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by Robert Nye

Pub Date: April 1st, 1999
ISBN: 1-55970-469-1
Publisher: Arcade

The latest of poet-novelist Nye’s mellifluous revisionist looks at celebrated literary and historical figures (Falstaff, 1981; etc.): a high-spirited, sexy, and only occasionally tedious collection of riffs on topics suggested by the life, literary legacy, and reputation of the greatest of all writers. The story’s putative author, an octogenarian acquaintance writing several decades after the death of “WS,” is Robert Reynolds, a.k.a. “Pickleherring,” who was a boy actor enlisted to perform women’s roles (and, as Pickleherring proudly declares, did act all Shakespeare’s “nine Muses,” or great female roles). He approaches his task in a manner both ginger and dilatory, distractedly assembling the contents of 92 boxes filled with data in his humble workroom on the top floor of a particularly lively whorehouse. The story takes its time (WS isn’t born until Chapter IX) and is repeatedly sidetracked by Pickleherring’s weakness for temporizing digressions (the proper spelling of his subject’s name’), lists (of common childhood diseases, Elizabethan grammar-school curricula), and other kindred hilarities. Pickleherring considers such questions as whether WS was begotten by his father upon a lusty Queen Elizabeth (a riotously obscene chapter), whether he wrote Bacon’s essays, went to sea with Sir Francis Drake, or suffered imprisonment for selling fireworks and insulting a constable. And, in a fine frenzy of climactic speculation, Pickleherring also sorts out possible originals for the Dark Lady of the sonnets, confesses his own intimacies with WS (“on occasion . . . I . . . was the master-mistress of the great man’s passion”), and reveals not only the autobiographical dimensions of The Tempest but his own role as the sprite Ariel: “at the play’s end, he set me free, even as he freed himself in the person of Prospero.” A book to rival Anthony Burgess’s wonderful Nothing Like the Sun. Pure entertainment.