Scientists have applied for permission to exhume the body of William Shakespeare, hoping to establish how he died.
A team of palaeontologists say they have made a formal application to the Church of England to excavate the playwright's tomb, which lies inside his local parish church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The expert behind the project said he hoped to use state-of-the-art computer equipment to create a groundbreaking three dimensional reconstruction of the famous writer.
Paleontologist Francis Thackeray added that doing so could help finally establish what led to Shakespeare's death almost four centuries ago in 1616. Professor Thackeray, from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, said: '400 years after his death, Shakespeare remains one of the most famous people in history - yet nobody knows for certain how he died.
'We now hope to be able to establish his full health history.
'By accessing his remains, we hope to build a clear picture of the kind of life he led, the sicknesses he may have suffered, and hopefully what caused his death.'
'Doing so would shed new light on his life and help us better understand the world's most famous and respected writer.' Professor Thackeray said technology had now advanced to the stage where a skeleton could be exposed and studied without any need for it to be moved.
His team has made a formal application to the Church of England for permission to open the grave and get access to Shakespeare's remains.
Professor Thackeray continued: 'The technology we would use is hi-tech and powerful, and with patience we could achieve great results while staying within the letter of the warning. 'Our dream would be to get some results from our project in time for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death in 2016.
Professor Thackeray first made the controversial suggestion a decade ago after using modern forensic techniques to examine 24 pipes found buried in what had been the playwright's garden. He said tests proved the instruments had been used to smoke cannabis, which by Shakespeare's era had been cultivated in Britain for centuries.
The suggestion provoked disbelief and anger among some fans who questioned whether the great English bard could have written so prolifically with a drug habit.
Professor Stanley Wells, honorary president of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, said: 'I would be happy if they did open it up because it could put an end to a lot of fruitless speculation.'
© Daily Mail, London