Shakespeare in Fiction

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

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    William Shakespeare, being the important literary figure that he is, shows up frequently as a fictional character--so frequently, in fact, that a number of standard conventions have developed about how he's portrayed.

    Most of the fiction about Shakespeare has him experiencing things that mirror his writing, with the implication that they served as inspiration. Specifically, often many of these things are portrayed as true:

    • Hamlet the play is a reaction to the death of Hamnet Shakespeare (his only son).
    • Shakespeare knew some Jews, or a Jew, which is why The Merchant of Venice was Fair for Its Day. Sometimes the Jew in question is Rodrigo Lopez, who was a physician to Queen Elizabeth until he was convicted of treason.
    • Some woman Shakespeare knew was the real Dark Lady from his Sonnets. As one contender, Emelia Bassano, was of Sephardi ancestry, this might overlap with the Merchant of Venice one above. (For some reason there aren't nearly as many fictional presentations of the beautiful young man who's the other central figure in the Sonnets.)

    There are also a number of other common threads in Shakespearean fiction:

    • The Tempest and A Midsummer Nights Dream are related somehow--possibly because Puck and Ariel are connected.
    • Christopher Marlowe's death is significant, or possibly faked.
    • Shakespeare's marriage was of at best questionable happiness (because he only left his wife his "second best bed" in his will, and because he spent most of his life in London while she was in Stratford-upon-Avon). His wife gave birth less than nine months after their marriage, so it's often presented as a Shotgun Wedding. Some Shakespeare scholars dispute both these factoids: apparently the second-best bed was the bed a couple would typically sleep in; the best was kept for guests - like the "company dinner service". Under the laws of the time, the wife would automatically inherit a large share of the estate. As for the marriage, Shakespeare and his wife had been formally engaged for a number of months before the marriage ceremony and at the time, engaged couples were seen as married in all but name. (This crops up as an important plot point in Measure for Measure.)
    • One or both of the lost plays, Love's Labour's Won and the Fletcherian collaboration Cardenio, play some important role in the plot.
    • Very little Shakespearean fiction actually subscribes to any of the standard unorthodox perspectives in the authorship controversy, but often the existence of the controversy is referenced somehow--either by having one of the standard candidates give Shakespeare writing advice, or by coming up with a new (and probably completely absurd) candidate for authorship.
    Fiction where Shakespeare appears as a character includes:


    • He appeared in a promotion for McDonald's (where the chain was giving away BIC pens) taking a seat in the restaurant next to Mark Twain.
    • Appeared in a commercial for Klondike ice cream, where the pitchman asked him if he would write a TV sitcom for a Klondike Bar.


    • Romeo X Juliet has Willy, a playwright who lets the Capulets take shelter in his theater.

    Comic Books

    • In The Sandman, he makes a deal with Dream--he's given writing ability, and in return Dream will get two plays from him (which end up being The Tempest and A Midsummer Nights Dream). Hamnet dies after being captivated by the real world version of Titania, and it's implied that this leads to Hamlet. (And Shakespeare's ability to write a death that made the audience cry). It's hinted that The Tempest is a bit of vanity on Dream's part; "We are such stuff as dreams are made on," etc. Prospero has a lot in common with Morpheus...
      • More specifically, Dream wanted The Tempest to end the way it did because, unlike Prospero, he will never be able to abandon magic and leave his own "island".
    • In Kill Shakespeare Hamlet is asked by Richard III to kill a wizard who may or may not be real: William Shakespeare, who is worshiped throughout the country.

    Fan Works

    "You cant shootest me with an gun
    It would not be very fun
    I will call the gard to stop you
    They will all stab you
    With there knives
    And then you will not have any lives!"
    But the poem was too long and by the time he got to the end he was dead.

      • Fridge Brilliance: Shakespeare spelled his name eleven different ways when he was alive. There wasn't really any standardization of spelling at the time.


    • Shakespeare in Love, obviously. The entire movie is about real-world events that inspired his play. Some examples of this include:
      • Marlowe's death looks like it's important. Shakespeare claims to be Marlowe at a ball where he gets between Lady Viola and her fiancé, so he later ends up thinking that the fiancé had Marlowe killed. It turns out to be a Red Herring; when Shakespeare shows up at Marlowe's funeral, the fiancé's reaction inspires the scene with Banquo's ghost in Macbeth.
      • Lady Viola (who dresses as a boy in order to be able to act) is the inspiration for the character of the same name in Twelfth Night. She may also be the beautiful young man of the Sonnets.
    • The Roland Emmerich film Anonymous (no relation) involves the theory that the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare's plays.
    • In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the Hogwarts choir recites the witch's recipe from Macbeth... to music! J. K. Rowling is herself known to be a fan of the Bard's works.


    • Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth by Elizabeth Bear are urban fantasy novels with Shakespeare and Marlowe as protagonists. They start with Marlowe's (apparent) death, and much is made of the (very real) Marlowe references in As You Like It. Interestingly, Hamnet's death in these books is also the Puck's fault--this may be a Shout-Out to Sandman.
    • King of Shadows by Susan Cooper is about a modern boy actor who's sent back in time to play Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream and bonds with Shakespeare. At the end, he realizes that Shakespeare was almost certainly thinking of him when he wrote the part of Ariel in The Tempest.
    • "We Haven't Got There Yet" by Harry Turtledove is a short story in which Shakespeare attends a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead performed by an involuntarily time-traveling acting troupe from 2066.
    • Turtledove also wrote Ruled Britannia, a novel set in an Alternate Universe where the Spanish Armada conquered England. Ten years later, Shakespeare is writing plays under the Spanish occupiers, but is simultaneously contracted by both them and the English resistance to write plays to either commemorate the dying King Philip or inspire rebellion against him. In the end he chooses the latter, and his play Boudicca sparks a revolution. Published under the slogan "To be free, or not to be free?"
    • Oscar Wilde's story "The Portrait of Mr. W. H." is about the young man of the sonnets.
    • Plots and Players by Pamela Melnikoff makes the Lopez scandal a major part of its plot.
    • The Shakespeare Stealer, Shakespeare's Scribe, and Shakespeare's Spy, by Gary L. Blackwood, are a trilogy about a boy who is initially hired to transcribe Hamlet before it is legally published. The second book revolves around the writing of Love's Labour's Won, which in this version turns out to be a working title for All's Well That Ends Well.
    • Simon Hawke's Shakespeare and Smythe mystery series includes A Mystery of Errors, The Slaying of the Shrew, Much Ado About Murder, and The Merchant of Vengeance. They're all about Shakespeare solving mysteries which have a remarkable resemblance to the plots of his plays (and are set before the plays are written).
    • Arcia Chronicles feature an Expy of Shakespeare, though it's not a very favorable portrayal: more like a Take That for his work on Richard III, since Richard III's expy is one of the good guys in the story.
    • He appears in one of the Science of Discworld books: a timeline lacking him retards human progress as they fall victim to The Fair Folk, so the wizards have to ensure his birth - A Midsummer Night's Dream makes the elves figures of fun in the human imagination and they fade from a position of influence.
    • In Foucault's Pendulum, Shakespeare shows up in Belbo's metafictional writing about the Plan, as part of a complex chain of faked authorship. In an inversion of the standard crackpot theory, he writes the books that in reality were written by Francis Bacon. This means he doesn't have time to write his own plays, so Edward Kelley writes them for him.
    • Isaac Asimov wrote a very short story called "The Immortal Bard" about a physicist who uses a time machine to bring Shakespeare to the present. He relates this to an English professor at a faculty mixer, who, it turns out, had Shakespeare in his class on Shakespeare -- and flunked him.
    • The Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde are set in an alternate England where great literature is as popular and divisive as pop music or football; one of the common con scams the Literary Detectives have to investigate is people with alleged copies of Shakespeare's "lost works" Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won. There are also "Will-Speak" machines, tacky arcade gadgets with a bust of Shakespeare similar to the fortune-telling ones from our world, and at one point the Goliath Corporation attempts to produce new Shakespeare plays by cloning the man thousands of times over and putting them all at typewriters - a reference to the old idea that a troupe of monkeys on typewriters will eventually produce the complete works of Shakespeare. At the end of The Eyre Affair, it turns out that no-one wrote the plays, and they're simply the result of a stable time loop.
    • Though Shakespeare has been dead for years by the time of 1632, Doctor Abrabanel mentions that the Earl of Oxford was the real playwright, though William Shakespeare certainly existed and may have had a hand in some of the lesser plays.
    • In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Shakespeare appears in the third book.
    • The Shakespeare Secret by J. L. Carrell. My God, The Shakespeare Secret. The entire fricking plotline is based around Shakespeare!
    • My Name Is Will by Jess Winfeld (of the Reduced Shakespeare Company), in which a young Shakespeare is a character-- and so is Willie Shakespeare Greenburg, a 21st century grad student and shrooms mule trying to prove Shakespeare was a secret Catholic. It... must be read to be believed; it's rather a Weird Shakespeare Nerd Thing.
    • Shakespeare is the main character in Nothing Like the Sun by Anthony Burgess (yes, that Anthony Burgess). Set in the Dung Ages but with a mostly believable plot, it is centred around the Fair Lord and the Dark Lady (following the theories that she was actually black and that the Fair Lord was the Earl of Southampton). Burgess also wrote Dead Man in Deptford, about Christopher Marlowe.
    • The short story "The Undiscovered", by William Sanders, depicts an Alternate History where Shakespeare, while drunk and broke, mistakenly stows away on the expedition to locate the Roanoke colonists and is stranded in North America. He writes a version of Hamlet on birchbark, but when the Cherokee he's living with consider it a comedy, he gives up and lives a quiet rest of his life.
    • The final book of The 39 Clues, Into The Gauntlet deals with him -- which means he's a Cahill from Mardigals branch.
    • In The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, three knights stroll along with Bastian, singing "When That I was and a Little Tiny Boy" (which we know from Twelfth Night), which they learned from a previous human visitor to Fantasia/Fantastica, "name of Shexper, or something of the sort."
    • The Nick Revill mysteries of Philip Gooden involve a young actor who has some interaction with Shakespeare and other theatre contemporaries, and some of the novel plots mirror Shakespeare's plays.
    • In the Horus Heresy novels he is mentioned a couple times as 'Shakespire'. In Prospero Burns it's revealed that they only believe he wrote three plays.
    • No Bed For Bacon, a humorous novel that may have inspired Shakespeare in Love, takes a Historical Hilarity approach to the period. It makes reference to the authorship controversy by inverting it. Rather than Bacon writing Shakespeare's plays, Shakespeare helps write Bacon's essays in addition to his play-writing work.
    • A meta example, J. K. Rowling claims[1], Voldemort's relation to Harry was inspired by Macbeth, specifically the prophecy given to the protagonist by the Three Witches:

