Thursday, August 12, 2010
[Maybe] I'll find the meaning of life in a sonnet
I've tried to describe the book to people before and I just end up repeating the subtitle. "Well, you see, it's a book about Shakespeare. But there's also a lot of drugs and sex." I'm so eloquent. So let me try a little harder this time. It's actually the tale of two Shakespeares. Also sex and drugs. I hope that cleared everything up!
Alright, I'll give this one more try. It is the story of two Shakespeares: the William Shakespeare you know and (I hope) love and then there's William "Willie" Shakespeare Greenberg, the modern day Shakespearean scholar. The chapters alternate between Willie's journey to figure out his master's thesis, that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic, his task to deliver drugs to a Renaissance Faire and his goal to have a lot of sex along the way. Then there's the Bard's life before he began writing, the poaching of the deer in Sir Thomas Lucy's grounds, his trip to London and having a lot of sex along the way. The stories parallel one another, showing how the two Shakespeare's react to similar but entirely different situations. There's a scene where Shakespeare is being tortured by Sir Lucy that mimics a scene with Willie and his girlfriend in bed together. See, similar but different; I wasn't just being complicated there. The two Shakespeare's are also persecuted to varying degrees: for Willie it comes from the DEA and Reagan's recently implemented mandatory minimum sentencing and for Shakespeare it's those darn Protestants.
I liked the Shakespeare chapters better than the Willie ones. Both sets are interesting but I'm personally more interested in Shakespeare's life, even a fictional telling of his lost years. You see into a world of Shakespeare if he was a closet Catholic and how his early life may have influenced his later writing, including the more important lesson of the theater "Know Thy Audience" which lets him move beyond political allegory and create characters for all ages. Winfield's Shakespeare could be the early version of Joseph Fiennes' Shakespeare of Shakespeare in Love. There is more at stake in Shakespeare's story and more chance for him to grow. Willie's story is funny and kept me entertained but it couldn't draw me in the same way Shakespeare's chapters did.
There are a lot of little nods to Shakespeare, as would be expected. Some work well and others are more obvious and feel a bit more awkward. And of course there is a lot of humor. Jess Winfield, then credited as Jess Borgenson, is one of the original authors of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (abridged), which I wrote about in an earlier post and he makes clear references to the early days of the group and according to Winfield's website parts of Willie's story is indeed based about his own life.
Title quote from page 22
Winfield, Jess. My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakespeare. Twelve/Hatchette Book Group, New York. 2008