William Shakespeare's famed plays and sonnets may have been written under the influence, according to new research. In the Feburary issue of the South African Journal of Science, Francis Thackeray of the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria and his colleagues document the presence of cocaine and myristic acid (a plant-derived hallucinogen) in clay-pipe fragments retrieved from the beloved bard's Stratford home. Their analysis also hints at the presence of marijuana residues.

Though the pipe cannot be definitively linked to Shakespeare himself, it is certain that it dates to the 17th century. This fact came as a surprise to the scientists; previously, the earliest known record of cocaine in Europe dated to only 200 years ago. "There is some suggestive evidence [of drug use] in Shakespeare's own writing," Thackeray told Reuters, pointing to phrases like "noted weed" and "compounds strange" in sonnet 76. "But I think Shakespeare, who may have experimented with these substances, is saying he would rather turn away from them. I would not read it as an endorsement of drug use."

Portions from Kate Wong of SciAm; other portions from Reuters news service