The Shakespeariad: A Dramatic Epos

Souvenir of the Tercentary of Shakespeare’s Death Day, April 23rd, 1916
Denton J. Snider
St. Louis: Sigma Publishing, 1916

This sprawling, surreal verse novel (400+ pp.) seems to be modeled in part on Spenser’s allegorical Faerie Queene, as well as the symbolic geography of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Characters from a myriad of Shakespeare’s plays mix and mingle with each other, as well as Shakespeare himself, Pandora, and more mysterious figures such as the Psychagogue and the Scholarch, in places such as “the ghost-haunted Palace of Hamlet” and “the spirit-thronged Temple of Prospero.” Shakespeare himself first appears in propria persona about half-way through the epic, when he turns up as a tourist in Venice, lovesick for “the Dark Lady.” Visiting Venice repeatedly, Shakespeare sets in motion a translatio imperii of “poesy’s world-empire” from Venice to England to America. His “peopled creation” will give way to a “higher efflorescence,” a “limitless future,” in the “coming Seculum” of America, which he compares to Atlantis. The “Magic City” of “Shakespearopolis,” marred by racial bigotry and the subjugation of women, will give way to “Prosperopolis,” the city founded by Prospero, the first American.–PG

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Shakespeare in Wall Street

Edward Henry Warren
Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1929

Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare, and various characters from his plays get involved in the stock market in 1929 New York. That volatile date may make this piece interesting to students of economic history, but Warren, a Harvard lawyer, creates a Shakespeare who is nothing more than a foil in a comedy of human errors.

The Immortal Bard

Isaac Asimov
First published in Universe Science Fiction, 5 (May 1954). Republished in several collections and anthologies, including Earth Is Room Enough (1957) and The Best Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov (1986)

What would the Bard make of the Shakespeare industry that his work has engendered? Does the universality of thinking, exhibited in his plays, mean that Shakespeare could operate as successfully in any age? Would he understand what academics write about his work? These are the kind of questions that are raised in Asimov’s clever science fiction short story, which involves raising Shakespeare and other notables from the dead and time travel. Based on Asimov’s own experience of the academic response to his work, Asimov’s opinion is concentrated in the humorous punch line to the story. –VL

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The Muse

Anthony Burgess
The Hudson Review, Spring 1968, 109-26.

Burgess’ seductively written sci-fi short story dramatizes our desire to know Shakespeare as a person, with our frustration at the impediment of the history and time that stands between Elizabethan England and us. Set in the 23rd Century, Paley, a scholar, time-travels through parallel universes to London in 1595. His goal is to meet William Shakespeare and establish if he really did write the plays. Burgess brilliantly expounds the expectations of Shakespearean mythology against the pathos of real experience, so Paley’s first sight of an original outdoor theatre is ‘something like disappointment’. Burgess’ life-long obsession with the Bard, ranging from his fictionalized biography Nothing Like the Sun to a musical based on Shakespeare, is always focused on the relationship between Shakespeare’s life and work because Burgess personally identified with Shakespeare. Therefore, the Shakespeare we meet in this story is more likely a portrayal of Anthony Burgess in the sixteenth century. –VL

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

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 Undiscovered

William Sanders
Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 1997

In early performances of Paul Green’s outdoor play “The Lost Colony,” performed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina countless times since its premier in 1937, a young William Shakespeare tries to sign on with the colonists going to Roanoke, but is discouraged by Walter Raleigh, who has read his poetry and tells him to stay in London and devote himself to his work. Sanders takes this idea a step further in this story narrated by a sixteenth-century Cherokee, who claims that his tribe adopted an English colonist named Spear-Shaker. He describes a cultural clash when Spear-Shaker tried to produce a play—clearly Hamlet—but the tribe did not understand what he was trying to do. –VH

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The Shakespeare Code

Transmission script
Gareth Roberts
Dr. Who, series 3 episode 2, first aired 7 April 2007

Gareth Roberts had earlier given Shakespeare a small part in the Dr. Who Magazine comic strip (A Groatsworth of Wit, 2005), but in this television script, Shakespeare plays a major role as the author of the now lost play “Loves Labors Won.” The play is of particular interest to Illinois because we own a 1603 manuscript witness to the existence of this play. In Dr. Who, Shakespeare is struggling to complete this particular script. Under a witch’s spell, he finishes the play, and includes, unwittingly, a phrase that will open a portal for the return of the Carrionite witches. Dr. Who and companion Martha Jones save the day, of course, but not before Shakespeare flirts furiously with Martha, receives some literary advice from the Doctor, and has to improvise some magical lines of his own. Shakespeare is a charming, rakish, hard-working, fast-living, affable genius—and also serves as the Doctor’s foil for a lot of anachronistic wit. –TH

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Coffee with Shakespeare

Stanley Wells
London: Duncan Baird, 2008

Part of a series of “Coffee with…” famous figures from Aristotle to Groucho Marx, this imaginary interview with Shakespeare would have been riveting if the interviewer, renowned Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, had asked Shakespeare what he really wants to know. Instead, he uses this fictional construct to allow us to listen as a charming and sympathetic William Shakespeare answers fairly traditional questions. In the course of the interview, Shakespeare reveals the biographical information and literary accomplishments that scholars have long known and surmised. The interview is divided into themes such as Shakespeare’s education, life at the playhouse, his family life, and his creative process. A nice evening’s read and a painless way to learn more about Shakespeare through a fictional chat with the very approachable Bard himself. –VH

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Kill Shakespeare

Anthony Del Col, Anthony and Conor McCreery
Volume 1: A Sea of Troubles (2010) and Volume 2: The Blast of War (2011)
San Diego, Calif: IDW Publishing

A twelve issue comic book series that has since been extended and expanded, Kill Shakespeare is more about Shakespeare’s characters than Shakespeare as a character. Hamlet, Iago, Falstaff, and many others are seeking Shakespeare’s Quill, which gives its owner the ability to create and alter reality. There is also a magic dagger that moves about like Macbeth’s vision. When they finally find Shakespeare himself, he is rather indifferent to all the sound and fury and, in the end, his characters’ great quest signifies not much at all to him. -VH

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