Almost 400 years after his death, a literary legend may get drug tested.
A South African anthropologist has requested to open the grave of William Shakespeare to see if he can demystify the cause of the English dramatist’s death—as well as determine whether or not marijuana was his muse, Live Science reports.
Turns out, there are signs that the man regarded as one of the greatest writers in the English language puffed on pot. That’s right: Long before the drug-laced works of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs, Shakespeare inhaled before putting pen to paper. Or rather, feather quill to paper.
Francis Thackeray, the director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, has proposed 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. 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.
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. For a study released in 2001, Thackeray discovered cannabis residue (along with cocaine) on clay pipe fragments found in Shakespeare’s garden. 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.”
Thackeray is aware of the curse, and told Live Science that his research would use a portable technique called laser surface scanning, which would allow him to digitally scan the skeleton without moving it. Plus, the anthropologist noted, the curse “does not refer to teeth.”