Did Shakespeare Smoke Weed?

Did Shakespeare smoke weed

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April 23rd marks William Shakespeare’s 423rd bday. For the sake of this chat, however, let’s just say it’s his 4-20th birthday. Because the question of the day is “Did Shakespeare smoke weed?”

Doobie, or not doobie? That is the question – the one that circulated the Internet a couple years ago when anthropologist Francis Thackeray, suggested that William Shakespeare might have sought creative inspiration by smoking pot.

Thackeray is the Director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and in 2001 he conducted a study that found marijuana residue in pipe fragments unearthed in Shakespeare’s garden.

Though cannabis was cultivated in England during Shakespeare’s day for rope-making and other textiles, it’s unclear if it was used recreationally. It was references in Shakespeare’s work itself, that encouraged Thackeray’s line of inquiry.

“Some Shakespearean allusions, including a mention of a ‘noted weed’ in Sonnet 76, spurred Thackeray’s inquiry into whether Shakespeare may have used the mind-altering drug for inspiration,” wrote Life Science journal contributor Stephanie Pappas.

About five years ago, Thackeray contemplated petitioning the Church of England to open the Bard’s grave and to undertake a chemical analysis of his hair and nails in search of traces of marijuana. There has been little mention of the project since. Because, I surmise, Thackeray is no longer high.

Here’s the sonnet with the alleged references that inspired Thackeray to see green, read by Sir John Gielgud:

So, I could see how, in certain states of mind, a phrase like “compounds strange” could be a pot allusion, next to the aforecited “noted weed.” Especially after a bong hit.
Two questions come to mind, however – Why are some always eager to pin the inspirations of creative types on dope? And secondly, who cares?
W.H. Auden took benzedrine in the morning and seconal at night but few mention it in the same breath as his poetry. And strung out as he was, even Auden addresses hazards of reading between the lines of Shakespeare’s poetry. This is from an introduction he once wrote to the Bard’s works:

“Probably, more nonsense has been talked and written, more intellectual and emotional energy expended in vain, on the sonnets of Shakespeare than on any other literary work in the world.”

But did Shakespeare smoke pot? Does it matter? Meh. Sure, my own writing is better when I’m high, but I only think that when I’m high. For the record, I wasn’t high when I wrote this – maybe I should’ve been. Or maybe should be. Anyway, Happy Birthday, Shakespeare. Get it? Shake…speare. Okay, I’ll stop.

Wacky Wednesday: Acid-Drenched Orwell via Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss

Our son’s maternal grandmother was a kindergarten teacher, consequently we’ve inherited children’s books spanning both the decades of her career and those of her own child-rearing. We’ve inherited a library dating back to the 70s with many gems and as many that seem to be cultural artefacts form a parallel universe.

Among the my son’s current favorites is this peculiar title credited to a one “Theo. LeSieg.” Thanks to my superhuman ability to decipher anagrams (the result of mild dyslexia), I immediately recognized the surname as a mirror of “Geisel,” as in Theodor Geisel who is perhaps better known as Dr. Seuss. Though this was apparently no secret to either publishers or readers, it was a revelation to me and for a moment I felt like Dan Brown’s Harvard-bred symbologist Robert Langdon. And nearly as fictional to boot.

Apparently Geisel used the backward nom de plume for books he authored but did not illustrate. Among them is Wacky Wednesday, which steps up the surreality of most Seuss works with a Buñuel-like play on the banal – a shoe on the wall. Then there are two shoes on the wall. Then the androgynous protagonist observes:

“Then I looked up and said, ‘Oh, MAN!’
And that’s how Wacky Wednesday began.”

The shoes become a leitmotif of the book – book that grows more psychedelic by the page. The illustrations by George Booth have all the expected flouting of the laws of physics as well as myriad missing limbs and the occasional student sans head. Booth likely honed his merry-meets-macabre style when drafted during WWII and, later, the Korean War to draw for Marine Corps rag Leatherneck.

