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Drug-testing Shakespeare: Did he or didn't he?

Anthropologist asks for permission to open the literary legend's grave to perform analyses that could explain whether or not the bard got his inspiration from smoking pot, among other questions
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An anthropologist wants to establish whether or not the bard smoked pot. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Did he or didn't he? That is the question.

Actually, the question of whether or not William Shakespeare was a pothead is one of several mysteries about the bard that Francis Thackeray, director of the Institute for Human Evolution in Johannesburg, South Africa wants to look into. And in his quest for answers, the anthropologist said that he has formally asked the Church of England for permission to open the graves of Shakespeare and several close relatives, all of whom are buried under a local church in Stratford-on-Avon in England.

Thackeray's proposed exhumation of the bard is meant to address a mystery that has been niggling at the anthropologist since 2001, when he discovered evidence of marijuana and cocaine on clay pipes found in the garden of Shakespeare’s old house and wondered about possible herbal inspiration, according to Atlantic Wire.

Cannabis was grown in England at the time and was used to make textiles and rope. And some have pointed out that Shakespeare alluded to drug use in references such as a mention of a "noted weed" in Sonnet 76.

But there are other questions to be answered too. Thackeray wants, first off, to establish that the remains are, in fact, those of Shakespeare, according to Fox News. He also would like to ascertain the cause of the bard's death.

Shakespeare's skeleton could reveal clues about his health and death, but the question of his drug use can only be resolved by the presence of hair, fingernails or toenails in the grave, Thackeray said, according to LiveScience.

Thackeray said that chemical analysis on "extremely small samples" of keratin left in Shakespeare's fingernails or toenails can be sampled for marijuana, and chemical analysis of his teeth could also provide clues about his smoking habits, but it wouldn't prove what exactly was in the pipe, according to Slate.

Whether or not Shakespeare smoked pot, one thing that's certain is that he didn't want to be dug up, Atlantic Wire says. His tombstone, located in the Church of the Holy Trinity, reads: "'Blessed be the man that spares these stones. And cursed be he that moves my bones."

Thackeray is aware of the curse, but said that his research would use a portable technique called laser surface scanning, which would allow him to digitally scan the skeleton without moving it, according to Time. And, the anthropologist clarified, the curse “does not refer to teeth.”

The Church has denied any knowledge of the project, according to Fox News. But Thackeray said the paperwork is filed, according to LiveScience.

"The application has been submitted," he said. "We are now just simply waiting for a formal response. … We respect the fact that it will take time to have our proposal examined and assessed."

Examples of people wanting to know whether or not famous historical figures got high aren't new, Mother Jones points out:

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. With the upcoming release of Anonymous, a film based on the fringe theory that Shakespeare was a fraud, it looks like the Bard just can't catch a break these days.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/weird-wide-web/researchers-exhume-shakespeare-remains-pothead

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