Poetry News

Anthropologist Wants to Literally Dig Up Shakespeare to Confirm He Was a Toker

By Harriet Staff


The Melville House blog MobyLives has pointed us to a real doozy over at Time Magazine, where they're featuring the newest Kickstarter project to get behind: the director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Francis Thackeray, would like to "dig up Shakespeare’s grave—along with the resting places of his family—to see if the skeleton could determine the cause of the bard’s death." Apparently, "Hair and keratin from fingernails and toenails could also reveal a pattern of drug use, while a chemical analysis of teeth could expose the use of tobacco or marijuana." Oh sorry, we're just joshing about the Kickstarter part. But Thackeray really did find traces of cannabis and cocaine on pipe fragments in Shakespeare's yard, back in 2001. (And then he smoked it! Which led to this idea!) More:

Experts have long speculated whether drugs played a role in Shakespeare's genius; many have noted his references to a "noted weed" and "a journey in his head"—lines that appear in two different sonnets . . . . Cannabis sativa, the plant from which marijuana is derived, was available in England during the Elizabethan era to make textiles, rope, paper, clothing and sails.

Thackeray is now waiting for a response from the Church of England for permission to study Shakespeare's remains, but he is likely to meet resistance from the scientific or literary communities, as well as those who may staunchly disagree with the tampering of the grave site.

Another barrier to the project: Shakespeare himself. The stone covering of his grave, located in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon, bears this warning: “Blessed be the man that spares these stones. And cursed be he who moves my bones.”

Originally Published: June 29th, 2011