by James W. Morris
William Shakespeare, alive. Snoozing, rather contentedly, in a red plastic chair in the row directly across from mine at Judy’s Suds ‘n’ Go. Quite a surprise, really.
He appeared in the guise of a hobo, as if he were just an itinerant who had ventured into the laundromat in order to shelter from the cold mist outside. He was damp and filthy and his eyes—which fluttered open from time to time—were rheumy.
It was, perhaps, a very great coincidence, but when I encountered the poet I was holding a slim, well thumbed volume of his sonnets in my hand. I had read in a newspaper advice column that a single fellow seen reading poetry at the laundromat appears interesting and not at all creepy to any available young ladies who might be present. There were, sadly, no young ladies, available or otherwise, on the premises, however—the only people inside Judy’s besides Shakespeare and myself were Mrs. Kramer, an elderly, square-shaped widow with a wart, and Mr. Black, the cigar-chewing wizened owner of the place (whom I referred to as “Judy,” since, for whatever reason, he didn’t alter the name of the business when he purchased it a couple of years ago).
There was a portrait of the poet centered on the back cover of my book and I raised it into my line of vision so that I might compare the artist’s interpretation with the real thing. It was he, all right (greatly aged), but what miracle brought him to Judy’s?
When my laundry was finished, folded and stacked, still pleasantly warm, in the greenish nylon mesh bag I employ to tote it back on the short walk to my modest apartment, I paused in front of Shakespeare to get one final look at him. Unfortunately, my proximate presence roused the Bard, and, to my surprise, he seemed to take my friendly assessment as a sort of invitation, rising and following me, blushing and disconcerted by his attention, all the way out of Judy’s. On the street I stopped and told him that I greatly enjoyed his poems and plays, but that I preferred to be alone at the moment. He nodded agreeably, but continued following me anyway, matching me step for step when I moved further along the sidewalk.
I stopped once more. “No,” I said. “Go away.”
Once again the great man bobbed his head, but I saw now that there was no real understanding in his eyes.
I was perplexed about what the proper thing was for a person in my situation to do. Push my diminutive accoster away violently? Run? The rain dampened my laundry while I pondered the question.
I looked Shakespeare over again, top to toe. Skinny and filthy, he wore rags for clothes.
His eyes were brown.
Well, I’m a cautious person usually, not the reckless sort prone to inviting strangers to his house—immortal geniuses included—but I decided there wasn’t anything the least bit threatening about Shakespeare (I’m twice his size physically). And I have to admit I was harboring a certain curiosity to learn how he’d managed to survive all these years—the introduction at the front of my book of sonnets implied that he died in 1616. Perhaps, I thought, I could give him a hot meal and discover his secret.
So I took Shakespeare home with me that day.
And he’s been living with me ever since.
He likes soup.
This is an unmitigated blessing, since a spoon is the only utensil he manipulates with any dexterity at all (and even that’s not much). Put a knife and fork into his gnarled little hands and the utensils will as likely end up stuck in his nose as his mouth.
I cannot decide what to call him, so I just refer to him as Old Man. Or Shaky.
I went downstairs and told Mrs. Timons, my landlady, that my Great Uncle Bill would be saying with me for a bit. Won’t be a lick of trouble.
Sometimes when Shakespeare’s eating—slurping and splashing soup everywhere—an odd feeling comes over me and I seat myself at the wobbly kitchen table and look across at him—at his bald and shriveled pate. I endeavor to imagine the brain still living behind it.
Consider, if you will, the magnitude that would describe the number of people who have ever been alive, all the humans who have ever existed, from the time God first called us down from the trees. (Are you like me? For some reason, I always conjure our ancestors as emerging from the forest onto the plain all at once, like neighborhood children on allowance day who hear an ice cream truck turn up their street.)
How many of us do you think have lived on Earth, in total?
Billions upon billions upon billions.
Open your mind wide and take a few moments to consider all of those anonymously endured, ordinary, unrecorded lives. Pick some out and try to picture them as individuals. How were their lives spent?
Now look at the nodding head across the table from me.
How many of us made more profitable use of our brains than he?
How many brought more beauty into the world?
How many were better able to capture and express what it means to be human, through art?
So go ahead, Old Man. Slurp your soup as much as you like.
He likes polyester.
The clothes Shaky was wearing when I discovered him were, as I said, mere rags, so tattered and filthy that their original style (and even their original color) was nearly impossible to imagine.
