Digging up Shakespeare

An effort is afoot to dig up the body of William Shakespeare:

Paleontologists are looking to examine the remains of William Shakespeare, hoping to unlock the mysteries of the life and death of the world’s most famous playwright — and to prove that the poet once puffed.

The bard is buried under a local church in Stratford-upon-Avon. And a team of scientists, led by Francis Thackeray — an anthropologist and director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa — have submitted a formal application to the Church of England for permission to probe the site where he sleeps, perchance where he dreams.

Safely, of course.

“We have incredible techniques,” Thackeray told FoxNews.com, referring to the “nondestructive analysis” the team has planned. “We don’t intend to move the remains at all.” Instead the team will perform the forensic analysis using state-of-the-art technology to scan the bones and create a groundbreaking reconstruction.

The first job is to confirm the playwright’s identity, Thackeray said.

“We’ll have to establish the age and gender of the individual,” he told FoxNews.com. The team also plans DNA tests for not only Shakespeare, but also the remains of his wife and sister, also buried at the Holy Trinity Church.

For Thackeray, the next priority is solving the longstanding mystery of Shakespeare’s final days. “We would like to find out the cause of death, which is not known historically.”

If all goes well, he believes the research could ultimately establish a full health history and build a picture of the kind of life the writer led. “Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness — a plague for example, which killed many people in the 1600s,” Thackeray explained.

The team also looks to address a controversial suggestion Thackeray made a decade ago, when he examined a collection of two dozen pipes found in the playwright’s garden and determined that Shakespeare was an avid marijuana smoker.

Thackeray claimed the devices were used to smoke cannabis, a plant actively cultivated in Britain at the time. The allegation has provoked disbelief and anger among some fans of the bard.

via Did Shakespeare Smoke Weed? Let’s Dig Him Up and Find Out – FoxNews.com.

I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  On his tomb, the Bard himself begs people, in Jesus’ name, to leave his body alone.  Not only that, he put a curse on anyone who would be so presumptuous as to dig him up:

“Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,/ To digg the dust encloased heare;/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,/ And curst be he that moves my bones.”

I’m suspicious of this story.  The Church of England says that it has received no such request to exhume Shakespeare.  Though the Institute and Prof. Thackeray seem to exist, their expertise on Shakespeare sounds very shaky.  Yes, people have grown hemp for centuries, but it was used for rope, not dope!  There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.  If that happened, Shakespeare would have written about it.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Steve Billingsley

    The identity of Shakespeare is one of those subjects that make otherwise sane and normal people completely lose their minds.

    Kind of like Sarah Palin.

  • Steve Billingsley

    The identity of Shakespeare is one of those subjects that make otherwise sane and normal people completely lose their minds.

    Kind of like Sarah Palin.

  • Jonathan

    @1, Unfortunately, Palin’s identity is no mystery. And that’s what drives otherwise sane and normal people crazy. By the way, did you read her daughter’s memior? She described how she got drunk and lost her [censored] and went on to say unloving things about Levi. I love how pro life she is.

  • Jonathan

    @1, Unfortunately, Palin’s identity is no mystery. And that’s what drives otherwise sane and normal people crazy. By the way, did you read her daughter’s memior? She described how she got drunk and lost her [censored] and went on to say unloving things about Levi. I love how pro life she is.

  • Steve Billingsley

    No, I didn’t read her daughter’s memoir….why should I?

    My whole point about Sarah Palin isn’t that people should love her or hate her. It is that we give waaaay too much attention, trouble, argument, sweat and tears to her. If she runs for President, vote for her or don’t vote for her. Kind of like all of the conspiracy theories about Obama (he is an anti-colonialist, he is closet Marxist, what about his birth certificate?)……and all of the theories about Shakespeare’s identity….kind of “much ado about nothing” (I know, I know that was bad).

  • Steve Billingsley

    No, I didn’t read her daughter’s memoir….why should I?

    My whole point about Sarah Palin isn’t that people should love her or hate her. It is that we give waaaay too much attention, trouble, argument, sweat and tears to her. If she runs for President, vote for her or don’t vote for her. Kind of like all of the conspiracy theories about Obama (he is an anti-colonialist, he is closet Marxist, what about his birth certificate?)……and all of the theories about Shakespeare’s identity….kind of “much ado about nothing” (I know, I know that was bad).

  • Jonathan

    Now I get you, Steve Billingsley. And I agree with you.

  • Jonathan

    Now I get you, Steve Billingsley. And I agree with you.

  • DonS

    If this story is true, how much government funding is involved in this kind of nonsense?

  • DonS

    If this story is true, how much government funding is involved in this kind of nonsense?

  • Joe

    Hemp has been used for industrial, medicinal, ritual and recreational purposes for centuries. The Greeks noted that the Scythians (ancient Ukrainians) inhaled hemp seed smoke for pleasure as early as 480 BC. Ukraine remains one of the leading producers of hemp – mainly industrial hemp.

