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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: March ::
Re: Weed Noted
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0580  Monday, 12 March 2001

[1]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Sunday, 11 Mar 2001 07:45:13 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0561 Re: Weed Noted

[2]     From:   David Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Mon, 12 Mar 2001 09:42:13 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0561 Re: Weed Noted


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Sunday, 11 Mar 2001 07:45:13 -0800
Subject: 12.0561 Re: Weed Noted
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0561 Re: Weed Noted

William Sutton wrote:

"So my question is meant to be taken seriously. Is there any evidence of
recreational drug use in the Elizabethan era? Or is medicinal use the
standard explanation?"

There are clues, but nothing solid enough to build a case upon.  (The
findings from South Africa, so thoughtfully posted here, are certainly
intriguing.) The instinctive response is, of course, that people at all
times and in all places have been aware of the mind altering properties
of the plants that surround them, far more aware than we are today,
since we now get most of our medicines for both mind and body from labs,
not nature. There is mention of mandrake root. Anthropologists ponder
the true nature of ambrosia. Since the influx of drugs in 1960s there
has been a fairly substantial examination of the sources and uses of
mind-altering natural substances, all of which can be found in
libraries.

The problem lies in the secrecy that surrounds the subject, which would
have been as true, more true probably, then than now. The effects of
drugs were unknown and feared, a fear we see reflected in the ancient
description of the effects on worshippers of Dionysus; a fear that was
projected onto the inheritors of the prehistoric knowledge of plants who
were often called witches.  Witches were imagined to drink or eat
something that gave them the power to fly through the air.  Much
speculation has circled around what it was that the Bacchantes took that
made them so wild. Along with gold and silver, the Spanish must have
brought back drugs from South America. There was a desperate drive to
find a cure for syphilis.

We see the same secrecy today and for similar reasons. It took me awhile
to realize that when my kids were teenagers, when they said so-and-so
was "partying," that didn't mean they were "hanging out" or drinking or
socializing, it meant they were smoking pot, period. In reading the
material from the period we may be missing the true meaning of similar
euphemisms.

It is true that the kind of hemp that is used to make rope isn't the
kind that is grown to get high, but we can be pretty sure that in the
fall when the hemp crop was harvested and the sticks and refuse burned
in great heaps, the smoke was effective enough. In areas where hemp was
grown, this would have been a once a year event, connected with harvest
rituals.

When the Puritans succeeded in turning the world away from the release
from care of long holidays like Yuletide, Harvest and Maying, the loss
to community was immense. People didn't get drunk every Friday night in
one of a dozen local pubs, they got whacked all together as a group, and
recovered all together. They had their release as a community.  Now we
get it alone or in small groups, hopefully with one member as the
designated driver. We may not know what the Elizabethans used, but we
can be sure that they used something. Life on this planet is tough and
it was even tougher then.

As the old jazz song has it: "Show me the way to get out of this world,
'cause that's where everything is."

     Stephanie Hughes

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Mon, 12 Mar 2001 09:42:13 +0200
Subject: 12.0561 Re: Weed Noted
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0561 Re: Weed Noted

ANOTHER MAJOR SCHOLARLY BREAKTHROUGH FROM SOUTH AFRICA!

I was discussing the matter of Shakespeare's possible smoking habits
with my 11-year old son when his eyes lit up.  That explains Hamlet, he
said.  What explains Hamlet? I asked.  When he said he'd seen a ghost he
was actually hallucinating from having smoked too much nutmeg (or
cannabis, or cocaine, or whatever)!

Now why hasn't anyone thought of that before?

Not wishing to send such a momentous finding out into the world
unsupported, we turned to the text.  And in 1.2 Hamlet proves it.  He
talks of an "unweeded garden that grows to seed" (ll. 35-6).  All those
benighted souls who have always thought that Hamlet's mourning weeds
signal his clothes had better think again.  And what is sonnet 76 when
you can solve the riddle of _Hamlet_ itself?

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi!

David Schalkwyk
 

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