full potential.


- Moonsong
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

I have never seen any art or writing inspired by cannabis which has had the grace, intelligence and coherence that the works of Shakespeare has. None. Nada. Rien.

This is but one more way to advance the idea that drugs inspire creativity. Outside of some psychedelics, it doesn't happen.

Furthermore, finding pipes with traces of cannabis resin in a house does not mean the owners of the house used them. Its not good police work, nor is it good science to make that assumption, especially if the home owner(s) in question have been dead for centuries. Countless people have lived there since that time.

IronicLyricist's picture

and one more…

so i grieve that ignorance is ruining a great idea with blood
so i grieve that money buys absolute power only in america
so i grieve that that there is no peace in this time of great need
so i grieve that the presidents we don't elect are elmer fudds

half a decade into the new millenium  and w're still headed for gehenna it would seem
good fell and apathy combine to form the feet from nebacanezzars statue dream
once again history's heed is ignored indeed rome will fall i do believe
anyone else see the synonymies between the barbarians then and recently
is there no samaritans left in this fell world to save us from black gold greed
our schizophrenic government is unpredictable 'you dont take on a bully'
that policy is of ignorance's breed you can't expect them to like us g
if daddy hadnt cut off bin ladin after russias vietnam 911 couldn't be
in our collective memory so savor the irony in our retreat get what you give
be the bad boys on the block long enough you will get hit with excrement
better to send cash than the crass military class because hate motivates
torture and rape pillage and wrath grapes so on blood and gore satan sates
how exactly are we supposed to be saved when were still spiritually in caves
something seems to want me to prophesy we will someday pay for our past mistakes

so i grieve for there are those who are always cursed to be hungry
so i grieve for there are those who are terminally diseased
so i grieve for there are those who are oprressed and can't see
so i grieve for there are the oppressors even if fools they may be

war pestilence famine reignin supreme kings at the top of the food chain
so pitiful mortals we all are in the end whats the need of suffering
you complain then do nothing to allievate one iota of anyones pain
and only focus on yourself selfish gains me generation's mind remains
still there is some good in this world but to admit it is a false claim
humble love is the only way reward is nice but good should ignore fame
the true heroes of this modern world are those that give for giving sake
power property money reputation are buzzards of the soul physical is fake
spirit dies when mammon's lies deny light greed in all hearts does awake
we all have a voice and a choice to debate our fate how much more should we take

so i grieve that this world is taking too much of a toll
so i grieve that so many hearts are hardened and cold
so i grieve for the pessimism should leaders be polled
so i grieve that it may be too late to redeem earths soul

our responsibilities are being shirked true mother of all is in the dirt
interpreted connotatively denotatively greed and feed needs are killing her
the total depths of our decadence with all the pretense of an adulterer
lead to destruction of which we should coexist with instead of injure
there is not centuries to fix our past mistakes we may have only  decades
to heal the wounds or find a better place to reestablish the human race
every tree that falls calls out walls built up tall torn down replaced
by the circuitous cycle in time itsonlysun showin sojourn evidence erased

i dont grieve for the precious few who live life for good
i dont grieve for those that have principles and for always them stood
i dont grieve for those legalizers trying to replace wood
i dont grieve for those trying to save the world i believe we could

philantropist and altruist rejoice for there finally is an evangelist
economist bullshit we resistin and pissin in the face of fundamentalists
idealistic interventionist journalist leavin both right and left jandiced
this reformist lyricist has hope that rapist materialists will all desist
who will stand by Deus 3 indeed and watch as He brings love and justice to all
how many stand at the sidelines booing and just waiting for the One to fall
there is only so much good the balance to tip the scales which way is our call
if our race is to evolve without stall we must remove the walled hearts cholesterol

infinitesimal waveparticles comprise what we call home the earth
manipulatable by thought ability supressed in humans since birth

IronicLyricist's picture

heres an example..and i have more:)

infinitesimal waveparticles comprise what we call home the earth
manipulatable by thought ability supressed in humans since birth
the top of the pyramid cant learn what we our species is worth
for all that is seen is what they want us to see the curse made worse

physical reality has a lustful look causing crook tendancies
quite a feat for logos(logic) to bring systems of atheist belief
brite shiny objects glitter attracting the massed incomplete
matter four percent we need spirit to complete ninety six harmony

a materialist is one who believes in only the physical senses dense
the dictotomies inherent in life indicate there is something more
even worse those that sit on a fence waitin for the full evidence
three d is a prison forever denied core or inexistance for bored

materiality spirituality duality of humanity's irrationality
flows its seems from soul and dreams the mutual incompatibility
end of material clay shell shed pure essence release peace
again complete culled personality the child's qi delete cease

altruistic nature illuminates greater fates escape pit's pull
stop suffering supraselfishness like this fell contest is pinnacle
power money property rep makes the world go round so what is the soul
to a man that has everything on earth when wants met death where do you go

the fifth dimension where our true selves reside inable to describe
like talking hyperspheres to a line sip of semi-divine you will cry
emotions cant comprehend senses unexperienced in dreams we try
only path to evolve this far involves the temptations thrice denied

materialist or spiritualist?x2

that is the question is this sensual world all that can be percieved
in such idiocy the rational man believes irrational man will flee
there are those still not pissin in holes fear the wrath of the ifrit
if there is no spirit why  so many similar stories mythologies
interpretations vary in many ways contrary yet none have matter only
there is always something more to learn yet what we call time is fleet
move a mountain today with your power of faith small as the mustard seed
overcome all obstacles view life as wonderful grow eat smoke the weed

death is the fruit of technos what was inedible is good
ecos reduction consequence of trading bud for oil bud for wood

materialist or spiritualist?

a materialist is one who believes in only the physical senses dense
the dictotomies inherent in life indicate there is something more
even worse those that sit on a fence waitin for the full evidence
three d is a prison forever a closed door no new existance for core

materialist or spiritualist? [till fade]
balance Materialist and spiritualist Balance

infinitesimal waveparticles comprise what we call home the earth
manipulatable by thought ability supressed in humans since birth


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