The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.1126 Monday, 14 May 2001
Date: Monday, 14 May 2001 14:29:25 +1200
Subject: Hemp and Hanging
The title page of an anti-tobacco Pamphlet, dated 1602, reads;
Work for Chimney -sweepers: or a Warning for Tabacconists.
Describing the pernicious use of Tobacco...As much to say,
Better be chokt with English Hemp, then poisoned with Indian Tobacco.
Written by Philaretes.
The phrase 'Better be chokt with English Hemp' leads me to wonder if
here we have a reference to the practice of smoking hemp in Elizabeth's
England? At first glance the phrase would appear to be a euphemism for
' better be hanged', hemp rope being popularly used in such an exercise.
Shakespeare in Henry V ( 3.6 )clearly partners hanging with hemp in
Pistol's plea for the sparing of his mate Bardolph's life. " ...he hath
stol'n a Pax and hanged must a be...Let man go free/ And let not hemp
his wind-pipe suffocate....Let not Bardolph's vital thread be cut/ With
edge of [hempen] penny-cord.."
I notice also in the recent posting ( SHK 12.1106) of Adam Mac
Naughton's Hamlet song that Hamlet was sent to England " ...for an
English hempen necktie."
The use of 'chokt with English Hemp' in the context of a discourse on
the evils of tobacco strikes me as potentially having a double meaning.
Choking is an eminently appropriate word for one possible effect of
taking in too much smoke, whether through deliberately inhaling it as in
the Indian/ Elizabethan practice of taking/ drinking tobacco, or
inadvertently doing so. Perhaps being 'chokt with English Hemp' was
what the locals experienced when the late Autumn burn offs were
happening in the Hemp fields around Saffron Walden??? (My thanks to
Stephanie Hughes for providing the ingredients for this intriguing
We have the results in on the substances smoked in those clay pipes in
Stratford upon Avon. I find the fact that anyone smoked such stuffs in
that time far more interesting than fruitless speculations as to whether
the smoker was Master Shakespeare. Judith Craig (SHK 12.0788) quotes
Georgiana Zeigler as saying that marijuana ' was used as a medical
remedy' in Shakespeare's time. Is there proof of that?
I haven't read the Pamphlet I've described above ( I'd like to ), just
encountered its Title among the ones listed under the heading of Tobacco
Pamphlets at http://www.bartleby.com/214/1600.html The Cambridge
History of English and American Literature in 18 Vols. (1907-21) Vol 4,
XVI London and the Development of Popular Literature; Bibliography. If
anyone's read it or can tell me how I could access it I'd be delighted
to hear from them.
All the best,
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
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