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Did Shakespeare Inhale? Pipes from Garden Held Cannabis

Researchers examine 24 clay pipes recovered from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, and from surrounding houses.

Did the greatest playwright the world has ever known have a taste for the wacky tobaccy? Did William Shakespeare have a case of the munchies while penning "Macbeth"?

The answer may very well be "yes" after a group of South African scientists found that clay pipes recovered from the garden of the Bard's home contain traces of cannabis.

The researchers examined fragments of 24 clay pipes that were recovered from the garden of Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, as well as from surrounding houses. After examining the fragments using a gas chromatography technique, the scientists found that eight of the pipes contained traces of cannabis, one contained nicotine, and two contained traces of cocaine derived from Peruvian coca leaves. Four of the pipes containing cannabis came from Shakespeare's property.

Professor Francis Thackeray of the University of Witwatersrand, who headed the study, writes that several kinds of tobacco were known to early 17th-century Englishmen. The earliest specimens of nicotine and coca leaves may have been imported by explorers Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, respectively.

Thackeray has a longstanding interest in Shakespeare's possible use of drugs. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that in 1999, he wrote an academic paper titled "Hemp as a source of inspiration for Shakespearean literature?"

This may all be much ado about nothing, as there's no conclusive evidence that Shakespeare ever used cannabis himself. However, Thackeray notes that early performances of Shakespeare's works likely took place in smoke-filled rooms full of puffing members of the Elizabethan gentry.

"One can well imagine the scenario in which Shakespeare performed his plays in the court of Queen Elizabeth, in the company of Drake, Raleigh and others who smoked clay pipes filled with 'tobacco'," he writes.

A case of smoke them if you've got them, perhaps?

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Experts disagree about which of Shakespeare's portraits are real or fake. There is no definitive portrait of the Bard painted in his lifetime. Only two likenesses, both posthumous, are widely accepted as authentic: a bust on his tomb in Stratford's Holy Trinity Church (right), restored and repainted several times, and the Droeshout engraving, used as a frontispiece to the Folio edition of his plays in 1623 (left).

In 2006, Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel, professor of English at Mainz University, Germany, claimed amid some controversy that four images of Shakespeare were the true likeness. The portraits were the Chandos portrait (top left), the Darmstadt Shakespeare death mask (top right), what she called the original Flower portraits (bottom left) and the Davenant bust (bottom right).

According to the German academic, the other two portraits help reconstruct different stages of Shakespeare's life and diseases. One dates from his youth, the second from his old age. Possibly painted around 1594, when the poet was about 30 years old, this portrait depicts Shakespeare as a relatively young man exuding self-confidence and a triumphant smile. At that time, Shakespeare had reached the first height of his unparalleled literary career.

The portrait hung in the bedchamber of Prince Franz (1740-1817), in the Gothic House of the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Realm. Seized in 1945 by the Soviet army, it has been lost ever since. Only a high-quality, monochrome photograph from 1936 remains. Records show the portrait was given to Prince Franz in 1763-64 as a gift by Thomas Hart, a distant relative of Shakespeare.

The other portrait represents the Bard as an affluent, older gentleman living in retirement. He sits on an elaborately-carved chair, holding a book in his left hand and resting his right hand on the head of an adoring dog, sitting to his right. According to the German researcher, this painting shows for the first time the whole person of Shakespeare.

While careful examination of the image has even determined the breed of the dog, which, according to the London veterinary Bruce Fogle, appears to be a Lurcher, (a cross between a Greyhound and a working dog) nothing is known about the provenance and history of the portrait. Hammerschmidt-Hummel found the portrait in a rare, richly illustrated edition of James Boaden's work of 1824. Called an "Inquiry into the Authenticity of Various Pictures and Prints, which ...have been offered to the Public as Portraits of Shakespeare," the book displayed the portrait as an engraving.

All the details in the image suggest Shakespeare had his portrait made at his Stratford residence New Place at the the age of about 50, presumably for the last time -- about two years before his death.

The tests for authenticity on the new portraits brought to light a series of facial marks and idiosyncrasies that correspond to those found on all the other Shakespeare likenesses. In particular, the two newly found pictures show a growth on the upper left eyelid and swellings in the nasal corner of the left eye, which seem to represent different stages of a disease and are present in all portraits used for comparison. Moreover, a montage of the Wörlitz and Boaden portraits with the Droeshout engraving shows "astounding correspondences and agreements." Hammerschmidt-Hummel said. "Such precise correlations can only occur when the persons depicted and compared are identical," she said.