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Dig up Shakespeare In The Name Of Science?

An African-based scientist wants to pick over the bones of William Shakespeare to establish whether he smoked dope.

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Clues buried in the writings of William Shakespeare suggest that he may have partaken in the perceived ‘wisdom of the weed’. At least one Johannesburg-based scientist is convinced of it. And the proof may lie in The Bard’s Stratford grave in England.

It was while reading Sonnet 76 that Professor Francis Thackeray had a Eureka moment. The palaeo-anthropologist and director of the Institute for Human Evolution at Wits University recalls the moment during an ambitious project to read all 154 of Shakespeare’s 14-line poems in one sitting: “Shakespeare writes about ‘… invention in a noted weed’. And invention refers to creative writing, and we know that creative writers are known to enjoy the stimulation of cannabis.”

From behind his busy desk in a large office populated with casts of famous hominid skulls—among them the Taung Child and ‘Mrs Ples’—the tall, bespectacled academic proffers more clues garnered from the sonnet to support his hypothesis: “In the same sonnet, there’s reference to ‘…compounds strange’, which means strange drugs. And so, in my Eureka moment, I thought, ‘My goodness, is he making hidden reference to cannabis?’”

To further bolster his argument, Thackeray points out cannabis references in other Shakespeare works: “In other writings—for example, in Macbeth meeting the witches before he assassinates King Duncan, Shakespeare invents the word ‘assassination’. It’s derived from the (Arabic) word ‘hashashin’ – and ‘hashish’ is, of course, cannabis. It’s known that assassinations took place by assassins (sic) who got themselves high on cannabis before they executed their deadly deed.”

The learned professor’s curiosity about The Bard’s smoking habits were first awakened after stumbling upon a book lying on a dusty shelf in the Shakespeare section of a second-hand bookshop in Hampstead, London. The book, Shakespeare’s Garden, referred to a 1920s excavation of the Stratford property, which threw up pipe bowl and stem fragments from a rubbish heap discovered there. Not one to pass up a good dig, Thackeray headed for Stratford to see the pipes for himself: “When I looked inside the pipe bowls from Shakespeare’s garden, and from other parts of Stratford, I could see that there was black residue.”

The palaeo-anthropologist, also a qualified chemist and mathematician, then got special permission to take 24 pipe fragments from Stratford to Pretoria, where he ran a chemical analysis at the narcotics laboratory in the police’s forensic lab. The gas chromatography technique used there revealed a plethora of compounds including vanilla, cinnamon and camphor, as well as cannabis. Until then, it was assumed that such pipes contained only the residues of tobacco from Virginia, which Sir Walter Raleigh had brought back to England. “They were experimenting!” exclaims the scientist excitedly. The findings led to his 2001 publication of a paper in the South African Journal of Science, which made a global impact.

Since then, Thackeray has hoped to prove his theory by examining The Bard’s remains, buried in a Stratford church next to his wife, Anne Hathaway, and their daughter. But his attempts have been thwarted curiously by Shakespeare himself—an epitaph written in the form of a curse has protected the grave for almost 400 years: “Cursed be he who moves my bones, and blessed be he who spares these stones.”

So Thackeray has proposed to carefully expose the skull and skeleton by excavating away the sediments without moving any bones. His team would then perform a laser surface scan, similar to those which have already been achieved by his institute on hominid fossils from the Cradle of Humankind. At best, he would hope to extract keratin from the hair and nails, which upon forensic analysis, would almost certainly provide conclusive proof of cannabis use.

DNA could also be extracted from a tooth, though that would be a more invasive procedure. A simple examination of The Bard’s exposed teeth would, however, reveal whether or not he was a regular pipe smoker. After deliberating over Thackeray’s proposal, the Holy Trinity Church Parochial Committee turned it down.

But for the Wits scientist, all is not lost. The church has more recently agreed to a proposal from archaeologists at the University of Birmingham to undertake an analysis which should determine simply whether there is indeed a body under the ground, without excavating. Technology such as ground penetrating radar could be employed to achieve this. Thackeray is delighted that the church has granted permission for such a preliminary exploratory study. He will be following these events closely and is optimistic that possibilities for him to do the kind of work he has been proposing may emerge.

The scientist first visited the church as a seven-year-old boy with his parents. Standing in the chancel by the grave, he recalls: “The thought did pass my mind. Wouldn’t it be interesting to look at the skeleton of Shakespeare?” It’s been a long wait for Thackeray and his collaborators, though he brushes it off: “We’re patient. I’m a palaeontologist. We can wait.”

Billionaires

Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President

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After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

KEY FACTS

  • Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
  • Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
  • Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
  • West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
  • But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
  • It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
  • West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.

KEY BACKGROUND

West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.

American rapper and producer Kanye West embraces real estate developer and US President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office, Washington DC, October 11, 2018. West wears a red baseball cap that reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump’s campaign slogan. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

TANGENT

West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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Current Affairs

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza Has Died

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This is a developing story.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza has died, the government of the Republic of Burundi announced in a statement that was posted on their twitter account.

“The Government of the Republic of Burundi announces with great sadness the unexpected death of His Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of the Republic of Burundi, at the Karusi Fiftieth Anniversary Hospital following a cardiac arrest on June 8, 2020,”

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Current Affairs

Ethiopia’s First Female President On Plans To Combat Covid-19 And Resuscitate The Economy

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Ethiopia’s first female president, Sahle-Work Zewde, spoke to FORBES AFRICA’s Managing Editor, Renuka Methil, on the country’s plans to combat Covid-19 and resuscitate one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.

Zewde, listed as one of Africa’s ‘50 Most Powerful Women’ in the March issue of FORBES AFRICA, says while the virus didn’t warrant the nation going into complete lockdown, it has hit some sectors of the East African country’s economy, affecting its GDP growth.

In early May, the government announced a package to bolster healthcare spending, food distribution, rebuild SMMEs, etc to support the country’s most vulnerable. Zewde also shares her views on women in the front lines, as well as reimagining education.

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