Thursday, August 12, 2010

[Maybe] I'll find the meaning of life in a sonnet

My friend lent me the book My Name is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare by Jess Winfield awhile ago but I'm holding it hostage until I get my copy of Vonnegut's Galapagos back from him. And while I'm holding onto it it made sense to me to read it again.  Plus I'm currently out of new books to read and I'm trying to save money although I'm sure this won't last too long. It's just a matter of time before the call of the bookstore draws me in.

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


  1. Hey--

    Nice review of My Name is Will.

    Here's mine from a couple of years ago.

    Becky (The Book Frog)

  2. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the review :)

  3. Rebecca - Nice to find someone else that's read this. I want to check out his other work What Would Shakespeare Do

    Brenna - Thanks for stopping by! Hope the review interested you enough to check it out

  4. Nice review. This book has been on my to-read list for a while.

  5. Great review. I'm interested in all things Shakespearean so I will definitely be adding this to my to-read list.

  6. Hi just stopping by to say you have a blog award on my site. Come check it out and I love the book review and this book is on my tbr list.

  7. Man of la Books - Thanks! Hope you get a chance to read it soon

    Shannon - As a fellow Shakespeare fan I think you'd enjoy it! Especially if you like Complete Works (Abridged)

    Book Bee - Thanks so much! I did a little happy dance when I saw your comment

  8. Ha! This is such a great review. It sounds like a good read but it's your voice that gets me on this one...cracked me up several times.

  9. Thanks so much for the award! Super generous of you! :D

    I also wanted to ask, after reading this post, have you read: Nothing Like the Sun: A Novel of Shakespeare's Love Life by Anthony Burgess? I thought it was quite good - both the historical honesty, the story, and the style. And, come on, a biographical novel of Shakespeare's personal life, written by the guy who gave us A Clockwork Orange. I don't know how anyone could pass it up. ;)

    If you're interested, I have a review for it here:


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