The Mission to Drug-Test William Shakespeare

An anthropologist is trying to exhume the Bard's body to test for pot

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Anthropologist Francis Thackeray, director of the Institute for Human Evolution in Johannesburg, South Africa has said he formally asked the Church of England to green light his exhumation of the Bard, Fox News reports. In part, Thackeray wants to determine the cause of Shakespeare's death. But that's not all -- him and his team are looking to resolve his own suggestion of over a decade ago that Shakespeare was an avid marijuana smoker. Thackeray had uncovered "suggestive evidence of cannabis" and "signs of what looks like cocaine" on clay pipes found in the garden of Shakespeare’s old house. His allegations of Shakespeare as a drug addict gave rise to "disbelief and anger" among Shakespeare's fans, and this could put the speculation to rest. "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,” Thackeray said.

As Mother Jones notes, "Instances of people wanting to know whether or not historical figures enjoyed getting high aren't new... But this might be the first time a scientist has ever gone so far as to actually try to dig up a body to prove it." But whether or not Shakespeare smoked pot, one thing we know for sure is that he sincerely did not want to be dug up. His tombstone actually places a curse on anyone who does so, reading: "'Blessed be the man that spares these stones/ And cursed be he that moves my bones'—Thackeray." Philip Schwyzer from Exeter University told Reuters that "Shakespeare had an unusual obsession with burial and a fear of exhumation. The stern inscription on the slab has been at least partially responsible for the fact that there have been no successful projects to open the grave."

But while Shakespeare would object if he could, the living are rather excited about it. Stanley Wells, honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, told the Daily Mail, "I would be happy if they did open it up because it could put an end to a lot of fruitless speculation." Of course, approval from the Church of England may be hard to come by, as it has so far denied knowledge of the project, according to the Daily Mail. Any decision to exhume a grave would be taken at a diocesan level.
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