Shakspere and company. A comedy, in five acts

Christopher Brooke Bradshaw
London: Printed for the author. Sold by Charles Fox, 67, Pater-noster Row, 1845

In this play, Shakespeare embroils himself in the convoluted romances of his three sisters while also pranking a miserly money-lender and putting on plays at the last minute to amuse the Queen. The plot aspires to Shakespearian complexity, but does not achieve it, although there are amusing lines that recall the spirit of Shakespearian dialogue:

1st SERV. What, he that played…the ghost in what d’ye call the play?
2nd SERV. Amblit, Prince o’ Dunkirk
1st SERV. You’re right. One would think, to see him act his part, he’s served an apprenticeship in a county churchyard, he ghosted it so gravely.

In one notable scene, Shakespeare comforts his sister Kate, who has fallen in love with a Jewish merchant, and makes a speech on behalf of inter-racial marriage. -CP

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Anne Hathaway, or, Shakespeare in Love

Emma Severn
London: Richard Bentley, 1845

One of the earliest fictional portraits of Anne Hathaway and the first of several English works entitled Shakespeare in Love. Both Anne and William are idealized in the triple-decker tale of true love and sentimentality in Stratford. The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare describes the novel as “truly execrable.”

This House To Be Sold

J. Stirling Coyne
London: National Acting Drama Office, 1847?

Written in the 1840s, during the controversy over the sale of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford, this play imagines the ghost of the playwright haunting the new owner, a nouveau riche fishmonger who, like the English public, no longer appreciates him and his works. This is an example of the use of Shakespeare as a mouthpiece for a cause, in this case, the preservation of historic buildings in Stratford-upon-Avon. —VH

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The Apotheosis of Shakespeare and Other Poems

Frank Fether Dally
With Illustrations by G. F. Sargent.
London: Published by J. Brown, Week Street. Whittaker and Co. Ave Maria Lane, 1848

In the mid-1800’s, P.T. Barnum proposed to purchase the neglected house where Shakespeare was born and move it to America, motivating the British government to buy it first, restore it and open it to the public. This poem, written for the occasion, praises Britain for coming to its senses. Lauding the home as “the very throne of thought,” Dally envisions the house inhabited by a panoply of Shakespeare’s characters, and visited by poets and other “children of Song.” These spirits’ paeans invoke Shakespeare’s spirit from the tomb and deify him as the source of poetic inspiration. -CP

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1601: Conversation as it was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors

Mark Twain
Cincinnati: Imprinted by Ye Puritan Press at Ye Sign of Ye Jolly Virgin, 1601 [1880]
120 copies issued; none sold.

Twain, who doubted Shakespeare’s authorship elsewhere, portrays “Mr. Shaxpur” as an unsavory fellow engaged in bawdy conversation with Queen Elizabeth, Ben Jonson, and Sir Walter Raleigh, among others. Erica Jong, who called the work “deliberately lewd,” appreciated its pornographic spirit: “It delights in stinking up the air of propriety.” The work was not included in Twain’s collected writings until 1990. —VH

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Shakespeare’s Insomnia and the Causes Thereof

Franklin H. Head
Chicago: S. A. Maxwell, 1886

This short jeu d’esprit (72 pp.) presents insomnia as the “chronic terror of all men of active life who have passed the age of thirty-five or forty years,” a product of “cares and perplexities of life” and true of our ancestors, even before the days of “telegraphs and railroads,” “working steam and electricity,” and the “mad race for fame and wealth” characteristic of America. Shakespeare can be trusted as evidence of insomnia in the past, on account of “unequalled power of observation” and “ability accurately to chronicle his impressions”: he is “the only man ever born who lived and wrote absolutely without bias or prejudice.” Head cites Emerson: “he reported all things with impartiality.” Quotations from Shakespeare’s plays about sleeplessness reveal reveals his own “hours of pathetic misery, his nights of desolation.” Fictional letters from Will Kemp, Nicholas Bottom, Mordecai Shylock, and other contemporaries both real and imagined are presented as evidence that Shakespeare was kept awake by anxiety about investments, debts, and marital problems. —PG

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The Portrait of Mr. W. H.

Oscar Wilde
First published in Blackwood’s Magazine, 1889

Erskine tells the unnamed first-person narrator about his friend Cyril Graham, who became obsessed with the theory that ‘Mr. W. H.’, the ‘onlie begetter’ of the Sonnets, was boy-actor ‘Willie Hughes’. In order to prove Hughes’s existence, Graham arranges for an impecunious artist to forge a painting of him. After Erskine discovers the deception, Graham kills himself; but refuses, in his suicide note, to abandon his idea, and urges Erskine to prove it. The narrator eagerly adopts the theory, and imagines Hughes travelling to Germany to perform Shakespeare’s work there before being killed in an uprising in Nuremberg. Erskine also becomes persuaded; years later, he too dies and bequeaths the forged painting to the narrator. Coming from Oscar Wilde, this piece is noteworthy for its anti-Shakespeare stance (Wilde was a sometime Shakespeare doubter) as well as its openness about homosexuality. —SJJ

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Master Skylark: A Story of Shakspere’s Time

John Bennett
New York: The Century Co., 1897

Nick Attwood, the son of a tanner and of Anne Hathaway’s cousin, runs away from his home in Stratford-on-Avon. Because of his beautiful singing voice, (hence the book’s title), he is kidnapped by the Admiral’s men. After Attwood’s master is imprisoned for stabbing a man, kindly Will Shakespeare helps his kinsman return to his family. Jonson, Heywood, Burbage and others make brief appearances. It was this classic American children’s book that inspired Susan Cooper to write The King of Shadows.—SJJ

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Shakespeare Converted into Bacon

Samuel Cox
Dublin: Sealy, Bryers, and Walker, 1899

Set in 1601, this “extravaganza in two acts” opens with William Shakespeare relating a dream to fellow playwrights Jonson, Chapman, Peele, Heywood, and Nash in which Shakespeare is told to give up poetry and plays and become a lawyer. Specifically, he is to switch places with Francis Bacon. When a fairy visits Bacon, he feels a desire to become Shakespeare. The two are ready to make the switch when Queen Elizabeth boxes Bacon’s ear and tells him to get back to the courts, then send Shakespeare “back to his playing.” Both Bacon and Shakespeare seem only to serve as foils for a bit of fun with the Shakespeare/Bacon debate.

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