The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 19.0453  Wednesday, 13 August 2008

From:       Hardy M. Cook <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
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, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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