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My Name Is Will, страница 1


My Name Is Will

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My Name Is Will

  The events and characters in this book are fictitious. Certain real locations and public figures are mentioned, but all other characters and events described in the book are totally imaginary.

  Copyright © 2008 by Jess Winfield

  All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

  Faire Opening Song (“Awake, Awake!”) copyright © 1973, 1993 by Jon DeCles. Used by permission.


  Hachette Book Group USA

  237 Park Avenue

  New York, NY 10017

  Visit our Web site at

  First eBook Edition: July 2008

  ISBN: 978-0-446-53767-4



  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen


  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven


  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Chapter Thirty-six

  Chapter Thirty-seven

  Chapter Thirty-eight

  Chapter Thirty-nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapters Forty-one and Forty-two

  Chapter Forty-three

  Chapter Forty-four

  Chapter Forty-five




  About the Author

  About Twelve

  In memory of my mother,

  Lillian Borgeson,

  who once told me I could write a novel.

  Part One


  Chapter One

  Where is any author in the world

  Teaches such beauty as a woman’s eye?

  Learning is but an adjunct to ourself

  And where we are our learning likewise is:

  Then when ourselves we see in ladies’ eyes,

  Do we not likewise see our learning there?

  O, we have made a vow to study, lords,

  And in that vow we have forsworn our books.

  — Berowne, Love’s Labour’s Lost, IV.iii.308

  Willie sat in the back row of a blocky white minibus, his hand cupped around the enormous psychedelic mushroom hidden under a denim jacket laid too casually across his lap. The Psilocybe cubensis was fresh, not dried; sweating slightly, it was smooth and moist to the touch. It possessed, he thought, a comforting fullness, an ancient, earthy quality. He felt a little high just touching it. Though he didn’t know it, the mushroom’s cap was exactly the size and shape of Queen Elizabeth I’s left tit.

  Willie also didn’t know that the guy sitting up front, near the driver, was a narc.

  And he also didn’t know quite how he — a graduate student in literature, and according to his mother, the next William Shakespeare — had ended up as a drug runner.

  But he did know that the woman sitting next to him was giving him a boner.

  Just two days earlier, he’d been in the office of Clarence Welsh, professor of literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Welsh’s office, in a third-floor crow’s nest perched atop the jumbled modernist slabs of Kresge College, had a window with a bucolic view of the surrounding redwood forest and a glimpse of Monterey Bay in the distance; a view now entirely obscured, alas, by a stack of bound periodicals labeled Journal of Shakespearean Studies on their spines, with dates ranging from “1961–65” all the way to “1983–”

  Willie heard the title of his proposed master’s thesis read back to him aloud: “Shakespeare and the Crucifix: Catholic Persecution in Sixteenth- Century England and Its Effect on Elizabethan Theater.”

  Clarence Welsh was a smallish, rotund man. His greasy, dandruff-flecked hair looked as though it had been cut by a drunken gardener with a rusty hedge trimmer. His face was red with English jollity and suppressed perversion.

  Willie liked Clarence Welsh.

  But the voice speaking in Professor Welsh’s office was not that of Clarence Welsh. At this precise moment, Welsh was spilling his fifth glass of wine at a luncheon in San Francisco celebrating the publication of his latest book, Getting Bottom: Bestiality in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

  No, the voice speaking in Welsh’s office belonged to his top-gun doctoral candidate, Dashka Demitra. She was covering for Welsh during his book tour, and her duties included vetting the topic for Willie’s long-overdue master’s thesis. She handed back the one-page proposal without finishing it.

  “What have you been smoking?”

  Willie opened his mouth, then thought better and closed it again. The answer was “Lebanese hashish.” He’d smoked a little — just one hit, to clear his head — before the meeting.

  Dashka leaned back in Clarence Welsh’s chair — it went squeeeeeeeeeee — and crossed her legs, exposing a flash of inner thigh in the process. She rocked back and forth a little in the chair — squee squee squee squee — “Look . . . sorry, what’s your last name?” she asked as she picked up a dog-eared list off the desk and flipped through it.


  She scanned quickly until she found his name on the list, then stopped and looked up at him. She said it deliberately, wrapping her lips around the words:

  “William . . . Shakespeare . . . Greenberg?” Dashka blinked. “That’s quite a name. Your — ”

  “I know,” Willie interrupted. “I’m Shakespeare, my thesis had better be good.”

  “Actually, I was going to ask what your parents were thinking.”

  “They’re Jewish. Mom was an Anglophile.” Willie shifted in his chair. “My friends call me Willie.”

  “Willie,” Dashka repeated, with an almost imperceptible raise of her eyebrow, letting the name hang in the air for a moment.

  Squee. Squee.

  Then, referring to the paper: “I’m sure it’s an interesting area — your thesis, that is — ”

  “I think it’s valid,” Willie interrupted. “Shakespeare was a Catholic, and there’s a level where his writing is all about — ”

  Dashka interrupted him back. “Every bio I’ve ever read suggests he was Church of England. All his scriptural quotations are from a Protestant Bible.”

