O put me in thy books!
400 Years of Shakespeare
3 February — 25 April 2016
William Shakespeare, who created such memorable characters for the stage, has often appeared in fiction as a character himself. Even before his death on 23 April 1616, he made a thinly-veiled entrance in a diatribe by Robert Greene who called him “an upstart crow who thinks himself the only Shake-scene in the country,” able to “bombast out a blank verse” but also prone to plagiarism. From that inauspicious start, Shakespeare’s fictional character generally improves. In hundreds of works of fiction, he appears variously as a boy, a lover, a family man, a courtier, a genius, an oaf, a friend, a hero, and, less commonly, as a villain. Whether in poetry, plays, novels, young adult literature, or movies and television, this one man plays many parts.
The relative paucity of historical information about Shakespeare’s life has led authors to use their imaginations. In this exhibit, we explore the fictional Shakespeare by character type through works that span four hundred years. Shakespeare appears in the works of such authors as Ben Jonson, John Milton, Rudyard Kipling, George Bernard Shaw, Mark Twain, Isaac Asimov, Jorge Luis Borges, and Neil Gaiman, among many others. By exploring Shakespeare as a character, we hope to make him live again in the realm of fiction during this year that commemorates the 400th anniversary of his death.
This celebration of the fictional lives of the bard includes an online exhibit (http://www.library.illinois.edu/rbx/shakespeare400/) and reading list organized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Library of Shakespeare's Globe, Durham University, and the Elizabethan Club at Yale. Librarians and professors have selected and annotated an interactive list of about 100 works of fiction from 1623 to 2016. The website offers insights into the many fictional portrayals of Shakespeare, from the early 18th century, when he often appeared as a “ghost” at the start of productions of his plays, to Victorian bardolatry (as G.B. Shaw called it—though he participated in it as well!), to 21st-century novels and films in which this one man plays many parts. To qualify for inclusion, the work had to be interesting, curious, or otherwise noteworthy to our minds. It is an eclectic group of works, and Shakespeare appears in many guises.