Personally, I took Shakespeare as more of an opium den kind of a guy, but I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be the first to admit that. Anyway, a South African anthropologist from Wits University has set in motion a request to open the graves of William Shakespeare and his family to determine, among other things, what killed them.
The main hypothesis proposed by Francis Thackeray, the director of the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits, is whether Shakespeare’s poems and plays may have been composed under the influence of knowledge cabbage.
He had conducted a study in 2001, which found evidence of marijuana residue on pipe fragments found in Shakespeare’s garden. Thackeray explained that analysing the skeleton could reveal clues about his health and death, but that this depends on the presence of hair, fingernails or toenails in the grave.
Weed was fairly popular in England around the time of Shakespeare, and, like that house in Noordhoek, was used to make textiles and rope. A mention of a “noted weed” in Sonnet 76 helped spur Thackeray’s inquiry as to whether Shakespeare may have used the mind-altering drug for inspiration.
Thackeray told LiveScience:
If there is any hair, if there is any keratin from the fingernails or toenails, then we will be in a position to undertake chemical analysis on extremely small samples for marijuana.
Ironically, the stone covering the poet’s grave carries an engraved curse for any would-be intruders:
Blessed be the man that spares these stones. And cursed be he who moves my bones.
According to Thackeray, this won’t be a problem because, like all good anthropologists, he is being objective about the curse and pointed out its ambiguity: “He does not refer to teeth.”
Initially, the study would aim to use a laser surface scanner to digitally construct three-dimensional computer models of the bones and skulls which could show markers of health and signs of disease in the bones.
If a small sample of the inner portion of Shakespeare’s tooth could be extracted, then it may provide DNA analysis to determine both dietary habits and whether he smoked tobacco or not. However, the tooth sample would not be able to reveal if he smoked weed – for this they’d still need a fingernail or hair sample.
The proposal is currently sitting with the Church of England and Thackeray is awaiting their response.
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