Sandman Series

Neil Gaiman
“Men of Good Fortune” in The Doll’s House, Sandman 2/13 (1995); “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in Dream Country, Sandman 3/19 (1995); and “The Tempest” in The Wake, Sandman 10/75 (1997)
New York: DC Comics

Shakespeare appears as a character in three of Neil Gaiman’s short stories. In “Men of Good Fortune,” we find Shakespeare, not only speaking admiringly to Christopher Marlowe, but also apparently on the verge of a Faustian deal: “I would give anything to have your gifts. Or more than anything to give men dreams that would live on long after I am dead. I’d bargain, like your Faustus, for that boon.” And, in fact, a deal is made, not with the devil, but with Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams. The other two stories deal with the plays Shakespeare writes, inspired by Morpheus, but not at the price of Shakespeare’s soul. As the Morpheus says, “There is no witchcraft, Will, no magic. I opened a door within you, that was all.” There may, however, be a cost, as Shakespeare’s craft consumes him, even at the cost of his personal life and family relations. Though the Lord of Dreams provides the stuff of inspiration, the characters and themes come from within Shakespeare himself, who says of The Tempest: “I am Prospero, certainly, … But I am also Ariel – A flaming, firing spirit, crackling like lightning in the sky. And I am dull Caliban. I am dark Antonio, brooding and planning, and old Gonzalo, counseling silly wisdom. And I am Trinculo, the jester, and Stephano the butler, for they are clowns and fools, and I am also a clown and a fool, and on occasion, drunkard.” –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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Measure for Measure

or, Beauty the best advocate as it is acted at the theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields: written originally by Mr. Shakespear, and now very much alter’d, with additions of several entertainments of musick
Charles Gildon
London: Printed for D. Brown at the Black Swan without Temple-Bar and R. Parker at the Unicorn under the Royal Ex-change in Cornhill, 1700

The “very much alter’d” production of Measure for Measure, includes an epilogue “spoken by Mr. Verbruggen” (the actor John Verbruggen) as the ghost of Shakespeare. Here we have Shakespeare the Critic, commenting on contemporary theatre. Interestingly, the Ghost does not complain about the altering of his text, but rather that only a few actors—Mr. Verbruggen among them, we assume—are worthy of acting in his plays. —VH

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The Jew of Venice

A comedy. As it is acted at the Theatre in Little-Inn-Fields, by His Majesty’s servants
George Granville, Lord Lansdowne
London: Printed for Ber. Lintott at the Post-House in the Middle Temple-Gate, Fleetstreet. Prologue by Bevil Higgons, 1701

This adaptation of the Merchant of Venice includes a prologue in which the ghosts of Dryden and Shakepeare “arise Crown’d with Lawrel” to discuss current theatre. Dryden disdains English audiences who only want to see French farces about men loving men or women pursuing women. Shakespeare says “these crimes” were unknown in his “less polished age.” Some commentators have interpreted this scene as an attempt to impose eighteenth-century morals on Shakespeare and quash any notion of the homoerotic in his works. In another eighteenth-century imposition, Shakespeare is made to praise his emendators, who have “adorn’d and refin’d” his “rude Sketches.” —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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Infant Vision of Shakespeare

With an Apostrophe to the Immortal Bard, and Other Poems
Anthony Harrison
London: Printed for Harrison and Co., No. 18, Paternoster Row, 1794

In this panegyric poem, Nature takes the child William Shakespeare to her breast to nurture him and endow him with the power to understand and eloquently express every human emotion. “Nature’s richest stores” are shown him, good and bad, and Shakespeare gently ennobles them in his plays. The same idea is expressed visually in George Romney’s copperplate engraving of “Shakespeare Attended by Nature and the Passions.”

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Shakespeare & Smythe mystery series

Simon Hawke
Mystery of Errors (2000), The Slaying of the Shrew (2001), Much Ado About Murder (2002), The Merchant of Vengeance (2003)
New York: Forge

Four mystery novels (thus far?) featuring Will Shakespeare, an aspiring writer, and Symington “Tuck” Smythe, a young actor, as they solve murder mysteries in the interstices between the London theatre scene and the world of Elizabethan intrigue. Who could resist such titles as: A Mystery of Errors, The Slaying of a Shrew, Much Ado About Murder, and our favorite, The Merchant of Vengeance?

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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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Nine Lives of William Shakespeare

Graham Holderness
London: Bloomsbury, 2011

This unique hybrid biography self-consciously combines fiction and historical fact, emphasizing the scarcity of hard evidence about Shakespeare’s life and the speculative nature of other, more official biographies. Holderness suggests biographers of the Bard such as Ackroyd, Bate, Greenblatt, and others end up writing autobiographies in disguise – and without apology does the same himself. Continue reading

Tales from Shakespeare: Creative Collisions

Graham Holderness
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014

Renowned critic Graeme Holderness observes that we study and read Shakespeare academically not in isolation from his presence in popular culture, but within a continuum with it; and he argues for the value of writing creatively, as well as critically about Shakespeare. To this end, Holderness investigates, and then imagines fictionally, the possible performances of Hamlet and Richard II on board a ship off the coast of Africa in 1707, and writes a dramatic version of Kipling’s ‘Proofs of Holy Writ’, in which St Peter’s appreciation of Shakespeare’s work allows Shakespeare to leave Purgatory for Heaven. The short story ‘The Lonely Dragon’ mashes up Ralph Fiennes’s post-Cold War film of Coriolanus with the chariot race from Ben-Hur and the quasi-maternal relationship between Judi Dench’s M and Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Skyfall. The volume closes with meditations on Shakespeare after 9/11 and the suicide bombing of the Doha Players’ performance of Twelfth Night in Qatar. —SJJ.