    The idea that Shakespeare may have smoked a little weed now and again should really not be controversial or surprising. Given that lots hemp was grown in Britain for commercial purposes – it is probable that it was also available to smoke. Considering that you don’t smoke the same part of the plant that is used to make rope or caulking material for boats – it would seem likely that people found things to do with the rest of the plant. Commercial hemp generally has a very low TCH content so you don’t have to worry about finding out that Shakespeare was some burnt-out stoner.

  • Joe

    Hemp has been used for industrial, medicinal, ritual and recreational purposes for centuries. The Greeks noted that the Scythians (ancient Ukrainians) inhaled hemp seed smoke for pleasure as early as 480 BC. Ukraine remains one of the leading producers of hemp – mainly industrial hemp.

    The idea that Shakespeare may have smoked a little weed now and again should really not be controversial or surprising. Given that lots hemp was grown in Britain for commercial purposes – it is probable that it was also available to smoke. Considering that you don’t smoke the same part of the plant that is used to make rope or caulking material for boats – it would seem likely that people found things to do with the rest of the plant. Commercial hemp generally has a very low TCH content so you don’t have to worry about finding out that Shakespeare was some burnt-out stoner.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As usual, the Simpsons did it first.

    But if we’re going to do this, can we at least dig up his body? Because I’m totally jonesing to crouch down by his grave, hold his skull in my hands, and yell, “Where be your gibes now, huh? Where be your gibes now?” Alas. Poor Shakespeare.

    As to marijuana, Joe’s claims seem to be at odds with Dr. Veith’s. I don’t have any evidence, either way, myself, but I’m sympathetic to Joe’s arguments. Doesn’t seem like we only learned to smoke the stuff in the last century or two, to me.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As usual, the Simpsons did it first.

    But if we’re going to do this, can we at least dig up his body? Because I’m totally jonesing to crouch down by his grave, hold his skull in my hands, and yell, “Where be your gibes now, huh? Where be your gibes now?” Alas. Poor Shakespeare.

    As to marijuana, Joe’s claims seem to be at odds with Dr. Veith’s. I don’t have any evidence, either way, myself, but I’m sympathetic to Joe’s arguments. Doesn’t seem like we only learned to smoke the stuff in the last century or two, to me.

  • WebMonk

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Cannabis_%28drug%29#History

    According to Wikipedia (which quotes what appear to be credible stories, though I didn’t check the stories’ sources) people have been smoking the weed for thousands of years BC.

    I’ve also found dozens and dozens of different pages that mention British cultivation of cannabis from the 1500s at least, maybe even back into the 1300s. The Brits were most certainly having a good time with Mary Jane during Shakespeare’s time.

    I don’t know what Veith is smoking to make his claims. :-)

  • WebMonk

    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Cannabis_%28drug%29#History

    According to Wikipedia (which quotes what appear to be credible stories, though I didn’t check the stories’ sources) people have been smoking the weed for thousands of years BC.

    I’ve also found dozens and dozens of different pages that mention British cultivation of cannabis from the 1500s at least, maybe even back into the 1300s. The Brits were most certainly having a good time with Mary Jane during Shakespeare’s time.

    I don’t know what Veith is smoking to make his claims. :-)

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    So your evidence is “would have” or “surely did”? When I try to use that kind of evidence tODD jumps all over me, and yet now he is doing it. Do you have any evidence or any references to people smoking marijuana in the 16th or 17th centuries? For one thing, pipes were not used to smoke anything until Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco from the New World. That was around Shakespeare’s day, and the bard might have taken advantage of this new product, though it would take awhile to get much tobacco to England, what with the unfortunate fate of the earliest Virginia settlements.

    Also, there are NO legitimate grounds for questioning Shakespeare’s identity. I know quite a few people do, but the arguments are completely bogus. They too are on the order of “surely he couldn’t have” and the like. The very arguments used to prove that a middle class guy couldn’t have written the plays actually show that he did. “The true author must have had a university education”–well, the authors who did were writing Latin plays or English plays that followed the Greek unities. Shakespeare’s plays follow the medieval tradition that university men scorned. The true author of the plays could not have gone to the university. The other arguments go in a similar fashion. In the field of literary history, which is my area, people who don’t believe in Shakespeare are like creationists among biologists, though without so much evidence.

    Also, when I want to discuss Shakespeare, don’t talk about Sarah Palin!

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    So your evidence is “would have” or “surely did”? When I try to use that kind of evidence tODD jumps all over me, and yet now he is doing it. Do you have any evidence or any references to people smoking marijuana in the 16th or 17th centuries? For one thing, pipes were not used to smoke anything until Sir Walter Raleigh introduced tobacco from the New World. That was around Shakespeare’s day, and the bard might have taken advantage of this new product, though it would take awhile to get much tobacco to England, what with the unfortunate fate of the earliest Virginia settlements.