Searching his pockets before discarding his old gear, I found nothing. Not a penny or scrap of paper.
I conferred some of my own clothes on him, but the Old Man is so small in stature compared with me that he practically disappeared wearing them, looking for all the world like a toddler trying on his father’s business suit—not a particularly dignified look for the greatest playwright mankind has ever known.
At last, I went out and purchased Shakespeare a pair of inexpensive, polyester, “jogging” outfits, the sort one sees worn by those who have never jogged a single step in their lives. (Finding these outfits in a man’s size “small” was a challenge.) He’s got one that’s crimson, and one that’s powder blue; both sport eyebrow-thin white piping along the arms and legs.
Shakespeare loves these outfits. They are lightweight and comfortable, and, in a way, he actually looks quite spiffy wearing either of them, although I must admit that having The Bard of Avon swishing around one’s apartment, modeling the latest and lowest in Kmart fashions, is the sort of surreal vision to which one requires significant time to adjust.
He likes television.
I plant him in the chair in front of my set before departing the house in the morning, and when I return home in the late afternoon, I find him still there (watching the same channel), happy as the proverbial TV-addicted clam.
I fret about this arrangement a bit. That is, exposing such a magnificent brain to so much, for lack of a better word, crap. I feel the psychological equivalent of a parent who feeds his malnourished charge nothing but Cheetos.
And Shaky’s emotional responses to the television programs themselves seem, at times, inappropriate. When we’re watching one of those ubiquitous “Law & Order” reruns, and the climactic moment comes, with Jack McCoy waggling his head in righteousness at some sneering, just-nabbed murderer, the Old Man will often burst into riotous, uncontrolled laughter, producing growled peals of deep, belly-shaking guffaws. Likewise, when we’re looking at an episode of “Seinfeld,” one in which, for example, Jerry breaks up with a young lady because his disapproves of the manner in which she consumes her peas, the Old Man will weep, great torrential sobs racking his puny body and hot tears cascading down his worn and withered face.
At first I thought Shaky was displaying the symptoms of some sort of advanced senility, an old, old man misapprehending the culture of the modern world.
Then I thought: maybe he understands us better than I realized.
I forgot to mention that he doesn’t talk.
Actually, I should say that he doesn’t converse; the Old Man can utilize his voice when he wants to. Sometimes I catch him jabbering to himself, but I can’t quite make out the words. However, most of Shaky’s communication occurs through the profligate use of wildly variable facial expressions, and in this language Shaky is most articulate, revealing even the subtlest of wants through tiny alterations in the set of his mouth or eyebrows.
I’ve attempted different strategies to provoke Shaky into interacting more with me on a verbal level, since of course I’d be most glad to have this world famous brilliant genius sit back and pontificate a bit, illuminate poor moronic me with his keen, well-reasoned insights into the nature of the human condition. Wouldn’t you?
Direct questions are ineffective. A wry smile is the only reply tendered to any query I pose, even one constructed purposefully to offend him into response, such as “I understand Christopher Marlowe was twice the man and the three times the poet you were. How do you live with your obvious inferiority?”
As an experiment, I’ve tried reading his work aloud, supposing that reminding a globally-renowned artist of his noblest achievements might inspire him to garrulousness, knowing that even the shyest of writers is likely to be expansive on the subject of himself. But there is no real response from Shaky. If I recite his sonnets he looks at me blankly; if I act out one of his plays he falls asleep before scene ii.
A few days ago, frustrated and a bit bored, I held up the sugar bowl in front of him.
“Sugar bowl,” I said.
“Sugar bowl,” he immediately answered, echoing my pronunciation exactly. There was a broad smile on his face; he liked the way the words sounded.
“Sugar bowl, sugar bowl, sugar bowl,” he said, savoring each phoneme, rolling the phrase around on his tiny tongue.
I’d broken through!
I held the cereal box (I was eating breakfast) up in front of him.
“Cereal,” I said.
“Sugar bowl,” he replied.
I’ve reconsidered the matter, and decided upon a change of plan, a strategic u-turn vis-à-vis getting Shakespeare invigorated enough to engage the world again, perhaps talk spontaneously.