Throughout, Wacky Wednesday, the protagonist is counselled against the perception that anything is amiss. The first admonition comes courtesy of the Sutherland Sisters, triplets in matching school uniforms (though one is missing her legs and another’s head is detached at the collar), who chide the kid that “Nothing is wacky around here but you!”

Apparently, conformity is the rule. Anything straying outside the rigid norms of this suburban enclave’s systematic denial is simply ignored. Moreover, normality, whatever it means here, is strictly enforced by the institutions and their proxies. When the kid informs his teacher that wackiness as infected her class, she completely loses her shit and expels him:

“Nothing is wacky here in my class! Get out! You’re the wacky one! OUT!”

You can all but hear the students chanting “We don’t need no education…” Also, a careful observer will also spy a caricature of Karl Marx presumably undergoing his state-mandated “re-education.”

The Marxes

Loosed on the streets (now a mosaic of bad acid moments worthy of Roger Corman’s The Trip) the kid has a run-in with a three-legged officer of the law. The cop, a red-haired Irish stereotype named McGann, tasks the kid with finding 20 additional wacky bits “and then you can go back to bed.” This amounts to a kind of Orwellian “doublethink,” wherein an agent of the state all but affirms that reality contradicts the edicts of the Party, yet he prescribes some mental busywork that will apparently alleviate the disparity (which does not exist). It recalls this exchange from 1984:

“How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.”

“Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.”

And, of course, it works: “Wacky Wednesday was gone when I counted them all. And I even got rid of that shoe on the wall.”

WTF, Dr. Seuss? Perhaps I’m reading too much into Wacky Wednesday but even if I were to read “too little” into it, it still comes off as a polemic about the virtues of social conformity. Maybe I need to spend more time with adults. Or maybe I just need to count all the wacky bits so I can go back to bed. Maybe I just did.

Perhaps it’s just another Wacky Wednesday when one should accept that, all in all, you’re just another shoe on the wall.

William Fakespeare: A Forger’s Folly

Literary HoaxesIn her aptly named tome, Literary Hoaxes: An Eye Opening History of Famous Frauds, Melissa Katsoulis recounts the bold and bizarre history of William Ireland, whose literary legacy puts the “dung” in bildungsroman (bah dum dum). Born into 18th century London, the teenaged Ireland was long thought an idiot by his father who was an avid collector literary relics and, as was vogue in his era, desired most those artefacts that had been under the pen of William Shakespeare.
The young Ireland’s first foray into forgery was an inscription in a book from Shakespeare to Queen Elizabeth. It worked. His father was delighted, no doubt blinded to the fakery by his own bardolatry. Ireland followed with additional letters and ephemera, always procured from an anonymous source, which led somehow inevitably to the “discovery” of a (drumroll, please)… “lost” play by none other than the Bard himself. Continue reading “William Fakespeare: A Forger’s Folly”

I Wrote the Plays of William Shakespeare

April 23 marks both the birth and death day of The Bard. No one has enjoyed as much literary fame in the English language as William Shakespeare, despite being alive for a mere 52 years (and dead for nearly 400). For that matter, no author has also endured so much scrutiny as to the authorship of his own work. Conspiracy theories abound. Who wrote the plays of Shakespeare? Kit Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Queen Elizabeth?

None of the above. I, and I alone, wrote the plays of William Shakespeare. Continue reading “I Wrote the Plays of William Shakespeare”

Paul Ryan and the Double-Name Veep Curse

Whomever was vetting potential veep Paul Ryan for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, overlooked one very important bit of vice presidential trivia. Every vice president whose given and surnames were both “first names? by contemporary standards, saw their president die in office. Could doubly-named Paul Ryan be lethal to a (gasp!) President Romney?

Mind you, what constitutes a name, first or last, is completely arbitrary ? especially these days. However, using little more than my own taste and cultural biases, I’ve produced the following list of veeps with a first-name-for-a-last-name and the president who died on their watch. Continue reading “Paul Ryan and the Double-Name Veep Curse”