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Was Shakespeare high when he wrote his plays?

Press Trust of India  |  London 

Scientists have detected traces of cannabis on 400-year-old tobacco pipes found in William Shakespeare's garden, suggesting the English playwright might have penned some of his famous works while high.

Residue from early 17th century clay pipes found in Shakespeare's garden, and elsewhere in Stratford-Upon-Avon, were analysed in Pretoria using a sophisticated technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry.

During the forensic study, chemicals from pipe bowls and stems which had been excavated from Shakespeare' garden and adjacent areas were identified and quantified.

Of the pipe fragments loaned from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to University of the Witwatersrand, cannabis was found in eight samples, four of which came from Shakespeare's property, 'The Independent' reported.

There was also evidence of cocaine in two pipes, but neither of them hailed from the playwright's garden.

Shakespeare's sonnets suggest he was familiar with the effects of both drugs. He, possibly, preferred cannabis as a weed with mind-stimulating properties.

In Sonnet 76, Shakespeare writes about "invention in a noted weed", which could be interpreted to mean that he was willing to use "weed", or cannabis, while he was writing.

In the same sonnet it appears that he would prefer not to be associated with "compounds strange", which can be interpreted, at least potentially, to mean "strange drugs" (possibly cocaine).

The finding, which was published in the South African Journal of Science, has begged the question whether the plays of Shakespeare were performed in Elizabethan England in a smoke-filled haze.

Shakespeare, whose plays include 'As You Like It', 'Macbeth', and 'Othello', died in 1616 aged 52.

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First Published: Mon, August 10 2015. 18:28 IST