William Shakespeare is more than a mere man. He’s more than a famous author. He’s even more than a myth. He has become an institution that permeates the English-speaking world and its culture, and as such, he can’t avoid getting embroiled in our society’s complex needs, desires and relationships, even their darker aspects. Shakespeare’s reputation has been taken advantage of to establish cultural credentials, obtain social prominence, attract public attention and, of course, to make money.
In Faking Shakespeare: Tales of Forgery, Theft and Deception I bring together three stories where Shakespeare has been conscripted to satisfy man’s basest desires. In one, a young man perpetrates an elaborate hoax on his own father, in another a once respected scholar destroys his own reputation while trying to establish it, and in the last, a petty criminal attempts larceny on a Shakespearean scale to finance his playboy lifestyle.
One case where the most has been made of an association with Shakespeare is that of his birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town that would be just another blip on the motorway without him. If you’ve been to Stratford-upon-Avon, no doubt you went to Holy Trinity Church to see the Shakespeare monument and his grave. Did you come away feeling a little disappointed and uneasy? Not to worry, they’ve had the same effect on people for the last 400 years. In The Mystery of the Stratford Monument, I explore why this might be the case.
Despite William Shakespeare’s cultural importance today, he left very little behind in the way of documentary evidence of his life and career. This has created a vacuum that has been filled with much speculation and engendered considerable doubts. In Much Ado About Nothing, I explore three cases where both Shakespeare’s defenders and his detractors have tried to fill that vacuum based on very little, or indeed, nothing at all.
As a writer trying to flesh out Shakespeare’s life and character for my novel Not Wisely but Too Well, I came across the same problem (although as a novelist I have greater leave to speculate than a scholar does). It led me to wonder whether Shakespeare would be remembered at all today if his friends had never thought to publish his plays in the First Folio. My short story In Search of Shakespeare takes a foray into an alternative future and time travel and speculates on: what if they hadn’t?
If you have friends who are interested in Shakespeare, or enjoy stories about our human frailties, please share this roundup with them.