Shakespeare’s brush with weed

2015-02-02 08:35:58 | Posted by szanna M
Young billy

What is that Bard talking about in this marijuana sonnet? Well in this fair sonnet, to put it too simply, Will is telling his Love that he just can’t seem to move on to new literary explorations, can’t change his style, and why.  His love compels him to write only of love…

SONNET 76 by William Shakespeare

Why is my verse so barren of new pride?
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
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?
O, know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument;
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
For as the sun is daily new and old,
So is my love still telling what is told.

What is that Bard talking about in this marijuana sonnet? Well in this fair sonnet, to put it too simply, Will is telling his Love that he just can’t seem to move on to new literary explorations, can’t change his style, and why.  His love compels him to write only of love…

All right, another sweet sonnet, but “compounds strange” and “invention in a noted weed”? Shakespeare buffs and weed historians have wondered if these could be references to  Shakespearean drug use. And  in the service of creative writing at that!

In 2001,the South African Journal of Science, a serious Journal published by the Academy of Science of South Africa, was given the opportunity to do chemical analysis on some 17th century clay pipe stems from the town of Stratford-on-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown. The analysis found traces of cocaine, in addition to resins of myristic acid, a hallucinogen derived from plants such as nutmeg and cannabis, as well as tobacco and camphor. Of course, there is no actual evidence that the pipes belonged to William himself, but  they do indicate the common use of marijuana and cocaine in his time and place. Hemp had been a major crop in England from 400 C.E., and served for textiles, Ship-sails, rope and other products. But this was evidence that the Englishman had also been smoking Cannabis!

Upon publishing, the study aroused ire and debate in the already stormy world of Shakespearean scholarship. Some scholars struck back hard at the study, interpreting it as another attack on Shakespeare’s reputation, suggesting that his genius was a result and product of his drug use. Others noted the long mystic and literary tradition of substances in English literature, notably Byron, and of course, the drug-fueled and inspired American Beat writers.

All things considered, there have been many, many Humans who have indulged and explored using Weed and other Drugs, but how many Bards are there? Perhaps Will Shakespeare loved to fire up a pipe, to help his mind roam and wander, invite the muse in, but his genius was his alone, not an inheritance he received from a substance.

Marijuana can be a gift and inspiration, a key to inner worlds of the mind and spirit, but ultimately, the creative works of a person are the fruit of  his or her study, desire, and hard work.

by Suzanna Mountain

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