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Thursday, 1 March, 2001, 09:54 GMT
Bard 'used drugs for inspiration'
Globe Theatre
Globe Theatre: Were plays staged under the influence?
Scientists in South Africa have uncovered evidence that Shakespeare might have been a cannabis user who took the drug as a source of inspiration.

We put forward a hypothesis that Shakespeare may have used cannabis as a source of inspiration

Dr Francis Thackeray
Research published in the South African Journal of Science shows that pipes dug up from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford upon Avon contain traces of cannabis.

The study was carried out after a re-reading of the bard's Sonnet number 76 which refers to a "noted weed".

But the conclusions of the scientists have been dismissed by Shakespeare experts who feel suggestions he used drugs as an aid to writing undermine the bard's accepted genius.


Dr Francis Thackeray, head of palaeontology, at the Transvaal Museum, said: "This project was initiated in part by a re-reading of Shakespeare's sonnets, in particular, sonnet number 76, where Shakespeare refers to 'invention in a noted weed'.

"'Weed' can refer to cannabis or marijuana, or dagga as it is known in South Africa. And 'invention' refers to writing.

"So we put forward a hypothesis that Shakespeare may have used cannabis as a source of inspiration."

Cannabis was first grown in England in AD400 and in the 16th and 17th Centuries was used to produce hemp for ships' ropes and canvas. But the scientists avoided absolute claims that the playwright was a drug user.

"We do not claim that any of the pipes belonged to Shakespeare," said Dr Thackeray.

'Great genius'

He added: "However, some of the pipes come from the area in which he lived, and they date from the 17th Century."

Professor Stanley Wells, from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the UK, said the research's conclusions were "regrettable".

He said: "I think it's trying to suggest that Shakespeare was not a great genius, but somebody who produced his writings under an artificial influence.

"There are about eight million cannabis takers in this country at the present time. Are they producing anything comparable to Shakespeare's sonnet, I ask myself? I doubt it."

The BBC's Colin Blane
"It could be tha Midsummer Night's Dream was... a hallucinogenic experience"
See also:

21 Mar 00 | Medical notes
Cannabis: The debate
07 Aug 00 | Education
Teachers 'need Shakespeare lessons'
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