Why didn’t I see it? Of course the Old Man shows no interest when confronted with his own work; no person could ever be more disenchanted with a set of dramatic characters than the writer who fretted over and agonized about and finally worked through those characters’ stories centuries before. In other words, despite the genius inherent in their composition, to Shaky his plays have simply and permanently worn out their welcome. And the noisy, derivative, passively-experienced drama of modern American television might touch the Old Man emotionally (however unpredictably), but it fails—in my theory—to stimulate his titanic intellect, which is tuned to a finer, classical wavelength.
What I decided I needed to do, therefore, was challenge the man afresh—put a pen in his gnarled little hands and demand he produce a new play.
This idea, when I conceived it, seemed to me to be an insight of rare brilliance. If it works, not only will my new companion become a vital part of the world again, at the forefront of its creative march, but the world, as a reward for its wait, will have a newborn play by Shakespeare to add to its treasures.
DAY 1: I begin this journal dressed in hope, nurturing the fervent wish that through my inspired intervention there might soon be another great work by William Shakespeare for humankind to cherish. I can see it now—performances worldwide, scholars nitpicking the hell out of it without appreciating its true beauty, highschoolers everywhere cursing his name. Just like the others.
I cleared my tiny kitchen table. I sat him at it and stacked fresh white paper in front of him. I presented him with my best pen. (I put the pen in his right hand, but he switched it to his left. Was Shakespeare known to be left-handed or ambidextrous?)
I said, “The Globe needs a new play right away. Go to it!”
I watched. At first, Shaky seemed interested only in the stack of paper, inspecting several pieces on both sides, as if expecting to see writing already there. Then he examined the pen. He unscrewed it, took out all the parts. He played with the little spring. Then he put his head down on the stack of paper and fell asleep.
DAY 2: I am still hopeful. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
I repeated the preparatory procedure of yesterday almost exactly, thinking that a ritualistic approach to the project might convey the importance of the activity. Then I put the pen in Shaky’s hand and put his hand to the paper.
“Write!” I commanded (trying to play the part of a demanding theater owner).
Once again, he took the pen apart and examined its guts.
I took these pieces away. I handed him a cheaper pen, one that didn’t unscrew, and he spent five minutes trying to unscrew it. Then he dropped the pen onto the tabletop and watched it (due to the table’s unsteadiness) roll onto the floor. This seemed to delight him and he repeated the action several times.
I can’t help but think that little progress is being made.
DAY 3: I had to go downtown to clear up a business matter concerning my disability check today, and felt too mentally and spiritually drained to do much of anything when I returned home. We both ate our soup and retired early. Sorry, world.
DAY 4: I had an idea last night. Shakespeare didn’t write his plays and poems with a ballpoint pen. Putting such an modern instrument in the Old Man’s hands arouses his curiosity but doesn’t seem to excite the vestigial memory of the way in which he used to make his plays.
Luckily, our city had a colonial past, and at a dingy little souvenir shop in the Olde City Shopping Mall I was able to obtain a quill and inkwell.
I rushed home with my purchases, eager to bestow them on the Bard.
Again I sat him at the table, stacked the paper. I wrenched open the squat-shouldered bottle of ink and handed him the quill.
The look on his face!
I admit I became a bit teary-eyed when I saw it, so happy for the world and overcome with pleasure I almost forgot to say my line: “Write!”
He dipped the quill and made a small shaky mark on the paper, then paused and reclined in his chair thoughtfully. Then he moved forward again, made another mark, shook his head in dismay at the result, and slumped back once again in his chair, his free hand stroking his beard.
I watched him from my seat on the sofa.
Finally, a thought must have broken free—Shakespeare bent to the paper with renewed vigor, wrote some large confident letters in the center of the page, and then virtually collapsed onto the tabletop, exhausted.
Being a genius, especially a four hundred year-old genius, is, apparently, quite tiring.
After a few minutes, I tiptoed around the table, lifted the diminutive dozing and drooling poet into my arms, and carried him to bed. I put my best blanket over him and made sure he was tucked in tight.
Finally, I stole back into the kitchen to see what the great man had written.
Well, this ploy, too, was a failure, unless the title of the next play by William Shakespeare is destined to be “Sugar Bowl.”
DAY 5: Today is Tuesday, the day I usually play chess in the park. I decided to leave the television turned off when I went out, and instead placed Shaky in front of his now-familiar stack of paper.
When I returned home, I found the Old Man dozing in the fading golden afternoon light, the stack of paper as his pillow. I made soup and woke him. When he lifted his head, there was no writing on the paper beneath it, yet I noted that his hands were stained with ink.
