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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The Remonstrance of Shakespeare

Supposed to have been spoken at the Theatre-Royale, while the French Comedians were acting by Subscription 1749
Mark Akenside
In The Poems of Mark Akenside, M.D.
London: Printed by W. Bowyer and J. Nichols: and sold by J. Dodsley, in Pall Mall, 1772

A critical and somewhat pompous ghost of Shakespeare offers a director’s critique of visiting French actors. He derides their manners and accents in a rambling patriotic speech, proclaiming them unable to “refine / The copious ore of Albion’s native mine.”

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The Rehearsal

Maurice Baring
In Diminutive Dramas
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1911

This play depicts a 1595 rehearsal of Macbeth, using a light comic touch to theorize about the art of playmaking and the role of collaborative input in theater work. Shakespeare himself is the much put-upon AUTHOR, asked to rewrite, cut, and give them something they can ham up. As the AUTHOR, the PRODUCER and the STAGE MANAGER farcically attempt to rehearse Act V of Macbeth, Mr Hughes, playing Lady Macbeth, falls over and argues about his lines; Burbage then enters as Macbeth and asks the AUTHOR for a soliloquy to make his character seem more sympathetic. While Burbage and Macduff practice the fight, Shakespeare writes the ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech, which Burbage then refuses to speak because “It’s a third too short. There’s not a single rhyme in it. It’s got nothing to do with the situation.” –SJJ

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Shakespeare’s End

Norreys Connell
In Shakespeare’s End and other Irish Plays
London: Stephen Swift and Company Limited, 1912

Hiding behind the name Norreys Connell, the Irish playwright Conal O’Riordan uses Shakespeare as a mouthpiece for his political views about the role of art in society, touching upon Anglo-Irish relations and the duty of playwrights to speak truth to power. He draws upon the story, told by John Ward, (1629–1681) that Shakespeare died after a night of drinking with Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton. O’Riordan introduces two visitors to this party, an English sailor and a Jesuit priest. The sailor causes Shakespeare to doubt the harsh imperialism of his beloved England, while the priest inspires an epiphany as Shakespeare questions the value of his art, and then seems to expire as a Catholic. Shakespeare’s wife also makes an appearance, as does his daughter Judith, who presents the prologue and promises a play in “barbarous blank verse and jingling rhyme.” —VH

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The Coiner

Rudyard Kipling
First published in Limits and Renewals
London: Macmillan, 1932

After a visit to Bermuda in 1894, Kipling developed a theory that Shakespeare may have gotten the idea for The Tempest from stories of castaways told by sailors in London pubs. In this poem, Shakespeare, the playwright on the lookout for a good yarn, gives food and drink to a band of seamen in return for their wild stories, which become the inspiration for his play (The Tempest, we presume). He bids them farewell, telling them he is a “coiner” who will “turn your lead pieces to metal as rare / As shall fill him this globe, and leave something to spare.” —VH

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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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Shakespeare and Nicholas Cooke

Stephanie Cowell
Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest (1993) and The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare (1997)
New York: Norton

In these works of historical fiction, Stephanie Cowell focuses on two extraordinary men: one real, one fictional, both tormented by the attempt to discover their true place in life. The real man is William Shakespeare: in The Players, Cowell covers Shakespeare’s life up to 1595, with the majority of the novel dedicated to his early years in London. Readers follow Shakespeare through events that form the foundation of his later success and fame: meeting John Heminges, taking his first roles on stage, writing history plays and sonnets. The fictional man is young Nicholas Cooke, star of the eponymous novel. After running away from his hometown, Nick finds his way to the London theater scene, where he acts with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as Heminges’ apprentice. Continue reading

Dogg’s Hamlet

Tom Stoppard
In Tom Stoppard Plays: I
London: Faber and Faber, 1996

The two short pieces that eventually became Dogg’s Hamlet were first presented in 1971. They bring together an enactment of a philosophical scenario envisioned by Wittgenstein about the mutual intelligibility of language, as well as a radically condensed “15-Minute Hamlet” performance. Shakespeare appears as a character when the first section of the play transitions to the second. He appears in the role of prologue to the Hamlet production, and proceeds to speak several lines, jumbled together, from the play, including “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and “To be or not to be.” The lines don’t cohere into anything but a tapas-like selection of Shakespearean appetizers. Shakespeare can describe his own work only by reference to itself, and yet his “chorus” still feels uncannily lucid. That this speechis not intelligible in itself, but still has unmistakable aesthetic power, is both a testament to the familiarity and cultural weight of Hamlet, if even in its fragments, and to Shakespeare’s line-by-line poetic craftsmanship, as well as a reflection on Stoppard/Wittengenstein’s investigation into language as a tool for creating communion as well as alienation. Dogg’s Hamlet is often presented (as it is in the Faber and Faber edition of Stoppard’s plays) alongside a companion piece, Cahoot’s Macbeth, a play that derives from Stoppard’s involvement with the Charter ’77 movement, and which deals explicitly with the fate of theater under totalitarianism. But while Shakespeare is discussed in this play, only in Dogg’s Hamlet does Shakespeare appear as a character. –BW

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King of Shadows

Susan Cooper
New York: Penguin, 1999

Twentieth-century Nathan Field, who also shares a name with an actor from the First Folio’s list of “Principall Actors,” travels through time to find himself a boy actor directed by the Bard himself. Elizabethan theater culture bubbles forth with all its chaotic disorder and flashes of brilliance. Shakespeare wins our hearts as a wise and caring father figure to the orphaned Nat. In return, Nat unwittingly protects Shakespeare from the bubonic plague. Nat sadly returns to his own times, enabling Shakespeare to live and to continue writing.

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