Anything connected with William Shakespeare is always newsworthy. Even these four hundred year old relics found in the playwright’s garden. Residue from clay pipes dug from the garden have been analysed in Pretoria. The results suggest that it was not just tobacco that was used. This led to an article in the Independent titled “Was William Shakespeare high when he penned his plays?”
State-of-the-art forensic technology from South Africa has been used to try and unravel the mystery of what was smoked in tobacco pipes found in the Stratford-upon-Avon garden of William Shakespeare.
Residue from clay tobacco pipes more than 400 years old from the playwright?s garden were analysed in Pretoria using a sophisticated technique called gas chromatography mass spectrometry.
Chemicals from pipe bowls and stems which had been excavated from Shakespeare’ garden and adjacent areas were identified and quantified during the forensic study. The artefacts for the study were on loan from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The gas technique is very sensitive to residues that can be preserved in pipes even if they had been smoked 400 years ago.
What were they smoking?
There were several kinds of tobacco in the 17th century, including the North American Nicotiana (from which we get nicotine), and cocaine (Erythroxylum), which is obtained from Peruvian coca leaves.