    {{quote|Rowling: "What if [Voldemort] never heard the prophecy? It's the 'Macbeth' idea. I absolutely adore Macbeth. It is possibly my favourite Shakespeare play. And that's the question isn't it? If Macbeth hadn't met the witches, would he have killed Duncan? Would any of it have happened? Is it fated or did he make it happen? I believe he made it happen."

    • She also claimed on her own blog that, "the prophecy (like the one the witches make to Macbeth, if anyone has read the play of the same name) becomes the catalyst for a situation that would never have occurred if it had not been made."

    Live Action TV

    • Doctor Who:
      • The episode "The Shakespeare Code" is centered around the first (and only) performance of Love's Labours Won. Among other references, it has a pub named the Elephant that Shakespeare frequents (Twelfth Night has an inn of the same name). It plays Shakespeare as akin to a rock star of the Middle Ages with a genius-level intellect. Martha Jones turns out to be the Dark Lady of the sonnets. They also play with Shakespeare's suspected bisexuality (i.e, he hits on both Martha and the Doctor).
      • In the Fourth Doctor episode City of Death, the Doctor is shown reading a manuscript of Hamlet (which he hand-wrote for Will, who had sprained his wrist writing sonnets) and claiming that he helped compose the famous 'To be or not to be' speech.
      • Shakespeare has also appeared several times in the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, including the audio The Kingmaker and the Missing Adventures novel Empire of Glass (which also features Marlowe).
        • One Eighth Doctor Adventures novel has the Doctor mention that he "loved Shakespeare", get embarrassed, and correct that to "loves Shakespeare" (connoting he's just a fan of Shakespeare's work instead), then recite Hamlet's "man delights not me" speech as a way of changing the topic.
        • The New Adventures novel Theatre of War has a group of archaeologists uncover a theatre whose archive includes several famous lost plays, including Love's Labour's Won (though we don't get any details, because everybody's more interested in a lost masterpiece from the 23rd century).
        • A Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, "A Groatsworth of Wit" (by Gareth Roberts, who also wrote "The Shakespeare Code") has the Elizabethan playwright Robert Greene travel to the 21st century, where he's horrified to learn that the upstart actor he was so disparaging of is thought of as the greatest playwright of the age, whereas he's just barely remembered as the guy who said It Will Never Catch On.
    • In the Blackadder Time Travel special for the Millennium, Blackadder Back And Forth, Edmund beats up Shakespeare in revenge for 400 years of schoolchildren who have to put up with his plays. And for being indirectly responsible for "Ken Branagh's endless, uncut, four-hour version of Hamlet".

    Shakespeare: Who's Ken Branagh?
    Blackadder: I'll tell him you said that. And I think he'll be very hurt.

    After getting back to 1999, Edmund discovers that this messed up history, making Shakespeare give up writing and be recognized as the inventor of the ballpoint pen (which Edmund left behind by accident), so he has to go back and redo his visit, being much nicer to Will that time around.
    • He's brought into the present-day in an episode of Mentors, where he goes by the alias "Bill Wagstaffe" and tries to write a TV pilot before going back to his own time.
    • In the Twilight Zone episode "The Bard", a tv writer uses black magic to conjure Shakespeare to the present to write a tv movie. He does, but becomes so pissed off at Executive Meddling and the demands of the leading actor (Burt Reynolds as an Expy of Marlon Brando), he storms out.


    • A Cry of Players by William Gibson[2] is about Shakespeare leaving Stratford to become an actor.
    • Equivocation by Bill Cain features Shakespeare as the lead character, and revolves around his attempts to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot. Much Lampshade Hanging and Seinfeldian Conversation ensue. The final speech also implies that several of his plays were actually inspired by stories originally devised by his daughter, Judith.
    • The School of Night by Peter Whelan is primarily about the events leading up to Christopher Marlowe's mysterious death. Shakespeare features primarily as foil to Marlowe in terms of his work being remembered.

    Video Games

    Web Comics

    Web Original

    Shakespeare: The Bard is in the building, it's a castle, I'm a boss...

    Western Animation

    • In the Looney Tunes cartoon "A Witch's Tangled Hare," Bugs Bunny comes across a man resembling Shakespeare who is upset because he isn't a good writer. Bugs Bunny points out, "But you're William Shakespeare," and the man reveals that his name is actually Sam Crubish.
    1. Interview with The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet
    2. (no, not that one)