I am uncertain whether Shakespeare wrote today or not.
DAY 6: Before setting Shaky in his place at the table this morning, I counted the sheets of paper in the stack. Two hundred twenty-five.
Upon returning to my home in the evening, I found the Old Man asleep very much in the same way as before, with ink-stained hands.
After dinner, I counted the paper. Two hundred twenty. Shakespeare wrote (or ate, for all I know) five pages.
DAY 7: The pattern repeats: I leave him alone in the morning, go out into the world to do whatever chores need doing, and then return home to find several sheets of paper missing (six, today) and Shaky asleep, his ancient head nestled on knobby hands stained with ink.
I’ve done no exhaustive search of my apartment, though of course I’m curious about where he’s secreting the work-in-progress. I’ve decided to be strong, restrain myself; one does not disturb Shakespeare in his writing.
Several weeks have passed since I last set down my thoughts. I have more or less abandoned the journal I began because, frankly, of late there seemed little happening on a daily basis worthy of report. During the elapsed time we’ve lived together, which has now grown to nearly two months, Shaky and I have settled ourselves into a routine as dull and predictable as that of any old married couple: on weekdays I find an excuse to leave him alone (sometimes I just go down the block to the local library and page through whatever books interest me), then I return, make soup, and we watch television together for the rest of the evening. I know he’s working while I’m gone because the paper and ink are disappearing with perceptible regularity. On weekends we skip work and go to the park.
I thought the best thing to do was to wait, remain mum about the playwriting project until the finished work appeared. Writers, I’ve heard, are as superstitious as ballplayers—one doesn’t mention the pitching of a no-hitter until the game is over.
What has been making me increasingly anxious of late, however, is that the state of Shakespeare’s health appears to be deteriorating. He’s looked physically quite frail since the moment we met, of course, yet there was at that time in his eyes an inner light, a vitality, which has, I think, dimmed noticeably in the last week or so. He still eats his soup, laughs at McCoy and cries at Seinfeld, but I’m worried that he’s sick and fading, not strong enough to stand up to the stress of trying to produce a new play after all these years.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I’m afraid I’m killing Shakespeare.
Today on my way home from the library I found soup on sale at the local supermarket, two cans for the price of one. As a result, I bought more than I’d budgeted for, and had quite an ordeal conveying the surprisingly heavy plastic bags containing the purchases to my home, though the distance I had to walk with them was a mere two blocks.
When I reached the apartment, I clunked the bags down upon the cement stoop and found I had barely strength enough to knock on the front door. Most of this soup, I thought, is for Shaky. The least he can do is help me inside with it.
There was no answer to my knock, but this was not unusual. Shakespeare was generally asleep at this hour, either sitting at the table or stretched out nearby on my tattered old sofa. (I had a feeling that he wouldn’t have written much, if anything, on the days I found him sleeping on the sofa, but of course I couldn’t prove it.)
I sighed and dug out my key to let myself in. When the door yielded, I saw that Shakespeare was asleep all right, on the sofa, peacefully oblivious to my entry. I went past him to the kitchen cabinet and put most of the soup away, stacking the excess—there were just too many cans for the little storage space I had—on the counter. Then I turned and was on my way back to wake the Bard when I noticed a bundle of papers on my kitchen table, centered atop the little ink-spotted area he used for his writing. The bundle was tied up with a bit of string.
Shakespeare, it seemed, had finished his play.
I rejoiced inwardly, but decided to tease him a bit in case he was actually awake and surreptitiously watching for my reaction to his accomplishment. For the next few minutes, I found excuse after excuse to walk around the table, tidying the abbreviated space laughably known as my kitchen, pretending all the while not to have seen the packet he’d left there.
Then I got a terrible feeling and stood still.
I turned and looked directly at Shakespeare. After a moment, I walked to the sofa and crouched down beside him, then put my hand gently upon his brow. His skin was stone cold.
Shakespeare was dead.
For real this time.
After a minute, I rose and faced the bundle on the table. I realized then that his play was his goodbye note.
What a night that was, the night Shakespeare died. My grief had three layers—first, a sort of generalized mournfulness I felt on behalf of the world at large, which had just lost (though it did not know it) its greatest playwright. Second, I experienced a rueful pang for the man himself, an uncontested genius who died in diminished circumstances, stretched upon a wheezy old sofa, alone. Finally, and most keenly, I felt sorry for myself. You see, Shakespeare was my friend, the only friend (due to circumstances I won’t explain here) I’ve ever had.
