The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0265 Monday, 15 February 1999.
Date: Sunday, 14 Feb 1999 17:14:24 -0800
Subject: No Bed for Bacon
There have been at least two references on SHAKSPER to the novel No Bed
for Bacon, by Caryl Brahms (pseudonym for Doris Caroline Abrahams) and
S. J. Simon (London: Michael Joseph, Ltd., 1941). It has been alleged
that this novel is an unacknowledged source for the film "Shakespeare in
Love." I found the novel in the University of Washington library, read
it, and can report the following. It is set in London in 1594. Henslowe
is short of money. In good times he is friends with Burbage, in bad
times, enemies. There is a shortage of players and threat of plague.
Shakespeare is introduced practicing various spellings of his name, and,
throughout the novel, he gets ideas for now-famous lines by overhearing
other persons. There is a rehearsal of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare is
writing Twelfth Night for the Queen and Essex. Francis Drake would like
to ship Essex to "Raleigh's new colony" (22), and Raleigh's cloak
figures prominently. One Viola Compton is a maid of honor to the Queen,
and Essex fancies her. Viola visits Shakespeare's theater, is attracted
to Shakespeare, and tells Elizabeth that she, Viola, wants to go to
Shakespeare disguised as a boy. Viola, pretending to be a boy actor,
recites Shakespeare's lines at audition and "There was an expression of
awe on Shakespeare's face" (94). Later he says to her, "you can speak a
line. By God-you can speak a line" (172). Shakespeare is pressured on
all sides to finish the writing of various plays. He gives Viola the
part of Viola in Twelfth Night, and he soon discovers that she is Viola
Compton. They seem to love each other, but no lovemaking is clearly
evoked. Near the end, he tells Viola he wants to write a play for her,
"a play that needs a woman and cannot be acted by some prancing boy"
(223). On the last page, Viola, as she is leaving, tells Shakespeare:
"You have never so much as written a single sonnet to me" (224), and the
novel ends with these words: "He reached for another sheet. He thought.
Soon he was writing again. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day."
According to an article in Entertainment Weekly, Feb. 12, 1999, "Tom
Stoppard says he flipped through the book 'when he first got the job'
and found it 'of no use'." I do think the film clearly draws on the
world and spirit of the book. Stoppard might helpfully admit that, but
he has, in my judgment, every right to be proud of his (and Marc
Norman's?) contributions to the plot and proud of his own witty and
sometimes trenchant and moving writing.