Poet’s Corner

Max Beerbohm
London: William Heinemann, 1904

English caricaturist and master of parody Max Beerbohm portrays Shakespeare sneaking past Francis Bacon, who slips the manuscript of Hamlet to him behind his back. But Beerbohm did not condone this view, once writing that Shakespeare-deniers had “made themselves very ridiculous.”

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William Shakespeare Pedagogue and Poacher

Richard Garnett
London: J. Lane, 1905

A schoolteacher in Stratford, Shakespeare longs for London life and the stage. When he rather brusquely tells his wife that he is deserting her and the children, she turns him in to the local lord as a thief. An arrogant and clever Shakespeare provokes Lord Lucy, who suspects him of dalliance with his wife, into sentencing him to be flogged and then exiled for three years. But a deus ex machina in the form of the Earl of Leicester arrives in time to extricate Shakespeare’s genius from petty Stratford. —VH

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Shake-speare’s Sweetheart

Sara Hawks Sterling
Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs and Co., 1905

The “most artistic gift book of the year” according to one advertisement of its day, this romantic picture of Shakespeare’s love life purports to come from a manuscript by Ben Jonson, who recorded the story as told by Anne Hathaway herself. Anne is a more active and endearing character than usual, resorting to cross-dressing at one point to visit Shakespeare in London. Illustrated in an Arts and Crafts style by Clara Elsene Peck (1883-1968). Shakespeare is a nervous playwright on the brink of great fame. He is admired by many, but always, of course, a loyal husband.

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The Sale of Shakespeare’s Ghost

Don Mark Lemon
The Black Cat 13/8 (1908): 36-43

Millionaire and aspiring writer Robert Varel answers a small newspaper advertisement offering to lease the ghost of Shakespeare for $10,000 a week. After a demonstration, however, he is not satisfied to rent the miraculous fountain pen that scribbles lines from The Merchant of Venice as well as original lines when he puts the nib to the pages of the special portfolio. He must own the ghost—and he buys it for $1,000,000. He writes a pretty good five-act play entitled “Prince Edward,” before he realizes he’s been duped in this short story of a fool and his money. -VH
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The Dark Lady

George Bernard Shaw
Rough proof – unpublished
London: Constable and Company Ltd., 1910

In this brief play, William Shakespeare attempts a secret meeting with his beloved, the Dark Lady of the sonnets. He mistakenly courts another woman, however, who turns out to be Queen Elizabeth. In the course of this comedy of errors, Shakespeare shows himself to be not only a smooth operator, but also a plagiarist, lifting lines from everyone he meets (lines we know from his plays). The play also includes a plea for England to establish a National Shakespeare Theatre. —VH

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Shakespeare and His Love

Frank Harris
London: Frank Palmer, 1910

Written, Harris says, in 1904, this play covers the same ground as Shaw’s “The Dark Lady,” though less successfully. Harris was incensed when Shaw’s play appeared in 1910, and rushed this one into print claiming in the preface: “I have not yet read or seen Mr. Shaw’s play: I only wish here to draw attention to the fact that he has already annexed a good deal of my work and put it forth as his own, […] I naturally infer that in this play he has taken from me even more than he could hope to pass off as his own.” In the play, Shakespeare desperately admires the Dark Lady, Mary Fitton (1578-1647), and asks William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke (1580-1630) to play Cyrano for him. Fritton falls for Herbert (an historic fact), and the emotional turmoil inspires Shakespeare’s most productive writing before he retires to a melancholy life in Stratford. —VH

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The Rehearsal

Maurice Baring
In Diminutive Dramas
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911

This play depicts a 1595 rehearsal of Macbeth, using a light comic touch to theorize about the art of playmaking and the role of collaborative input in theater work. Shakespeare himself is the much put-upon AUTHOR, asked to rewrite, cut, and give them something they can ham up. As the AUTHOR, the PRODUCER and the STAGE MANAGER farcically attempt to rehearse Act V of Macbeth, Mr Hughes, playing Lady Macbeth, falls over and argues about his lines; Burbage then enters as Macbeth and asks the AUTHOR for a soliloquy to make his character seem more sympathetic. While Burbage and Macduff practice the fight, Shakespeare writes the ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech, which Burbage then refuses to speak because “It’s a third too short. There’s not a single rhyme in it. It’s got nothing to do with the situation.” –SJJ

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Lewis Bostelmann
New York: Rutland Publishing Company, 1911

“A chronologically arranged outline of the life of Roger Manners, Fifth Earl of Rutland and author of the works issued in folio in 1623 under the nom de plume Shake-Speare” followed by two plays. The first play has the Earl setting up a certain William Shaxper as his “dummy and strawman,” while the second deals with the making of the First Folio nine years after Earl Rutland’s death. When the Earl of Pembroke wants to publish Rutland’s works in folio, Ben Jonson, Martin Droeshout, Heminge and Condell all agree to work on the project, and a few of them even remember the real Shaxper who could not even sign his own name.

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Shakespeare’s End

Norreys Connell
In Shakespeare’s End and other Irish Plays
London: Stephen Swift and Company Limited, 1912

Hiding behind the name Norreys Connell, the Irish playwright Conal O’Riordan uses Shakespeare as a mouthpiece for his political views about the role of art in society, touching upon Anglo-Irish relations and the duty of playwrights to speak truth to power. He draws upon the story, told by John Ward, (1629–1681) that Shakespeare died after a night of drinking with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. O’Riordan introduces two visitors to this party, an English sailor and a Jesuit priest. The sailor causes Shakespeare to doubt the harsh imperialism of his beloved England, while the priest inspires an epiphany as Shakespeare questions the value of his art, and then seems to expire as a Catholic. Shakespeare’s wife also makes an appearance, as does his daughter Judith, who presents the prologue and promises a play in “barbarous blank verse and jingling rhyme.” —VH

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The Seen and Unseen at Stratford-On-Avon: A Fantasy

William Dean Howells
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1914

The scarcity of the information on Shakespeare’s life offers a license for fictional authors to reconstruct his personality. This ‘Fantasy’ takes the form of a travelogue in which an American tourist is following the Shakespeare trail, attending the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford-upon-Avon. On his travels, the narrator happens to ‘wonder at the cinematic apparition’ of William Shakespeare. Luckily Shakespeare’s phantom is a friendly and genial fellow who insists on taking the narrator on a personal tour of his birthplace. This romanticized narrative covers all disputed aspects of Shakespeare’s life. The narrator can directly converse with Shakespeare on issues such as his relationship with his wife and the authorship debate. It also includes a very appealing characterization of Francis Bacon, as the narrator gets to meet with the ghost of Bacon, an extremely unsavory and grumpy man. –VL

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