The pain was piercing, and exacerbated by the knowledge that I wouldn’t be able provide my friend with the funeral, or recognition, he deserved. I simply didn’t have the financial means, or, more importantly, the social skills and emotional wherewithal to deal with arranging a proper ceremony to acknowledge Shakespeare’s passing.
And of course, the world believes he died four hundred years ago, anyway, I thought. I’d have a hell of a time convincing people that the body belonged to anyone but a bum I found on the street.
That’s when I decided to look at the play.
I sat at the table and undid the string. I was not so overburdened with grief that I was unaware of History standing at my shoulder.
I riffled through the pages, and leisurely examined, through numerous cross-outs and smeared blots of ink, the Old Man’s cramped and spidery scrawl.
The play was, as you may have guessed, utter gibberish.
I’m not a drinking man generally—alcohol is forbidden me due to its potential to react dangerously with the medications I take—but this occasion called for a drink, I thought, if any ever did. I searched through my closets and eventually discovered at the back of one of them what I was looking for—a dusty bottle of dark rum I’d won years earlier in an “island fantasy” church raffle (during the time when I was experimenting with conventional religion).
I unscrewed the lid of the bottle and glugged a few ounces of rum into one of my juice glasses. I silently toasted my dead friend on the couch, then threw the brown liquid down my throat, imitating the way I’d seen it done in numerous Western-type motion pictures. As an inexperienced drinker, I fully expected to choke and cough and sputter the way inexperienced drinkers do in those same Westerns, usually as means of providing the picture with a bit of comic relief, but—though my eyes burned a bit—I didn’t do that. I liked it.
About a third of the bottle was gone when I decided to look at the play again, with less expectant eyes. Surely, I thought, there was something worth salvaging within it. After all, I reasoned, the fact that that old man, whoever he was, had written it at my behest endowed the work with value, even if it held none in a literary sense. Or even a sensical sense. I would analyze it word by word; what else did I have to occupy me?
First the title, centered on the top page (it was not “Sugar Bowl”): it consisted of a single word, commencing with an “R.”
Rorschach? Ravioli? Ringworm?
No. Ringworm, by William Shakespeare? I think not.
I let my eye trace over the script without judgment, attempting to take the word in as a whole.
Yes, it seemed that was the title—the more I peered at it, the more certain I became. The word—name—had a nice ring, no question about it, though I was ignorant of to what, or whom, it referred.
I looked up “Rosamond” in the index of one of my old English Lit texts, and found it in a bibliographic list of titles composed by Swinburne, a blank verse drama. A coincidence, possibly, or a not-unprecedented outright steal, although since Shakespeare both predated and outlived Swinburne, which author would be considered to have stolen from which?
In any case, I returned to the work Shaky left me and to my great surprise quickly deciphered the setting: ancient Italy, in the days of the Teutonic invasions.
The point is: with growing excitement, I realized the play was not gibberish, far from it.
I did not sleep that night; instead I spent the rum-fueled hours un-encrypting the text, and during that span made remarkable headway. I transcribed the play in its entirety and learned, among other things, that Shakespeare was, at best, a rotten speller and whimsical punctuator. Nonetheless, the words fell into place and in the end I believe I recognized ninety percent of them, enough to make out the story of the play, which I’ll summarize here:
When the princes of two rival Teutonic tribes meet by chance in a rural mountain pass they fight, and Alboin, prince of the Lombardi, slays his rival—but neglects to carry away the man’s bloody armaments afterward for trophies, as is the custom of the day. Alboin’s proud father, the King, therefore refuses his son a seat at his banquet table upon his return to court, so Alboin daringly takes forty warriors to the castle of the rival king and demands his spoils.
Alboin’s boldness pays off—he is solemnly presented with the dead man’s armaments. But while he is amongst his rivals, Alboin spies another treasure he covets—the enemy king’s beautiful daughter, Princess Rosamond. Tall, blonde, blue-eyed and fierce, Rosamond represents the Teutonic ideal. Taking his bold imposition a step farther, Alboin impulsively demands her hand in marriage. The king is now outraged and refuses. Alboin, determined but outnumbered, uses wily stratagems—pretending to return home only to sneak back to the castle, bribing a guard—to make sure he gets a chance to be alone with Rosamond, and when his (awkward, ineloquent) attempt at wooing fails, he is so outraged by Rosamond’s rebuffs and overcome with lust that he takes Rosamond’s virginity by force.
