The Bard and Dope

  The Bard and Dope

Posted by FoM on November 06, 2000 at 10:50:22 PT
By Alan Dunn in Johannesburg  
Source: Independent (UK) 

What stirred the mind of William Shakespeare to such prodigious feats of creativity? The boundless vision of a natural genius, or something more exotic? Two South African scientists think they know the answer and are about to embark on a series of forensic tests to prove a case that will blow smoke in the eyes of traditional Shakespearean scholarship. Dr Frances Thackeray and Professor Nick van der Merwe believe that the man who bestrides the classical canon was not just a genius, but a very early pot head. 
They have commissioned scientists from the police laboratories in Pretoria to analyse the contents of several clay pipes retrieved from New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare's home until his death in 1616. And, using gas chromatography, they hope to establish just what once burned in the 400-year-old relics. Dr Thackeray, head of palaeontology at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, believes that Shakespeare's words themselves suggest a hallucinatory influence. This is, after all, the poet who wrote of "invention in a noted weed". In a paper written for the Shakespearean Society of Southern Africa, he points to the Bard's use of complex imagery of jewellery, darkness and mental journeys – suggestive of a drug-induced vision – and argues that cannabis may help account for the writer's formidable productivity. Could the dark lady herself be a reference to the creative but dangerous forces of the weed, he asks? "There are very few literary scholars who have recognised the potential link between Shakespeare and hallucinogenic stimuli. This project has Stratford agog," said Dr Thackeray. "A close reading of his sonnets and some other lines suggests that he was aware of them and may have experienced the effects himself. "We have reference to the effect of substances distilled from flowers, long after the plant has died. For example: 'But flowers distilled, though they with winter meet, leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.' At the very least there is a high probability that Shakespeare had a knowledge of hallucinogens." The theory is lent more credence by the ready availability of the weed in 17th-century England. Cannabis smoking may not be well recorded, but it is far from implausible in a seafaring nation where ships relied on rope and canvas – all made from the cannabis plant itself in the form of hemp. Even the paper for the King James Bible was manufactured from cannabis fibre, as was paper for some of Shakespeare's early works. "Was hemp known in Europe or used as a hallucinogen in Elizabethan times?" asks Dr Thackeray. "Certainly, Portuguese travellers in India were aware of hallucinogenic hemp in the 16th century. Notably, just one year before Shakespeare's birth, G da Orta in 1563 had written Colloquies on the Simples and Drugs of India, which included reference to the properties of resinous cannabis. "European explorers passing through southern Africa were also aware of the use of cannabis among indigenous African populations," he said. It is of course perfectly possible that the pipes were used for puffing tobacco,which was introduced into English society by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1570s and 1580s. Not that that weed was universally well recieved. Witness King James's Counterblaste to Tobaccco, in which he famously described smoking as "a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs". Forensic tests may reveal the truth. Prof Van der Merwe said chemical analysis of dirt and residue from the clay pipes would be complicated. But it could establish what was smoked in Stratford at the time – he has, for instance, found cannabis in Ethiopian pipes dating to the 14th century. "I am just keeping a watching brief so that proper chemistry is done." Complete Title: The Bard and Dope: Was This Such Stuff as Dreams Were Made On? Source: Independent (UK)Author: Alan DunnPublished: November 5, 2000 Address: 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL Copyright 2000 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd. Contact: letters Website: Related Article: Smoke Without Fire - Book Review

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Comment #16 posted by realae on April 13, 2001 at 09:59:07 PT:
are you crazy?
i have never in my life hear anyone say that pot is a hallucinagen before... and i have never heard of anyone thinking they would trip from weed...
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Comment #15 posted by Emie on November 09, 2000 at 18:35:44 PT
No surprise
Aren't all the creative types druggies? From the obvious - those who have tragically OD'd on hard drugs as well as those who admit their use of soft drugs, to the not-so-obvious - would you believe the the wholesome Hanson boys are all potheads? When one's friend is dating the bassist in Hanson's opening act, one hears many a tale about "the drummer, man, the drummer, he's f***ing crazy, he's the biggest pothead of them all, what a cool guy!" No big surprise then that Shakespeare's vivid imagery was stimulated by some substance. And you know what, more power to Shakespeare for it.
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Comment #14 posted by Rimbaud on November 08, 2000 at 10:46:34 PT
I actually got into Pot because it was supposed to be a hallucinogen (I wanted to see stuff.) I can tell you that with some rather questionable exceptions I've never tripped on pot and I've smoked the best of the breed. I really don't think that closing your eyes and looking at the stuff that goes on in your dreams is the same. Ever taken shrooms? Now that's hallucinogenic.
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Comment #11 posted by Robbie on November 07, 2000 at 08:43:14 PT

Re: (above USA Today article)