    Also, there are NO legitimate grounds for questioning Shakespeare’s identity. I know quite a few people do, but the arguments are completely bogus. They too are on the order of “surely he couldn’t have” and the like. The very arguments used to prove that a middle class guy couldn’t have written the plays actually show that he did. “The true author must have had a university education”–well, the authors who did were writing Latin plays or English plays that followed the Greek unities. Shakespeare’s plays follow the medieval tradition that university men scorned. The true author of the plays could not have gone to the university. The other arguments go in a similar fashion. In the field of literary history, which is my area, people who don’t believe in Shakespeare are like creationists among biologists, though without so much evidence.

    Also, when I want to discuss Shakespeare, don’t talk about Sarah Palin!

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Shakespeare never existed. He just a fairy tale based on earlier similar myths.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    Shakespeare never existed. He just a fairy tale based on earlier similar myths.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@9), what? I’m not arguing that Shakespeare himself necessarily smoked marijuana. I do think WebMonk’s link (@8) is sufficient to counter your overly broad claim that:

    There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries. If that happened, Shakespeare would have written about it.

    I mean, I’m just following the source links from Wikipedia at this point, but here’s what the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica had to say about the plant:

    The medicinal and intoxicating properties of hemp have probably been known in Oriental countries from a very early period. An ancient Chinese herbal, part of which was written about the 5th century B.C., while the remainder is of still earlier date, notices the seed and flower-bearing kinds of hemp. Other early writers refer to hemp as a remedy. The medicinal and dietetic use of hemp spread through India, Persia and Arabia in the early middle ages. The use of hemp (bhang) in India was noticed by Garcia d’Orta in 1563. Berlu in his Treasury of Drugs (1690) describes it as of “an infatuating quality and pernicious use.”

    So there’s two historical works from the 16th and 17th centuries right there. Wikipedia also cites a Journal of Ethnopharmacology article as to the 2500-year-old use of Cannabis sativa.

    None of which meant that Shakespeare himself smoked it, nor do I care. But it certainly doesn’t appear impossible that he did.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Dr. Veith (@9), what? I’m not arguing that Shakespeare himself necessarily smoked marijuana. I do think WebMonk’s link (@8) is sufficient to counter your overly broad claim that:

    There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries. If that happened, Shakespeare would have written about it.

    I mean, I’m just following the source links from Wikipedia at this point, but here’s what the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica had to say about the plant:

    The medicinal and intoxicating properties of hemp have probably been known in Oriental countries from a very early period. An ancient Chinese herbal, part of which was written about the 5th century B.C., while the remainder is of still earlier date, notices the seed and flower-bearing kinds of hemp. Other early writers refer to hemp as a remedy. The medicinal and dietetic use of hemp spread through India, Persia and Arabia in the early middle ages. The use of hemp (bhang) in India was noticed by Garcia d’Orta in 1563. Berlu in his Treasury of Drugs (1690) describes it as of “an infatuating quality and pernicious use.”

    So there’s two historical works from the 16th and 17th centuries right there. Wikipedia also cites a Journal of Ethnopharmacology article as to the 2500-year-old use of Cannabis sativa.

    None of which meant that Shakespeare himself smoked it, nor do I care. But it certainly doesn’t appear impossible that he did.

  • Joe

    “None of which meant that Shakespeare himself smoked it, nor do I care. But it certainly doesn’t appear impossible that he did.”

    Right. And I certainly don’t think answering that question is worth digging up the man’s body.

    re: 16th and 17th century use there are claims that the Portuguese allowed their African slaves to bring hemp to Brazil and to cultivate it for personal use. That would have been in the 1500′s. So you have a plant that is widely grown in England and knowledge of its medicinal, ritual and recreational uses is known in many cultures around the world including by other Europeans.

    My point is not that any of this proves that the English, or Shakespeare specifically, smoked pot. But the English would seem to be unique if some of them didn’t. It would also seem a bit out of character given that they decided to build an empire in the New World on the back of smoking another plant that was also used for ritual, medicinal and recreational purposes.

  • Joe

    “None of which meant that Shakespeare himself smoked it, nor do I care. But it certainly doesn’t appear impossible that he did.”

    Right. And I certainly don’t think answering that question is worth digging up the man’s body.

    re: 16th and 17th century use there are claims that the Portuguese allowed their African slaves to bring hemp to Brazil and to cultivate it for personal use. That would have been in the 1500′s. So you have a plant that is widely grown in England and knowledge of its medicinal, ritual and recreational uses is known in many cultures around the world including by other Europeans.

