Internet Shakespeare Editions


Death by misadventure?

The Smiling Smoker. Ostade.
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.

A story surfaced half a century after Shakespeare's death that he had contracted a deadly fever following a drinking spree with Michael Drayton and Ben Jonson, but there is no evidence to support this rumour.

The tavern scene in the illustration makes much of the new fashion of smoking. Although Shakespeare does not mention tobacco in his plays, the pipe smoker in this picture would have been a familiar sight. Tobacco was introduced to England by the explorer Sir John Hawkins in 1565 and gained immediate acceptance as a medicinal herb (the first tax was imposed on it in 1604). King James, an active writer, wrote a pamphlet criticizing its use.

About taverns and drinking songs.