William Shakespeare
Baptised: April 26, 1564
Died: April 23, 1616

William Shakespeare's father John was a glovemaker and mayor of Stratford who had a sudden downturn in fortunes when his side business--dealing in illegal wool--was cracked down on by the government that controlled the legal market.

PBS's website says John was on the surface an upstanding member of the community, but "in the parlance of our times, John Shakespeare was also a dealer. Not that he traded narcotics, but he did trade illegally in the hottest currency of the day, wool. The wool industry at this time was a state monopoly and the transference of material strictly controlled. John looks to have been quite successful in his illegal trade as a 'brogger,' using the money to buy property.

"William uses many terms familiar from the wool trade in his works, so it is likely he was familiar with his father's activities. Accompanying his father on deals would also have brought him into contact with exactly the kind of shadowy amoral figures who would later populate his plays." The family was Catholic, and as that faith was repressed by force, William's maternal grandfather was publicily executed.

William, who had been well educated as a youth in the Elizabethan educational revival, reading Ovid and learning Latin, suddenly was without the means to attend University. Instead he married, making him ineligible for an apprenticeship either. He reportedly turned to poaching deer off the local Lord's property, and was beaten and imprisoned for it.

Like Jesus, Shakespeare had "lost years," 10 years when little is known about his whereabouts and activities. He may have taught school at Horton tower in Lancashire, spent time at the seashore, and eventually joined an acting troop. When he started writing plays he was unfavorably reviewed against the more educated Christopher Marlowe, but the public overwhelmingly chose Shakespeare (and still does).

In March 2001 two South African researchers found residues of cannabis, cocaine and myristic acid -- a hallucinogenic derived from plants, including nutmeg – along with tobacco in clay pipes taken from Shakespeare's home in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Literary evidence of cannabis use by Shakespeare is possibly found in Sonnet #76, which mentions “compounds strange” and suggests the bard perhaps used cannabis for inspiration:
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed.

"I have suggested that Shakespeare was being careful not to make explicit reference to hallucinogenic properties of hemp," explained Dr. Francis Thackeray (a distant relative of the famous 19th century English author) "on account of possible associations with witchcraft leading possibly to the burning of books."

 

 

E. Stoddard, Pipes show cocaine smoked in Shakespeare's England, Reuters, March 1, 2001.

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