Most of the controversy seems to stem from an article published by South African paleontologist Francis Thackeray, who claims that he embarked on the chemical analysis project after re reading Shakespeare`s sonnet number 76 in which he refers to “invention in a noted weed”. Any effort to place the Bard`s finger on the carb can only be seen as a dubious political move, taking Shakespeare`s iconic significance as genius personified (indeed, without historical reminders (the dim reflections of our struggling forms in Shakespeare`s oily bald pate; anecdotal Mozart`s three year old fingers tapping out an exuberant passage on the piano) genius today would simmer away into bland situational aptitude, bitterly seasoned with pinches of affluence, nostalgia and PED`s) at face value. Marijuana, in it`s dubious capacity to abet great feats of creativity (Man is The Bastard, The Beatles, shimmering pool of water) has also engendered innumerable failures (MOP, Dr. Seuss hat, unfinished demo) and needs desperately the artistic authority of Shakespeare (“…come seeling night/Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day” Macbeth) to legitimize the one AM puff and listless strum sesh once and for all. Unfortunately, Thackeray`s article, while it provides a springboard for several hilarious “Bard`s Buds” allusions(see BBC news) and wild page A9 conjectures regarding the “tenth muse”, does little to paint the convincing image of Shakespeare toking that I and many others would so enthusiastically wish to see. Instead the controversy, especially when cursorily perused over the web, sends the researcher into a well of shame and encourages a horde of well intentioned resolutions for tomorrow to crop up on a forthcoming to do list.
While the “Shakespeare is not Shakespeare” controversy springs primarily from a mixture of crude empirical skepticism on the part of the stupid (“no one that poor could be that smart”) and a more sympathetic desire to disperse the concept of artistic genius to the wind, the “Stonespeare” debate is instead comprised mostly of desperate inductive reasoning. The sublimated desire to rob the concept “Shakespeare” of its daunting significance for those of us who, in a sweaty reek after slamming coffee after coffee, can barely summon the coherent thought from which the single sentence will be agonizingly wrought is something I am certainly sympathetic to. But the debate over whether the theoretically baked Bard was inspired by chemicals or not seems wrongheaded, and not only in the sense that none of the clay pipes analyzed are even assumed to be Shakespeare`s (although one pipe stem found in the garden of John Harvard`s (for whom Harvard is named) mother was verified to contain cocaine residue). Regardless of the chemicals he ingested, it was his experience while under the influence of these chemicals which undoubtedly formed the basis of his inspiration.
In any case, cannabis traces cannot even be verified by Thackeray, who clearly wants them to be there. But his noted 17th century pipe analysis (which is not limited to those found in Stratford, but also those found in colonial South Africa and Holland) does confirm traces of a few other chemicals, many of which are far more inspiring and ridiculous in their effects than marijuana (which may or may not have caused Shakespeare to become irrationally hungry for bisket bread, and may or may not have caused him to jam on the cittern for an unreasonably long period of time). Most of the chemicals, found in residual form in several Stratford Upon-Avon pipes are to create an aromatic billow; they include borneol, camphor (smoked presumably to mask the scent of tobacco or other things), vanillin and cinnamaldehyde (bark of the cinnamon tree). Other residues give rise to funnier imaginings. For instance, from the traces of cocaine we can infer Shakespeare in a situation similar to the following:
“I puffed a VERY SMALL amount, along with some vanillin, and sat back to see what it would do. It comes on relatively quickly, and no trepidation. Things just start to become more vivid and interesting, and brighter, and you do too…
at first I was very relaxed and layed down, realizing how high I was. VERY. After about 15 minutes. Body high – not visual, but sensual and stimulating. Then a beautiful french girl that everyone was intimidated by came over to check on me and I told her ‘Je besoin de beaucoup de practice avec mon fracais – mon vocabulaire ce’st merde, y les numeros me confuse completment’ – which is damn good french for me – and it was on.
She made me dance with her and I have never felt so wonderful in my life. Well, maybe – but it was truly transformational. I love to dance and do it to engage in physical release and have reached spiritual levels with it – but this was unprecedented.
Not only was I bonded to this girl emotionally – the fact that we were using our bodies to communicate to music was absolutely transcendent. Everyone watching us – no self-concsciousness – only bliss. joy. My body naturally engaging in spontaneous art, performace, and communication. The boys said we looked completely hot – they were riveted. They asked me what it felt like and I announced proudly that I felt like ‘A Porn Star with Magic Powers’ – and I was.
And I guess I am.
Completely comfortable with my sexual power in a healthy and positive way.
Some drugs that make you feel sexy will make people do things that they regret later – engaging in intimacy with people that at the time seems meaningful – later a let down. risky behavior. When this same stunning girl came onto me later (I swear to god – she showed me a dildo in her backpack and said ‘I want sex – come downstairs with me’ I did not go.) I was looking forward to a real friendship with her but was not tempted to rush things just because I felt so sexy. ”
Or in using Nutmeg (traces of which were definitively found in the Stratford pipes), perhaps as the “eleventh muse”:
“7am – 20g of whole nutmeg ground into my clay pipe and smoked with cinnamaldehyde
8am – feeling nausious, and decided to go back to sleep.
4pm – woke up feeling sick and a little dizzy
4:30 – a lot more dizzy, alot more sick and threw up
The fear overtook me though my first/worst bad trip. This was the only time that I ever was thrown into the hurling chaos of a ‘bummer’ I was able to hold it off for a few minutes through guided meditation and speaking through my minds eye with my dog. Quickly overtaken for the next few hours of existence by visions of death and failure, being sent off to jail losing all hope of everything.
6pm – pass out on bed
11:30 next morning – woke up, still feeling quite dizzy but not sick
1pm – effects wearing off
3pm – back to baseline”
In any case, regardless of the exact chemicals Shakespeare experimented with, it undoubtedly the unique experiences he had while under the influence of those chemicals that form the basis for his remarkable oeuvre.