  “Right, right . . .” said Willie, trying to collect fuzzy thoughts. It hadn’t even occurred to him that there were “Catholic” and “Protestant” Bibles. He could feel the go-ahead slipping away, and his degree and career along with it. He had put off getting the approval until the last possible week. If this pitch didn’t fly . . .

  “Right, but I think that was just a cover,” he continued, his voice heavy in
the cramped, musty room. “His mother’s family at least — the Ardens — they were Catholic, right? But he couldn’t just go around spewing quotes from the . . . the Catholic Bible, right? Because they were executing Catholics. Historically . . .”

  “No-no-no-no,” Dashka said, and waved her hands to interrupt him, partly to Willie’s relief, as he had no idea what was going to come out of his mouth after “Historically,” but much to his dread, that she would kill the proposal.

  “Listen,” began Dashka. She leaned forward again in the chair — squeeeee — and as she did so she dropped the list in her hand. When she bent to pick it up the top of her blouse fell away from her collarbone. It was unbuttoned to her sternum. Caught with his eyes deep in the cookie jar, Willie’s gaze leaped up so quickly that he barely had time to register a black lace bra, a breast — evenly tanned to a golden brown, small yet not so small that it wasn’t straining against the bra — and a cappuccino aureole peeking out from the lace like the muted disk of the sun on a foggy day.

  She was still speaking, but Willie had forgotten to listen. He was thinking that UCSC women, while generally smart, funny, and talented, also tended toward the overweight, the frumpy, the geeky, the gawky, the Coke bottle–lensed, the makeup-challenged, the awkward, the mousy, the unshaven. But Dashka . . . he was hooked from the day she walked into one of Welsh’s classes, silently left a stack of papers on his lectern, and swept out. Every eye in the room — straight, gay, and lesbian alike — followed her out the door. Even Welsh stole a glance.

  Now, Willie took in the shining, raven-black hair, dyed with streaks of purple and green: a rocker’s hair, somewhere on the Jett end of a Siouxsie Sioux / Kate Bush / Joan Jett axis. In fact, thought Willie, she looked just like the brunette from the Bangles. Blue eyes; not a pale blue but the unfathomable, dark, indigo blue of an alpine lake at twilight. Sparkle-green eye shadow. Bright red lipstick. And — right here at UC Santa Cruz, last bastion of Birkenstocks — green Doc Martens, hand painted with a black Maori tribal design. Add the palpable intellect of a fast-track doctoral student from a tony East Coast liberal arts college, and Jesus. In the time between two squees of the chair, he’d thought of five different possible positions.

  “Maybe they don’t tell you this in the master’s program,” she said, “but since Wimsatt and Beardly and the ascendance of New Criticism, authorial intent and historical context carry very little weight in literary analysis.” She took the cap off of her red pen, and shook her head. “I think maybe you should — ”

  In the instant before she could finish her sentence, her pen poised over the desk, Willie saw the life he hadn’t yet lived flash before his eyes. The master’s degree; the creative writing program; the grants and fellowships; the burgeoning life as scholar, playwright, poet, actor, modern day Renaissance man, truly the second coming of Shakespeare . . . gone in a puff of New Critical smoke.

  “I’ve already done most of the research,” he blurted.

  A lie. He’d done no significant master’s research for a year. He spent an hour or two a day buried in his Riverside Shakespeare, reading the plays, but mostly he smoked hash in his room and listened to music, living off his father’s increasingly reluctant benefaction. The only thing he’d truly mastered was the Rubik’s Cube. He did think about Shakespeare a lot while endlessly spinning rows of green squares and blue squares, yellow squares and white squares, trying to get them to line up — trying to get a grip on it, to figure it out: what was it that made Shakespeare great? What made him Shakespeare? That would be the key that would unlock the doors of Shakespeare’s past, and his own future.

  Dashka rocked back and forth slowly on the chair. Squee . . . Squee . . . considering.

  “It’ll be a whole new approach to literary evaluation. New Historic . . . al . . . ism,” Willie said, piling layer of bs on layer of bs. Then the quote sprang unbidden to Willie’s mind and from his lips: “The trust I have is in my innocence, and therefore am I bold and resolute.”

  Trying to hold Dashka’s fathomless blue gaze in the pause that followed, he felt neither innocent nor bold nor resolute.

  She finally asked, “Henry VI, Part Three?”

  “Part Two,” Willie replied.

  Quoting Shakespeare seemed to have done the trick. As Dashka turned back to the desk he could have sworn she stole a quick glance down his body. He suddenly felt underdressed — green drawstring pants and inky denim jacket over a shredded Ramones tank top.

  She shrugged. “Okay. It’s your thesis. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a masterpiece. I’ll discuss it with the professor. He’ll still have to give the final approval, so I suggest you talk to him the instant he gets back. If you want my advice, keep it focused on the text. Don’t get caught up in the history. Text, text, text, right?”

  Dashka set down her red pen, picked up one that matched her green Docs, and made a check mark on the list.

