The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0453 Wednesday, 13 August 2008
From: Hardy M. Cook <
Date: Monday, August 11, 2008
Subject: _My Name is Will_
[Editor's Note: The members of the SHAKSPER Book Review Panel have been working
hard this summer establishing criteria and then vetting books for review,
volunteering among themselves to review several of these, and preparing
extended reviews for the new SHAKSPER book review feature. The first fruits of
this group's work will be appearing shortly; initially as postings to the list
and then as a permanent part of the SHAKSPER archives on the list's web site.
Stay tuned. In the meantime, here on the lighter side are excerpts from a review
from the _International Herald Tribune_ of a novel by Jess Winfield, an original
member of The Reduced Shakespeare Company. -- HMC]
Jess Winfield's 'My Name is Will'
By Liesl Schillinger
Published: July 25, 2008
My Name is Will A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare. By Jess Winfield. 291
pages. $23.99. Twelve.
Heavens to Murgatroyd! What could William Shakespeare, bard of Avon, possibly
have in common with the cartoon characters Lilo and Stitch, Mickey Mouse and
Buzz Lightyear? If you read "My Name Is Will," a lusty, pun-drunk first novel by
the professional wiseacre and award-winning cartoon producer Jess Winfield (who
had a hand in the above-mentioned entertainments), you will indubitably find
out. But be "vewwy, vewwy careful," as one of Winfield's characters (a
Shakespeare expert!) warns a wayward student, mimicking the immortal Elmer Fudd.
Many of the gags are what Hanna-Barbera's hammy mountain lion Snagglepuss would
call "abdomenable"; and if you've never heard the expression "What's in a name,"
you'll get to read it here for the first time - actually, the first, second and
third times. Still, if you're up for the lark and could use a
comedies-and-tragedies refresher, you might want to invest in a slide whistle
and a cowbell before you start reading, to give the goings-on the Looney Tunes
accompaniment they deserve.
In "My Name Is Will," William Shakespeare, imagined in his green youth (England,
1580s), alternates chapters with an American alter ego, a hash-smoking
University of California, Santa Cruz, grad student named Willie Shakespeare
Greenberg (California, 1980s). While young Will frolics in the hedgerows of
Stratford-upon-Avon with his Rosaline, incurring the wrath and the rack of
anti-Catholic Elizabethan heavies, young Willie divides his time between chasing
Ophelias, dodging Reaganite narcs and fiddling with a Rubik's Cube, musing all
the while (purportedly) on the questions: "What was it that made Shakespeare
great?" and "What made him Shakespeare?" If the haze in Willie Greenberg's mind
were ever to burn off, answers to these eternal questions might emerge - answers
that would "unlock the doors of Shakespeare's past, and his own future." Given,
however, the abundant local supply of magic mushrooms, hash, pot and other
mind-fogging distractions (including a brainy raven-haired doctoral candidate
named Dashka, who looks like "the brunette from the Bangles" and wears green Doc
Martens and saucy lingerie), Willie is content to defer the big questions.
Instead, he occupies himself by deploying Shakespeare quotes like Spanish fly,
seeing what bodices they might unlock, in the method patented by Cole Porter:
"Just declaim a few lines from Othella / And they'll think you're a hell of a
fella." That is to say: "Brush up your Shakespeare, and they'll / all kowtow."
Willie's Dashka kowtows (so to speak) in a cow pasture, the back of a bus and a
threesome. And that's saying nothing of Willie's girlfriend, Robin, and other
susceptible damsels. Meanwhile, back in Stratford, the other William has his own
troubles with "the local maidenry" - a shotgun wedding to the woman who one day
will inherit his second-best bed, plus a Rosaline on the rampage.
[ . . . ]
To say that Jess Winfield knows his Shakespeare is laughable understatement.
Upside down - boy, he knows him, inside out, and round and round. Winfield spent
most of the 1980s performing theatrical parodies of the Bard's greatest hits at
Renaissance Faires across California. The Reduced Shakespeare Company, which he
formed with some fellow players, turned Shakespearian shtick into an Elizabethan
juggernaut. In 1987, the group took its reduction production, "The Complete
Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and
from there the show toured the world's stages, delivering the fractured,
goosed-up Shakespeare oeuvre at breakneck speed, interlarding their performances
with improv and contemporary cultural references.
[ . . . ]
There's at least one quasi-serious subtext here. Young Willie must persuade his
master's degree adviser (a tippler and deft joint-roller with a healthy
appreciation of psilocybin fungus) to accept the subject of his thesis, which he
has conjured on a whim, while peeking into Dashka's cleavage. The rub? That
Shakespeare may have been a closeted Catholic, and his teenage run-ins with
anti-Catholic henchmen of the Virgin Queen may have shaped his dramatic
sensibilities. It's a provocative notion, albeit one that has captured the
public imagination long before now and has been voluminously bloviated upon.
[ . . . ]
S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook,
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>
DISCLAIMER: Although SHAKSPER is a moderated discussion list, the opinions
expressed on it are the sole property of the poster, and the editor assumes no
responsibility for them.