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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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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Arthur C. Clarke
First published in King’s College Review, 1947
Collected in Reach for Tomorrow (1956) as “The Curse”

Clarke wrote this story while stationed near Stratford-upon-Avon, training RAF radio mechanics after the war. Shakespeare himself does not appear, though the warning on his gravestone and mankind’s destruction are strangely connected in this short, grim story of the end of the world.

Bingo: Scenes of Money and Death

Edward Bond
London: Eyre Methuen, 1974

Originally produced in England in 1973, and revived in 1974 starring John Gielgud as Shakespeare, Edward Bond’s play Bingo examines Shakespeare’s retirement to Stratford-on-Avon in a series of bleak scenes set in 1615 and 1616. Bond is particularly interested in the controversy surrounding Shakespeare’s involvement in “enclosure” in Warwickshire as recorded in the historical records of his life. Bond’s Shakespeare is melancholy, world-weary, and more concerned with his money than the common good. He is also border-line senile and prone to distracted, staccato musing. At its weakest points, the play might read to some as a poor attempt to write Shakespeare as a character in a Beckett play. But it offers a searing imaginative creation of the man behind the celebrated canon: a profoundly gifted artist whose insight into humanity and interpersonal relationships was reserved for his fictional creations. Alienated from his daughter Judith and his wife, who is never seen on stage, this Shakespeare is a Pericles or Leontes desperately in need of the sort of familial redemption he imagined in his late plays. Allusions to King Lear abound, and readers well-versed in the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical scene will delight in the play’s strongest and most memorable scene, which showcases Ben Jonson telling Shakespeare what he really thinks of him (it’s not good). –BW

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The Kingmaker

A Dr. Who audio play
Nev Fountain
London: Big Finish, 2006

Another Dr. Who encounter with Shakespeare (there are several), in which Shakespeare does a little time-travelling himself and plays a less than honorable role in trying to insure that Richard III does the wrong thing. The Doctor and Shakespeare argue about the lack of historical research Will does for his plays. When the Doctor goes back to 1483 to see what Richard III was really like, Will secretly hitches a ride. Shakespeare is a “bad guy” inasmuch as his goal is to make sure that Richard III remains the historical villain and that his beloved Tudors are not tainted with the deaths of the two princes. In a twist of plot (and time), Shakespeare limps into the Battle of Bosworth Field and Richard III takes up a new literary life in Elizabethan England. –TH

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