Shakespeare's Stash

Willy the Shake (as named by the late and definitely great Lord Buckley) apparently took a toke or five in his day. This article, edited from the March 5, 2001 issue of the South African Journal of Science, was the result of research done by the Transvaal Museum and posted on the Psychonaut Community's web site just last year.

(The entire article published in the South African Journal of Science 3/5/01, from which this is extracted, is at the Psychonaut Community's site.)


Did Shakespeare inhale?

"The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, allowed South African research scientists from the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria to analyze twenty-four pipe fragments found on the grounds of William Shakespeare's home. The findings, published in the South African Journal of Science, show that eight of the pipes tested contain traces of cannabis and two of the pipes contain traces of cocaine. Others appear to be laced with tobacco, camphor, and hallucinogenic nutmeg extracts high in myristic acid." 5 Mar 2001

The pipes date to the seventeenth century when hemp was used widely in the production of rope, clothing, and paper, and when marijuana was used to treat certain medical conditions. However, the discovery of the pipes laced with several narcotics lends credibility to the theory that people in Renaissance England used drugs for pleasure.

It has been a long-standing but highly unconventional assumption that Shakespeare alludes to drugs and drug use in his works, particularly in his non-dramatic poetry.

(The article goes on to excerpt from several sonnets, but I've posted the complete sonnets below the article)

They refer to the line in Sonnet 27

"But then begins a journey in my head..."

and then go on to Sonnet 76, which contains Shakespeare's references to a 'noted weed' and 'compounds strange' -- 'compound' known as early as 1530 to mean a substance formed by a chemical union of two or more ingredients and include Sonnet 118 divulges which begins with the lines:

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


They then sum up the article with a blah blah maybe and a definite possibly and more research needed but somehow they miss Sonnet 38 which was mentioned in the original article and in it the poetis calls something "the tenth muse."

There is some reaching going on here, and it used to be, in the olden days (and I suppose still) every doper pounced on any shred of evidence that they were smoking 'em in history (George Washington's hemp growing, with references to separating male plants from female, not done to make homespun or hemp rope) But either way (Shakespeare toking or not) there are worse ways to use your mind than getting stoned and reading Shakespeare. Like -- and I'm guilty of this one -- paying attention to any or all of the three assholes who want to be king (or queen) of America and -- even worse -- the myriad talking assholes (Gawd there's one floating up into the conscious mind straight out of Naked Lunch) who try to explain what the Three meant by this or that.




Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,

The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;

But then begins a journey in my head,

To work my mind, when body's work's expired:

For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,

Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,

And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,

Looking on darkness which the blind do see

Save that my soul's imaginary sight

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,

Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,

Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.

Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,

For thee and for myself no quiet find.



How can my Muse want subject to invent,

While thou dost breathe, that pour'st into my verse

Thine own sweet argument, too excellent

For every vulgar paper to rehearse?

O, give thyself the thanks, if aught in me

Worthy perusal stand against thy sight;

For who's so dumb that cannot write to thee,

When thou thyself dost give invention light?

Be thou the tenth Muse, ten times more in worth

Than those old nine which rhymers invocate;

And he that calls on thee, let him bring forth

Eternal numbers to outlive long date.

If my slight Muse do please these curious days,

The pain be mine, but thine shall be the praise.



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.



Like as, to make our appetites more keen,

With eager compounds we our palate urge,

As, to prevent our maladies unseen,

We sicken to shun sickness when we purge,

Even so, being tuff of your ne'er-cloying sweetness,

To bitter sauces did I frame my feeding

And, sick of welfare, found a kind of meetness

To be diseased ere that there was true needing.

Thus policy in love, to anticipate

The ills that were not, grew to faults assured

And brought to medicine a healthful state

Which, rank of goodness, would by ill be cured:

But thence I learn, and find the lesson true,

Drugs poison him that so fell sick of you.


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