Feature

Did Shakespeare smoke pot?

A team of South African scientists want to exhume the Bard's remains and confirm rumors that he was an avid toker of "noted weed"  

"To dig, or not to dig? That's the latest question," says Alec Liu at Fox News. Paleontologists from South Africa have filed a formal request to exhume the remains of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) from his burial site in Stratford-upon-Avon. By examining the Bard's corpse, the group hopes to find clues to the kind of life Shakespeare led, and, among other things, confirm or deny the rumor that he avidly smoked marijuana. How will this all go down? Here, a brief guide:

How will they examine his body?
Team leader, anthropologist Francis Thackeray, claims he'll employ "incredible techniques" that won't be too intrusive. "We don't intend to move the remains at all," he says, as quoted by Fox News. Instead he intends to perform a forensic analysis by digitally scanning the playwright's bones, then "rendering a 3-D image reconstruction" of the Bard that could offer insights into his full health history, says Asawin Suebsaeng at Mother Jones. Thackeray also wants to take DNA samples to confirm Shakespeare's age and gender.

What does the team hope to find?
The new technology could reveal the cause of Shakespeare's death, which is currently unknown. "Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness," says Thackeray, "a plague, for example, which killed many people in the 1600s."

And the weed?
Ten years ago, Thackeray was among a team of South African scientists who claimed to have found evidence that Shakespeare was fond of Mary Jane. In 2001, several 17th-century smoking pipes were found in the garden of Shakespeare's English home. The pipes revealed traces of cannabis, suggesting that a reference to "noted weed" in one of Shakespeare's sonnets "may have been the Bard's way of extolling the effects of cannabis," says Shaun Semille at National Geographic News. Digital analysis of the playwright's remains could shed new light on the decade-old suspicion. "If we find grooves between the canine and the incisor, that will tell us if he was chewing on a pipe as well as smoking," says Thackeray.

Can they do this?
Thackeray formally submitted the application to the Church of England, which oversees the local church where Shakespeare is buried. The Church, so far, is denying that it received the request — which may be for the best. Shakespeare's grave makes a clear threat to anyone who digs it up, says Ujala Sehgal at The Atlantic Wire. The tomb reads: "Bleste be the man that spares thes stones / And curst be he that moves my bones."

Sources: Atlantic WireFox News, Mother Jones, National Geographic News

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