Why is a newfound link to Mr. Shakespeare having used cannabis a "Reputation...hit" ?? I personally give him more credit now than I would have before.The morally self-righteous people swear that cannabis use leads to the utter degradation of society. Firstly, that opinion has only really been in evidence since 1976 when middle class white housewives took great exception to their teenagers smoking a lot of pot. Secondly, as kaptinemo indicated, Carl Sagan, one of the worlds most loved scientists and respected cosmologists smoked a lot of pot. Does that invalidate his love and respect? Does that somehow make him less brilliant and less motivated? Do they want to say now that "Shakespeare would have been much better if he hadn't been smoking so much"?Pot has only been illegal for 60 or so years, and that only because intolerant people gained more power. They just can't stand the fact that there's nothing to supports their contentions.(Preaching to the choir; signing off)
All the news that's fit to print.
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Comment #10 posted by kaptinemo on November 07, 2000 at 04:53:36 PT:

Let's not forget our contemporaries!

Such as the late Carl Sagan. Can anyone doubt the length, depth and breadth of his vision - in his books, his TV series, his symposia - which he covertly yet unequivocally attributed to his cannabis usage? If this were truly a free society, (where a person did not have to fear social opprobrium for admitting to having used psychoactive substances) and you were able to ask the most creative individuals in each era 'did they or didn't they?', I believe that you would find an astonishingly high number of people...'did'. Which raises a question: how much of inventiveness, literary and physically, stems from using such sunbstances? How much of *that* is responsible for the discoveries and ideas that have formed the underpinning of our society?Dangerous questions for antis to ponder; how can they justify their 'crusade' when those who have been of extraordinary benefit to society through their labors did so with the sweet scent of MaryJane following them? I long ago came to the conclusion that the main philosophical reason behind this chemical pogrom is that antis are fundamentally incapable of original thought...and are terrified of those who are. (This, incidentally, forms the basis for their peculiar form of 'Conservatism'. They fear the encroachment upon the known by the unknown, brand it as 'evil', and take it from there.)Yet it is precisely those kinds of individuals that society needs to prevent stagnation. So, Society is perpetually at war against those elements that would free it from ignorance and slavery of various forms. It's a wonder we've come as far as we have, with having to haul the knuckledraggers along with us.
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Comment #9 posted by FoM on November 06, 2000 at 21:17:34 PT:

A News Brief Was In USA Today Too!

Bard With A Bong? Reputation Takes A Hit Source: USA Today (US)Author: Cesar G. SorianoPublished: November 6, 2000Fax: (703) 247-3108 Copyright: 2000 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. Address: 1000 Wilson Blvd., Arlington VA 22229 Contact: editor Website: Doobie or not doobie. That is the question that has Shakespeare scholars all hopped up. A South African professor claims that the Bard's vivid imagination was stoked by cannabis, according to The Independent newspaper in Britain. Paleontologist Frances Thackeray discussed the "potential link between Shakespeare and hallucinogenic stimuli" in a paper for the Shakespearean Society of Southern Africa. "Close reading of his sonnets and some other lines suggests that he was aware of them and may have experienced the effects himself," Thackeray wrote. He and colleague Nick van der Merwe asked Pretoria police labs to analyze the contents of clay pipes retrieved from Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England Author: Cesar G. Soriano, from staff and wire reports.Note: This article appeared under the "Lifeline" header and lists the following email address - Lifeline 
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Comment #8 posted by Dan B on November 06, 2000 at 20:44:19 PT:

Cannabis: It Does A Mind Good

This article contains enough interesting language for any serious literary critic to write a fairly sizeable tome (okay--maybe I'm exaggerating a bit). Most notable, perhaps, are the following two excerpts:(1) "Dr Frances Thackeray and Professor Nick van der Merwe believe that the man who bestrides the classical canon was not just a genius, but a very early pot head."The antis have long assumed that the two are mutually exclusive. One cannot be a genius and a "pot head," according to their reasoning, and therefore if it is indeed determined that Shakespeare smoked cannabis, 400 years of scholarly literary analysis almost unanimously assigning genius to Shakespeare must now be discounted, as everyone knows that a genius cannot also be a "pot head," and vice versa. Thank you, Alan Dunn, for including that little word "just" before "a genius, but a very early pot head." If they do, indeed, connect cannabis use and Shakespeare, it would blow every anti's argument concerning negative effects on the brain right out of the water.(2) "In a paper written for the Shakespearean Society of Southern Africa, he points to the Bard's use of complex imagery of jewellery, darkness and mental journeys – suggestive of a drug-induced vision – and argues that cannabis may help account for the writer's formidable productivity."So, the researchers are asserting that complex description and enormous productivity are not easily attainable without the aid of hallucinogens, which brings into question the supposed negative effects of cannabis (in his words, a hallucinogen) on the brain. If cannabis actually made people less intelligent (as asserted by many an anti) then those who use cannabis could not possibly attain such levels of complexity. They would be too "dopey" (a favorite expression of the antis) to write anything even remotely complex. And if it really made people less motivated (again, an assertion of the antis), then what explains Shakespeare's enormous productivity?In short, it does my heart good to read this article which assumes none of the antis positions regarding cannabis and offers perhaps the best reasoning yet behind advocating its use for creative adults.Bravo!Dan B
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Comment #7 posted by legalizeit on November 06, 2000 at 18:24:05 PT

