The good name of Shakespeare has suffered through numerous slings and arrows over the years. He has been accused of anti-Semitism through the various interpretations of his play The Merchant of Venice. Then there is the actual authorship itself — was it Shakespeare’s hand that wrote all of the plays and sonnets, or were there multiple writers that wrote under the common name of Shakespeare — or was it all Sir Francis Bacon? Some would even point to poor quality interpretations of his works as being grave insults themselves — Gnomeo and Juliet, anyone?
Now, after all this, there are some scientists who have decided that our dear friend Sir William Shakespeare could not have possibly been fully sober while writing the various plays and sonnets. Rather, they posit, he must have been smoking marijuana at the time, riding high as it were and writing. Not only do they think that he smoked marijuana, they actually want to dig up his remains to prove it one way or the other, once and for all. Entirely creepy, I think.
This is entirely based on a couple of things. For one, a study was done on some pipes that were found in Sir Shakespeare’s garden in 2001 and they were found to have traces of marijuana on them. Secondly, keen eyed observers found a reference to marijuana in one of the sonnets — specifically, Sonnet 76, in which it is written,
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?
It is all right there, they claim, black on white. He was obviously being coy in referring to marijuana as a noted weed. There couldn’t be any other possibilities since they found the marijuana traces on pipes found in his garden and he made an oddly obscure reference to something that might be marijuana in one sonnet. Let us explore other possibilities.
For one, the pipes found in his garden were not actually pipes that belonged to him but rather were smoked by friends or even acquaintances — the pipes certainly didn’t have anything on them to indicate that they necessarily belonged to Shakespeare. Even if the pipes belonged to Shakespeare, this does not necessarily indicate that he ever made use of them — again, entirely possible that they were used by others. I own many shot glasses but I do not drink every beverage that is poured into them, certainly.
The sonnet in question could be, as many works of fiction tend to be, not written about Shakespeare but about a fictional character that employed use of marijuana. Shakespeare wrote about murder and the green eyed monster of jealousy but this does not mean that he stuck a knife in anyone.
Finally, let us consider the possibility that he actually did indulge in some marijuana now and then. If this was the case, what are we to make of it — does it affect our opinion of the genius of his writing? To me, not even in the slightest. It does not diminish the quality of the writing that has been with us for centuries. Now, if we were to find out that he thought the source of his writing inspiration came from a Grand Wizard Master, we might have to reconsider our position on him just a bit. Until then, play on!