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A slew of recent headlines suggest that William Shakespeare smoked marijuana, but an acclaimed Shakespeare scholar finds some of the evidence a little half-baked.
“Was William Shakespeare high when he penned his plays?” asks a Saturday headline from The Independent. In July, a team led by Francis Thackeray, an anthropology professor at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand, found that four pipes unearthed from Shakespeare’s garden and dating from the 17th century contain traces of cannabis.
In the Independent article, Thackeray explores the possibility that Shakespeare smoked marijuana and references Shakespeare’s Sonnet 76 —which mentions a “noted weed” and “compounds strange” —as possible proof that the Bard liked to toke up.
James Shapiro, a Columbia University professor who has published multiple books about Shakespeare’s life, isn’t so convinced that Shakespeare was a stoner.
“We don’t know what Shakespeare did or didn’t do,” Shapiro told The Huffington Post. “Just because these pipes were found in his garden doesn’t mean his neighbor kid didn’t throw the pipes over the fence. There are a million possible explanations.”
He’s especially skeptical of Thackeray using Sonnet 76 as supporting evidence, which Shapiro called a “really lame interpretation” of the poem.
“The line ‘keep invention in a noted weed’ is referring to weeds as dressing up, as clothes,” Shapiro said. “The poem is about dressing up language in a certain way and you really have to be insensitive to the poem to force the reading [to be about marijuana use].”
Shapiro added that there’s no evidence that people in Shakespeare’s time even used the word “weed” to refer to marijuana.
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