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My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare Hardcover – July 8, 2008


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"Notes From a Dead Horse" by Fyodor Dostoevsky
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"Notes From a Dead Horse" by Fyodor Dostoevsky
From the acclaimed translators Pevear and Volokhonsky comes a new translation of the first great prison memoir: Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictionalized account of his life-changing penal servitude in Siberia. See more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Twelve; First Edition edition (July 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446508853
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446508858
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,348,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The two narratives in Winfield's whimsical debut are unified by their shared irreverence, humor and literary gusto. The first tale is of Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a grad student trying to prove in his hastily conceived thesis that Shakespeare was a closeted Catholic. Short on cash, stoner Willie agrees to mule a superpsychedelic mushroom and a pound of weed to a couple of Renaissance Faire enthusiasts, all the while nursing his infatuation with Dashka Demitra, his sexy thesis adviser. Willie's journey is interspersed with accounts of the other Shakespeare as he, in the months leading up to his wedding, has run-ins with hallucinatory substances and comely women while delivering a secret package to a Catholic dissident. Willie's a lovable schlemiel whose clumsy strides toward attaining a genuine understanding of Shakespeare's work mirror in many ways the Bard's quest to become the great playwright we now study. Winfield uses his deep understanding of Shakespeare's work and times (he is a founding member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company) to great effect, and his affection for the material shines throughout. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Winfield, cofounder of the comedy troupe Reduced Shakespeare Company, brings an intimate knowledge of the Bard as well as an infectious sense of humor to this witty first novel. In a dual narrative, we follow both Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a perpetually stoned graduate student, and the young playwright himself as he tentatively feels his way toward his destiny. Having spent the past two years struggling to come up with a master’s thesis in his Shakespeare studies, Willie finds himself desperately short of cash when his father cuts off his funding. He impulsively agrees to deliver drugs, including a gigantic psychedelic mushroom, to a buyer at the Renaissance Faire, traveling to the site with his latest infatuation, a sexy fellow grad student. Meanwhile, 18-year-old William, fond of wordplay and even fonder of women, agrees to deliver a package to an oppressed Catholic firebrand. Each story mirrors the other as the two young men gradually grow wiser about both the ways of the world and their own emotional shortcomings. Bawdy puns, a clever construction, and a deliciously irreverent sense of humor make this debut novel irresistible. --Joanne Wilkinson

Customer Reviews

It is a fun and entertaining read.
K. Jones
Funny, irreverent, scholarly, silly, sexy... nay, erotic.
James P. Kelly
All of which is quite a bit of fun.
R P

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By R P on July 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Often, historical characters in fiction are portrayed in the fullness of their achievement. In "My Name Is Will", Shakespeare is presented prior to his becoming a great and well known playwright; he is eighteen, just discovering his talent and starting to figure out his life. This can be a much more interesting period of a character's life I think than the later periods. In this case, it is made even more interesting because Shakespeare is portrayed as a Catholic actively involved with the Catholic underground in England. As Shakespeare is coming to understand his own character and getting to know the bonny maids of Stratford, he is also deeply involved in dangerous intrigues at a fascinating time in English history. All of which is quite a bit of fun.

Shakespeare's story is interspersed with the story of Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a Master's student working on his thesis on Shakespeare and also discovering who he is. In parallel fashion, adroitly handled, both the historical and contemporary Shakespeares find themselves and get their lives going. I think this is one of the key narrative challenges of the piece -- making these parallel stories complement each other -- but it is adroitly handled and I would not want to give up the contemporary reflection of Shakespeare.

So...fun on many levels. The story of Elizabethan intrigue was very compelling and could have been a book in itself. The self-discovery of the lead characters was very well handled, making it a more personal and three-dimensional story. Winfield, who co-created and acted in the Reduced Shakespeare Company, has a flawless ear for Elizabethan language and punnery without which the book would not have worked; as it is, it does all come out perfectly, which greatly adds to the realism and charm of the work.

