Returne from Pernassus

or The scourge of simony : publiquely acted by the students in Saint Johns Colledge in Cambridge
London: Printed by G. Eld, for Iohn Wright, and are to bee sold at his shop at Christ church gate, 1606

One of three related satires performed at Cambridge around 1599/1600. The plays follow two students trying to find a job after college. Recent scholars have argued that one of the characters, Studioso, may be a parody of Shakespeare himself. Be that as it may, it is certainly true that another character, the poetry-loving patron Gullio, is a great admirer of “sweet Mr. Shakespeare,” asking for a picture to “worship” and put “under my pillow.” In this, the third satire, Shakespeare is mentioned again as a pacifier of Ben Jonson in the War of the Theatres. —VH

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To the Reader

Ben Jonson
In Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, histories & tragedies, published according to the true originall copies.
London: Printed by Tho. Cotes, for Robert Allot, and are to be fold [sic] at the signe of the Blacke Beare in Pauls Church-yard, 1632

Ben Jonson introduced the famous likeness with this poem and first described his friend as “Gentle.” Jonson warns us, however, not to rely on inferior fictions, but to look for the real Shakespeare “not on his picture, but his Booke.”

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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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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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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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The Gloss of Youth

An Imaginary Episode in the Lives of William Shakespeare and John Fletcher
Horace Howard Furness Jr.
Philadelphia & London: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1920

Furness’s short play is a window into Shakespeare’s lodgings in London around 1613, with scenes that feel both intimate and authentic. First, Shakespeare despairs that the public only likes comedy, not the histories and tragedies he values, and his real-life collaborator John Fletcher cajoles him into continuing work. Next the landlord’s daughter and grand-daughter visit, bringing marchpane and asking for help from their long-time friend in settling a (historical) family dispute. Finally, two neighborhood youths Jack and Noll pay a call, and their admiration for the tragedies and histories restore Shakespeare’s hope. He encourages them in turn in their ambitions to be poet and king respectively. The authentic tone gives way and we learn the youths’ last names: Milton and Cromwell. However, this delightful Shakespeare is the kind of man who many would like for a collaborator, neighbor or mentor. -CP

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Proofs of Holy Writ

Rudyard Kipling
First published in Strand Magazine, April 1934

A fanciful scene in which Kipling imagines Shakespeare consulted by the translators of the magisterial King James Bible. Set in 1610 or 1611, it opens with Shakespeare sitting with his old friend Ben Jonson in his garden at Stratford-upon-Avon. When a messenger delivers proof pages of chapter 60 of Isaiah for Shakespeare’s review, the two argue about the best way to express the sense of the text, line by line, with Jonson exhibiting his learning and Shakespeare showing his humanity. Jonson ultimately admits defeat—but only when he is sure Shakespeare has dozed off. The title comes from Othello, III.3. —VH

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Sweet Will, The Cleopatra Boy, and The House of Women

Erick Lawson Malpass
Looe, Cornwall: House of Stratus, 1973-75

This trilogy of historical novels follows William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway from the first years of their marriage through the separation years when William makes his name in London to their retirement together in Stratford. Malpass explores his characters’ psyche as they adjust to what life brings them. Shakespeare’s successes and inspirations are there, as is bustling Elizabethan London, and a women’s perspective on a patriarchal age, but the real focus is on relationships and how the choices we make in life affect us in unintended, tragic, and surprising ways. -VH

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The Shakespeare Stealer series

Gary Blackwood
The Shakespeare Stealer (1998), Shakespeare’s Scribe (2000), and Shakespeare’s Spy (2003)
New York: E.P.Dutton

In these three historical novels written to hold the attention of 7-13 year olds (not to mention most grown-ups), Blackwood offers an engaging and historically grounded introduction to many of the major themes in Shakespeare studies. We see Elizabethan London through the eyes of Widge, an orphan who first meets Shakespeare while using shorthand to steal Hamlet. The plot brings to life such topics as playhouse rivalries, boy actors, religious tensions in Elizabethan England, the frozen Thames, plague outbreaks, traveling troupes, and Elizabethan politics and intrigue. Shakespeare himself is presented as both genius and sympathetic avuncular figure with a warm sense of humor. –VH

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