    My point is not that any of this proves that the English, or Shakespeare specifically, smoked pot. But the English would seem to be unique if some of them didn’t. It would also seem a bit out of character given that they decided to build an empire in the New World on the back of smoking another plant that was also used for ritual, medicinal and recreational purposes.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Now I know how Todd and Webmonk feel when I opine about science! I am so embarrassed!

    That the intoxicating properties of marijuana were known and exploited in ancient times and by “Orientals,” in China and India have nothing to do with Shakespeare’s time (1564-1616) in England. The practice of smoking anything was unknown there and then until tobacco was introduced. The fact that South American Indians smoked rolled up leaves of tobacco or hemp, for that matter, has no bearing on what the English might have done in the 17th century. Was hemp used medicinally? Maybe. I’ll have to check Berlu, whom I believe was an alchemist. Lots of new medicines came into play in the early days of the Enlightenment.

    There was no stigma against what we could call drug use. People a little later took laudanum (opium in alcohol) all the time for pain relief (that being one of the few medicines that worked really well), to the point of addiction. They talk about it, write about it, bemoan addiction.

    But there is never any mention of “hemp” being used in this way in Shakespeare’s plays, and he writes freely about all kinds of merry-making and debauchery.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Now I know how Todd and Webmonk feel when I opine about science! I am so embarrassed!

    That the intoxicating properties of marijuana were known and exploited in ancient times and by “Orientals,” in China and India have nothing to do with Shakespeare’s time (1564-1616) in England. The practice of smoking anything was unknown there and then until tobacco was introduced. The fact that South American Indians smoked rolled up leaves of tobacco or hemp, for that matter, has no bearing on what the English might have done in the 17th century. Was hemp used medicinally? Maybe. I’ll have to check Berlu, whom I believe was an alchemist. Lots of new medicines came into play in the early days of the Enlightenment.

    There was no stigma against what we could call drug use. People a little later took laudanum (opium in alcohol) all the time for pain relief (that being one of the few medicines that worked really well), to the point of addiction. They talk about it, write about it, bemoan addiction.

    But there is never any mention of “hemp” being used in this way in Shakespeare’s plays, and he writes freely about all kinds of merry-making and debauchery.

  • WebMonk

    I admit I was using the ‘smoking’ term very loosely – using marijuana in any sort of smoking/chewing/drinking is what I had in mind, though failed to communicate. I stand (or to be more accurate, I sit) corrected.

    That the intoxicating properties of marijuana were known and exploited in ancient times and by “Orientals,” in China and India have nothing to do with Shakespeare’s time (1564-1616) in England.

    That may be the case, but that’s not what you originally said: “There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.”

    It has been used for dope as well as rope for many millenia, chewed, eaten, inhaled, steamed, and smoked. It was used that way consistently from thousands of years BC all the way up through modern times, including Shakespeare’s time, and not just in ‘oriental’ China and India, but also the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

    Did Shakespeare smoke/chew it? I highly doubt it. But the statement that no one smoked it in the 16th and 17th centuries is silly.

  • WebMonk

    I admit I was using the ‘smoking’ term very loosely – using marijuana in any sort of smoking/chewing/drinking is what I had in mind, though failed to communicate. I stand (or to be more accurate, I sit) corrected.

    That the intoxicating properties of marijuana were known and exploited in ancient times and by “Orientals,” in China and India have nothing to do with Shakespeare’s time (1564-1616) in England.

    That may be the case, but that’s not what you originally said: “There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.”

    It has been used for dope as well as rope for many millenia, chewed, eaten, inhaled, steamed, and smoked. It was used that way consistently from thousands of years BC all the way up through modern times, including Shakespeare’s time, and not just in ‘oriental’ China and India, but also the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

    Did Shakespeare smoke/chew it? I highly doubt it. But the statement that no one smoked it in the 16th and 17th centuries is silly.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Right, WebMonk (@14). That’s why I called (@11) Veith’s claim “overly broad” — it appeared to deny the use of marijuana anywhere “in the 16th or 17th centuries”.

    But, Dr. Veith, if your intent was solely to refer to marijuana usage in England at that time, the little research I’ve done would agree with your assertion that “There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.”

    So perhaps you thought your statement was more obviously narrow than how WebMonk and I read it?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Right, WebMonk (@14). That’s why I called (@11) Veith’s claim “overly broad” — it appeared to deny the use of marijuana anywhere “in the 16th or 17th centuries”.

    But, Dr. Veith, if your intent was solely to refer to marijuana usage in England at that time, the little research I’ve done would agree with your assertion that “There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.”

    So perhaps you thought your statement was more obviously narrow than how WebMonk and I read it?

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    I was talking about Shakespeare and England during his lifetime. I apologize to the rest of the world.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    I was talking about Shakespeare and England during his lifetime. I apologize to the rest of the world.


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