William Shakespeare? More Like Dankspeare

Why we still care if the Great Bard smoked. 

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Over 14 years ago, Professor Francis Thackeray of Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand embarked on a mission of Harold and Kumar-ian proportions: Did the “Bard of Avon,” William Shakespeare, smoke that marijuana?

A 2001 study in the South African Journal of Science found, yeah, maybe. A decade later, in 2011, Thackeray was given permission to further investigate, with the option to even examine some DNA evidence. Now, Thackeray’s back in the South African Journal of Science with his best evidence yet. In short, he examined 24 pipes and found some cannabis residue as well as a little something from the coca plant. Four of the residue pipes came from Shakespeare’s garden. Through cross-examination with his poems, Thackeray determined that Shakespeare likely blazed but didn’t touch the white stuff.

The case of Billy Dankspeare is just the latest in the obsession with attributing stonership posthumously to our heroes. Any 16-year-old will remind you that Honest Abe himself enjoyed a puff or two – rumor has it. But the Shakespeare investigation isn’t just a rumor: There are years of anthropological work dedicated to the topic, but to what end? Weed laws are slowly relaxing, and the knowledge that one of the cornerstones of the English language partook probably won’t convince legislators to speed up the reform.

Maybe people just want to poke holes in a seemingly flawless (although not at all) legacy. It’s obviously a point of intrigue, but one that seems to border on obsession, as if their habits will justify our own. There’s nothing wrong with curiosity or the desire to see ourselves in greatness, but we can probably put to rest the compulsion to assign Dank Or Nah to the past.

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