I recommend My Name Is Will to anyone who wants a little escapism, a bit of intrigue, a new look at Shakespeare and a lot of romance this summer.
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on June 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Meet Willie Shakespeare Greenberg - a struggling thesis-writer, small-scale drug user and future scholar. Meet also William Shakespeare - a womanizing youth, closeted Catholic and future bard. Two men, 300 years apart in time, but joined by name and history.

My Name Is Will is the story of two Wills who have more in common than one would think at a first glance, because really - isn't it almost sacrilege to suggest that a 1986's pothead and wanna-be thesis writer should have anything at all in common with the greatest bard in English history? At the surface, one would think so, but then, how much do we know about Shakespeare's life before he became. well, Shakespeare?

Isn't it very logical to assume that his life couldn't have been all smooth sailing for him to be able to write of such passionate love and dysfunctional families as we see in his plays and sonnets? Jess Winfield clearly thinks so, and manages to weave a fascinating tale where every second chapter follows William Shakespeare in the weeks up to his marriage to Anne Hathaway, and every second chapter follows Willie Shakespeare in his quest for knowledge about himself, and his famous namesake.

In the beginning one has to get used to the jumping back and forth in time as each chapter ends, but like in Peg Kerr's The Wild Swans, the transitions work and the two stories in one mesh together very well as I constantly found hints in one of what would happen (or had happened) in the other.

My Name Is Will is subtitled "A Novel of Sex, Drugs and Shakepeare" for a good reason. It is not very reverent, and Shakespeare lovers who are easily offended should probably stay clear of the book. However, I appreciated seeing even a fictionalized human side of the legendary bard.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Napoleon Bloom on March 15, 2010
Format: Paperback
I was excited to read this book. I really was. Winfield has a prominent position in the Shakespeare community, and the idea of intertwining a modern day graduate student and Shakespeare himself is a brilliant concept. Ultimately, this book doesn't deliver.

The main character, other than Shakespeare, is a failing graduate student who spends his days getting high and avoiding scholastic responsibilities. This seems a far cry from the Bard, whose humanist education was obviously one of the most revered aspects of his life. His plays were full of classical references and questioned the authority and culture of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. The modern day Will studies Shakespeare, and only Shakespeare. I understand the modern day reader's demand for flawed characters, but the lack of sympathy for the main character drove this book for me. His lack of effort and lazy personality made me want this Will to fail.

The earlier Shakespeare (if indeed he existed), has a more absorbing and rich plotline, almost redeeming the other half.

The book doesn't fail on every level. One of Winfield's main attacks is on the literary criticism that plagues the academic community at the moment: New Criticism.

New Criticism excludes any biographical information about the author, forcing the critic to focus solely on the text. In this sense, it is better for the reader to know absolutely nothing about the author's background or experiences. Instead of opening up more understanding or ideas the author is trying to give, I find it to be more restricting. How would we read Paradise Lost, for instance, if we didn't know about Milton's religious background and previous works?
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More About the Author

Jess Winfield was raised to write by his freelance journalist mother and Disney writer/producer father in the bohemian artists' enclave of Lake Sherwood, California. At age nineteen, he co-founded the Reduced Shakespeare Company. He co-created the Laurence Olivier Award-nominated comedy THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED) and performed in it for many years, including launching its extraordinary decade-long run in London's West End. After leaving the "other" RSC, he spent ten years writing and producing animated television and won two Daytime Emmy Awards for DISNEY'S TEACHER'S PET. His first novel, MY NAME IS WILL: A NOVEL OF SEX, DRUGS, AND SHAKESPEARE (Twelve) was a New York Times Book Review "Editor's Choice" and a California Book Awards finalist. His second novel, THE PERFECT BURRITO (Oct. 2012) is an enhanced e-book featuring hundreds of original photo illustrations and videos. He is married and lives in Los Angeles.