A bloody war ensues, and Alboin, a jerk but a great warrior, kills Rosamond’s father in battle. Being a Barbarian, Alboin thinks it the height of proper etiquette to have the dead king’s skull gilded so that the trophy can serve double duty as a rather large drinking cup. Of course, he also takes Rosamond as war booty (so to speak) and marries her just after his own father dies, making Alboin king and Rosamond queen of the Lombardi.
Then one cold night, while hosting a particularly rowdy drinking banquet (the chief feature of his government), Alboin decides it might be funny to have his wife drink some wine out of her dead father’s skull. Rosamond refuses. He forces the issue at knifepoint, saying that his queen must (ha, ha) “rejoice with her father.”
Next comes what I would deem the signature moment of the play. Rosamond reluctantly takes hold of the skull, filled to the maxillae with sloshing wine, and, her hands trembling with rage, raises it to her lips. At the same time, she utters a quiet prayer—really a curse—and resolves that Alboin will pay for his insult with his own life.
One night soon after, when the castle is quiet, Rosamond lets an assassin she has bribed into the royal bedchamber, where she has attempted to exhaust the king with lovemaking. Alboin wakes, sensing a trap, and reaches for his sword. But Rosamond has secured it—glued it—in its scabbard; the king is slain.
Unfortunately, Rosamond does not have the wherewithal to hold the Lombardi kingdom together after this bold act, and she has to flee the outraged populace, taking with her as protector a clod named Helmichis, whom she impulsively marries. The couple hides out with a fellow named Longinus, the governor of Ravenna, who, it quickly becomes apparent, also has “the hots” for the still beautiful Rosamond. Rosie likes Longinus too, and decides she might as well use him to trade up from her current spouse, whom she only married for political reasons anyway.
Still disturbed by the bloody mess of her first husband’s slaying, Rosie this time decides to try poison. As Helmichis is exiting the bath next morning, she is waiting by the tub and hands him a deadly cup of wine. But Helmichis, despite being an oaf, is well-traveled in nefarious circles and knows poison when he tastes it. Though aware that it’s too late to save his own life, Helmichis grabs his nearby dagger (which Rosie forgot to superglue) and holds it to his wife’s lovely throat. Rosamond can either drink the rest of the poison or be stabbed to death.
After waffling a bit (in a beautifully phrased speech), Rosie chooses the poison, and drinks it. (Attention scholars: note the parallel between this scene and the one in which she is forced to drink from her father’s skull.) It is at this juncture that the acute reader will realize the play is ending, since in typical tragic Shakespearean fashion, the stage is now decorated with dead bodies.
I awoke near dawn, in very much the same position I regularly found Shakespeare: sitting before a stack of paper at the table, my head resting on my curled, ink-stained hands. When I rose, I realized how terrible I felt. My head pounded with pain, my neck ached, and my mouth felt full of cotton.
No more drinking for me, I decided. Never again.
I spent some time contemplating the remains of my friend. The problem of his final disposition plagued me; in the end I decided to put off a decision on how best to proceed for a few more hours, when I hoped my head would be clearer.
I would distract myself by reading over the play again, I thought. But when I sat down at the table to look at the pages, I quickly realized that during the night something extraordinary had happened: Rosamond— Shakespeare’s version—had once again become mere gibberish in my eyes. It was all scrawls and inkblots, utterly illegible, even the title. How in the world did it ever seem coherent to me?
I hesitated a moment before taking up my transcribed version, fearing a similar revelation, but to my relief I discovered that the pages I penned were intact. Now, of course, the play is my most treasured possession. In fact, the more I read it, the greater the amazement I feel regarding my part in producing it.
How, I wonder, did I, an isolated, innocent man, extract such a lovely thing from meaningless marks on a page? The plot, the characters, perhaps even some of the more felicitous turns of phrase—these aspects of Rosamond I might (conceivably) have invented myself, however unlikely the prospect. But the depth, the inwrought sensuality, the monstrously beautiful humanity of the play? Well, it’s clear now that those were given as gifts, the sorts of things, I am sure, I could not have conjured on my own.