Clipt Wings

William R. Leigh
New York: Thornton W. Allen, 1930

Leigh is an author with an ax to grind. In the preface, he inveighs against Shakespeare as “a boor with the mind of a scullion, who could not, by the most fantastic attribution, have written anything of literary or dramatic stature, anything worth performance or publication in his own or any other age.” Described by one reviewer as “loony,” the play introduces William Shaxper of Stratford as an illiterate bumpkin, willing to let Francis Bacon hide behind his name. Bacon, it turns out, is Queen Elizabeth’s son, as is William Cecil, Lord Burghley. The sibling rivalry turns murderous and Queen Elizabeth is killed. The simpleton Shakespeare is paid off and Bacon goes on writing plays. But when Shakespeare later becomes troublesome, Ben Jonson and other playwrights feel no remorse at poisoning him. –VH

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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To the memorie of M.W. Shake-speare

J. M.
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

One of five prefatory poems in the First Folio, this panegyric speaks directly to Shakespeare as an actor who has stepped off the stage for a costume change. J. M. is probably James Mabbe (1571–1642?), a scholar, translator, and minor literary figure from Oxford. His charming poem laments the loss of Shakespeare and plays upon his acting career, equating death with being offstage and this printed collection with an encore performance. —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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Loving Will Shakespeare

Carolyn Meyer
Orlando: Harcourt, 2006

In her young adult novel Loving Will Shakespeare, Carolyn Meyer spins the sparse facts known about the lives of William Shakespeare and his wife Anne Hathaway into a bittersweet narrative told from Anne’s first-person perspective. Despite the title, Anne and Will’s courtship actually plays a lesser role in the book; this is really Anne’s story, with the majority of the novel focusing on the trials and triumphs of Anne’s youth. Nevertheless, Will does appear frequently, as a charming, confident, and precocious boy (at age eleven he declares Ovid his favorite poet) who seems to be in love with Anne long before she has any romantic thoughts about him. Meyer augments her narrative with details about aspects of early modern life (sartorial laws, hornbooks) which seem intended to make the novel more educational for young readers, and concludes with a note explaining which plot points are historical fact and which were her invention. Readers who have yearned for more details about Shakespeare’s wife will appreciate Meyer’s portrait of an Anne Hathaway who is strong, smart, and a person in her own right. ―BS

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What neede my Shakespeare

John Milton
In Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies.
London: by Thomas Cotes, for John Smethwick, William Aspley, Richard Hawkins, Richard Meighen, and Robert Allot, 1632

This poem of sixteen lines is written in heroic couplets. It resembles a Shakespearean sonnet, but exceeds it by an additional couplet. Milton addresses Shakespeare as “Dear son of Memory, great heir of fame,” and asks, “What needs my Shakespeare” any eulogy? You have built yourself a “live-long monument,” he tells Shakespeare, akin to a “pyramid” or a monarch’s “tomb.” The poem therefore becomes an exercise in paralepsis: Milton memorializes Shakespeare by explaining to the dead poet that such commemoration is superfluous, and demonstrates his own rival poetic skill by protesting how Shakespeare’s “fancy” forestalls and overawes his own, as well as his contemporaries: “thou, our fancy of itself bereaving, / Dost make us marble with too much conceiving.” —PG

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Will Shakespeare

John Mortimer
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977

John Mortimer, the creator of TV’s Rumpole of the Bailey, brings Shakespeare to life through the memories of a former boy actor named John Rice (the name of a real actor at Shakespeare’s Globe). His reminiscences—both those that are historically grounded and those that are imagined—take place largely in the theater world and in conjunction with the creation of particular plays. In 1978, the book was made into a six-part television series starring Tim Currey as Shakespeare.

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Loves Labours Wonne

Don Nigro
New York: Samuel French, 1981

In this five-act play, a slightly spifflicated Shakespeare reviews his life as a man and artist. He wanders into the empty playhouse, where spirits from his life, his longings, and his own inspired works arise to review his time on earth with him. As they torment, taunt, or tantalize him, we gain some insight into Shakespeare’s artistic temperament and creative process.

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Wyrd Sisters

Terry Pratchett
London: Victor Gollancz, 1988

Among fantasy novelist Terry Pratchett’s talents is a flair for creating spoofs of real-world people to populate his Discworld, the round, flat, and magical land in which most of his novels take place. Here, we find Shakespeare, but in another place and time — or reality. In Wyrd Sisters, a retelling of Macbeth (with a bit of Hamlet), Pratchett turns his satirical pen to the Bard. Pratchett’s Discworld Shakespeare is a dwarf named Hwel, author of numerous blank verse masterpieces and playwright for the theater company Mr. Vitoller’s Men. Traditionally a traveling company, Vitoller’s Men are starting construction on the Discworld’s first-ever theater, the Dysk, when Hwel receives an intriguing commission. Concerned by the distrust they sense from their subjects in the kingdom of Lancre, the evil and insane Lord and Lady Felmet want Hwel to write a play that will establish them as Lancre’s true rulers. Events take an unexpected turn, however, courtesy of witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. Perfect for fans of the central triangle on the Venn diagram of Shakespeare, fantasy, and Monty Python-style humor, Wyrd Sisters is a tribute to the power of words and one who, like Hwel, was a master of them, albeit on a more globular world. –BS

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The Merchant of Stratford

Frank Ramirez
In Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine 3:7 (July 1979):125-33

The first time traveler in history goes to 1615 to meet William Shakespeare. But when he arrives, he finds (not surprisingly, if time travel is possible) that other chronologically unfettered fans have been coming for quite some time. Indeed, Shakespeare has made a business out of it. Our pioneer traveler is further flummoxed when he himself becomes an object of historical curiosity among later time travelers. Not missing a beat, Shakespeare offers to become his business manager, taking only a 40% cut. –VH