Sunday, August 9, 2009
My Name Is Will - A Review
Willie Shakespeare Greenberg is a graduate student in UC Santa Cruz whose thesis is on his famous namesake. Instead of concentrating on doing research and writing his paper, however, he occupies his time doing drugs and making it with women. Cut off by his father for his lack of scholastic impetus and, consequently, finding himself broke, he risks being busted by the DEA by agreeing to deliver a large psychedelic mushroom to a buyer at the local Renaissance Fair at the height of Reagan's War on Drugs.
Back in 1582, Will Shakespeare is an eighteen-year-old schoolmaster who is also busy with women and drink. He has just begun to flirt with the idea of writing for a living, and in Winfield's novel are tantalizing glimpses of the genesis of some of his famous speeches, plays, and sonnets. At the same time, the persecution of Catholics is on the rise. Family, friends, fellow students and Shakespeare himself are at risk as the local sheriffs hunt for practicing Catholics. In spite of the danger (or perhaps because of it), Shakespeare agrees to deliver a sacred Catholic relic to the family of an executed priest.
It took me awhile to get used to jumping back and forth in time as each chapter alternated between the two Williams, but the transitions worked well and I forgot about the time jumps as the stories of the two Williams began to mesh. I think this may be one of the key narrative challenges of the piece ~ making these parallel stories complement each other ~ but I found that it is handled adroitly. In the end, which I absolutely loved, both the historical and contemporary Shakespeares eventually find themselves and their purpose in life and begin to move toward it.
Oh, and the Epilogue? When you read it, if you can figure out which of the two Will's it is about, please get back to me with the answer. I can't for the life of me decide.
My Name Is Will is subtitled "A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakepeare" for a good reason, and those who are easily offended should probably steer clear. It is not very scholarly ~ indeed, it is light and highly irreverent ~ but, unless you are a pedant, I think you'll find it an enjoyable read.
Jess Winfield, the author, was a founding member of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, "an American acting troupe that wrote and performed unsubtle, fast-paced, seemingly improvisational condensations of huge topics." (Wikipedia.) The first performance was a 25-minute, 4-actor version of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Winfield was with the troupe from 1981 through 1992, writing and performing various of the Bard's plays, and it's clear that he knows whereof he writes. Winfield is also the author of What Would Shakespeare Do (Ulysses Press, 2000), a self-help book that employs Shakespearean drama as a basis for advice.