  “I will,” said Willie, relief flooding through his body like a drug rush. “Thanks.” He gathered up his notebook, slipped the proposal inside, and shuffled it into his green nylon backpack. “I’ll see you in section next week.”

  Willie wanted to get out before she changed her mind. As he stood, he zipped open the front pouch of his pack to slip his pen inside. But the main part of the backpack was still unzipped. The whole pack fell open, spilling out his notebook and the November issue of a hard-core porn rag. The magazine fluttered to the floor, open to a layout of two female Santa’s elves in fur-trimmed, red-sequined spandex miniskirts, topless and flashing beaver, about to go down on a fully erect black shopping mall Santa. As Willie lurched forward to snatch up the magazine, something silvery flashed out of the backpack’s open front pouch. He instinctively lunged to grab it out of midair.

  Willie had quick hands. Four times out of five if he dropped a small item he could catch it before it hit the floor. But he had recently caught a dropped toothbrush, a pizza-parlor pepper shaker, a lighter, and a diaphragm case. This was the fifth time, and he only succeeded in knocking the item out of the air. He had a sinking, exhilarating feeling as it clattered across Clarence Welsh’s desk and spun to a stop directly under Dashka Demitra’s pen.

  The item was William Shakespeare Greenberg’s hash pipe.

  Dashka looked at the pipe; then at the magazine; then at Willie.

  “Sorry . . .” Willie said, reaching for the magazine.

  But Dashka quickly leaned over and scooped it up first. She glanced at the cover. “They start in with the holiday porn earlier and earlier every year, don’t they?” she said. She flipped to the Santa’s elves spread. “Damn, I wonder how Santa gets that down the chimney.” Then she closed the magazine and held it out for Willie with an inscrutable look.

  As he put the magazine back in his pack, he weighed two options: he could walk out, utterly humiliated; or he could take one desperate stab at redemption.

  Willie nodded toward the pipe still sitting on the desk. “So can I have my pipe back? Or did you want to sample that as well?”

  Willie saw a spark in the depths of Dashka’s eyes. She rocked back in her chair with a mischievous smile.


  Chapter Two

  I will argue that 1582 was the year Shakespeare became Shakespeare. His coming of age didn’t take place in a vacuum, nor in some idealized, pastoral-watercolor vision of Merry Olde England. The Stratford-upon-Avon of the Bard’s youth was one of social turmoil and religious oppression. King Henry VIII had split with the Roman Catholic Church so that he might divorce his first wife and leave a male heir. He failed, and his daughter “Bloody” Mary I forced England back to Catholicism by burning hundreds of Protestants at the stake. On Mary’s death, Henry’s second daughter took the throne as Elizabeth I, returned the country to Protestantism, and established a network of spies and informants to enforce the state religion.

  Eighteen-year-old William Shakespeare had a love / hate relationship with Latin.

  He loved the language. Even the repetitive declen
sion of demonstratives — hic haec hoc, huius huius huius — brought vague memories to his mind of the sweet smell of incense, wise men bearing strange Eastern unguents, and the taste of wine. But he hated teaching the lessons. As a student, he had always struggled with the tongue, and now keeping one step ahead of the older boys was a tail-chasing proposition. He still felt, in only his second term, more like one of the pupils than an assistant schoolmaster, or “usher,” which was what he was.

  William’s students sat along the walls of the King’s New School of Stratford-upon-Avon. It was the third day of the Michaelmas term — a nominal distinction, as the pale, bug-eyed little moppets attended school nearly year-round, six days a week from six a.m. to six p.m., less a half day on Thursday. On their “day off” they were expected to go to church and Sunday school.

  The class was diving into Lyly’s A Short Introduction to Grammar, the sine qua non of Elizabethan secular education. The three oldest boys held the school’s three precious copies and read together aloud in the singsongy voice that afflicts all readers-together-aloud:

  “An Introduction to the Numbers of Nouns. In nouns be two numbers; the singular, and the plural. The singular number speaketh of but one: as, lapis, a stone. The plural number speaketh of more than one: as, lapides, stones.”

  “Close the books,” William Shakespeare commanded. A thwap as the students obliged. “Now how many numbers be there in nouns?”

  There was an absolutely still silence. No one raised a hand. A few stole glances at their hornbooks. No help there; just a cheat sheet for the English alphabet, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Roman numerals.

  “Taught your masters naught in petty school? To read and retain? How many numbers be there in nouns!?”

  “Two,” said three or four voices — the older boys.

  “Better. Ay. And what is lapis?”

  “Stones,” offered an especially pale boy.

  “Nay,” said William, “ ’ tis but the singular, stone.”

  A wicked laugh from young Richard Wheeler, class ass. “Forgive him, for he is breechless, and knows not the stones of which you speak.”

  The reference, to the fact that the pale lad was still wearing a dress, as was the custom for very young boys, and therefore by extension had no “stones” — testicles — was technically an “oath” under the new rules of the King’s School and subject to punishment. But William Shakespeare didn’t countenance giving young boys the whip when he had a sharper tool at his disposal.

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