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CN ON: Were Drugs The Source Of The Bard's Inspiration?

Newshawk: Carey Ker
Pubdate: Fri, 2 Mar 2001
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001 The Toronto Star
Address: One Yonge St., Toronto ON, M5E 1E6
Fax: (416) 869-4322


JOHANNESBURG ( Associated Press ) - Several 17th-century clay pipes found on the site of William Shakespeare's home contained a hallucinogenic substance and others may have been used to smoke marijuana, scientists reported yesterday.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-upon-Avon in England allowed South African researchers to analyze 24 pipe fragments.

The results showed traces of tobacco, camphor and myristic acid, an organic compound found in animal and vegetable fats, and used in cosmetics and flavours, that has hallucinogenic properties.

"We do not claim that any of the pipes belonged to Shakespeare himself.  However, we do know that some of the pipes come from the area in which he lived, and they date to the 17th century,'' said Francis Thackeray of the Transvaal Museum, one of the researchers.

"The results suggest that at least one hallucinogenic substance was accessible to Shakespeare and his contemporaries at a time when smoking was a novelty in England.''

Although marijuana degrades over time, eight of the 24 pipe fragments analyzed showed signs suggestive of marijuana, the scientists said.

Georgianna Ziegler, head of reference for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, said scholars had no proof Shakespeare took narcotics.

"I'm not saying that Shakespeare would never have drunk, or eaten, or smoked marijuana, because it was used as a medical remedy at the time.  But we have no evidence that he ever used it for pleasure,'' she said.

Two of the pipe samples tested also showed evidence of cocaine.

"It's possible that some coca leaves were smoked by people in Britain in the 17th century.  Coca leaves contain a small amount of cocaine,'' said John Henry, toxicologist and professor at London's Imperial College of Medicine, who was not affiliated with the study.

Cocaine itself did not come to Britain until about 1900, but coca leaves, chewed by many Incas in the 1500s, were transported to Europe in the 17th century by Spanish explorers.

The results of the study are published in the South African Journal Of Science. 

MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens

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