Hallucinogen - maybe a mild one

I used to toke up several times a month, and the friend who offered it to me had some pretty decent pot. I do remember seeing some relatively minor hallucinations while under her influence - for instance, when we were camping on the Rubicon Trail (an experience I will never forget), I could have sworn I saw the headlights of, and heard, another jeep entering our camp, but there was none. Also one time in the friend's yard I "saw" their cat bounding across the yard, but their cat was an indoor cat which they never let outside. On another occasion, while Boston's "Long Time" was playing I closed my eyes and saw a sphere in which God's angels were in the top half and Satan's angels in the lower half. About the time in the song where the guitar solo ends and Brad yells "Yeeeeaah!" I shot out of the sphere (which represented organized religion.) Also - an interesting vision where I saw a field of three-pointed spinning wheels. A few had an extra point and those were pregnant!!The main effect, though, was time perception and emotional manifestations (on one occasion, an overpowering feeling of love for all living beings - which may have led to my decision less than a year later to go vegetarian.)Some of pot's effects could be considered in line with low doses of hallucinogens, but I agree with Mari that it would not bring on total transcendental visions like true hallucinogens.
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Comment #6 posted by freedom fighter on November 06, 2000 at 17:13:47 PT

35,000 species

of hemp,cannabis,marijuana. It is possible that one or two are pretty strong for a trip but it never killed anyone. In fact, probably a nice safe trip.:) Wish someone took the time to catalog these plants. Take care Mari!
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Comment #5 posted by observer on November 06, 2000 at 15:46:33 PT

Hallucinogenic Plants

cannabis --"The principal narcotic effect is euphoria. The plant is sometimes not classified as hallucinogenic, and it is true that its characteristics are not typically psychotomimetic. Everything from a mild sense of ease and well-being to fantastic dreams and visual and auditory hallucinations are reported. Beautiful sights, wonderful music, and aberrations of sound often entrance the mind; bizarre adventures to fill a century take place in a matter of minutes..."The Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic PlantsRichard Evans Shultes, 1976 
The Golden Guide to Hallucinogenic Plants
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Comment #4 posted by Mari on November 06, 2000 at 15:27:19 PT


I'm sorry,but unless taken in large,concentrated amounts(impossible via smoking),cannabis is simply NOT a Hallucinagen!It is a euphoric.I am willing to entertain the notion of the Bard's use of cannabis as a means to stimulate creativity but I wish the old wives tale of hallucinations would go away.We have to get past the incorrect terms of hallucinagen and narcotic when refering to cannabis. 
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Comment #3 posted by Morgan on November 06, 2000 at 15:23:35 PT


Maybe Dr. Russo can answer this. I'm having a problem with the author's description of cannabis as a 'hallucinagen'. I know it's been falsely classified as a narcotic (although sleepiness does come about at the end of the high), but I can't say that I've ever had hallucinations as a result of imbibing the weed. Would a super-charged imagination be classified as hallucinatory?***********************
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Comment #2 posted by Ethan Russo, MD on November 06, 2000 at 13:29:32 PT:

Words and their meaning

This is fascinating. There is a stable metabolite in cannabis called delta-6-THC that makes this kind of analysis possible. There are issues, however. Was Shakespeare really the man we think? Additionally, Shakespeare's language is very challenging. According to the WWW site "noted weed" in this sonnet means a "well known garment or style of dress"!
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Comment #1 posted by observer on November 06, 2000 at 12:46:46 PT

cannabis writer's formidable productivity

cannabis may help account for the writer's formidable productivity. . .Uh oh... I can sense it coming now: more marijuana (i.e. "drug") testing for authors and screenwriters. Still, I thought that cannabis was supposed to turn one into a crazed axe-murderer, I mean, an amotivated and apathetic zombie, that is. How could this be? "In the heat of the 1994 election campaign, Clinton acquiesced to the extreme prevarication not seen since the 1930's when Harry J. Anslinger proclaimed marihuana caused violence. Then it was ax murders, now it is pistols and shooting. The usual state religious dogma is "amotivational syndrome". The change in rhetoric appeared to be connected with a perceived need to increase the level of pandering to the right wing elements."Authoritarianism: Social DiseaseTod H. Mikuriya, M.D. see:The Uses Of Marijuana 
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