Tuesday, December 7, 2010

No Bed for Bacon: Tracing the Origins of Shakespeare in Love

Brahms, Caryl [pseud. of D. C. Abrahams], and S. J. Simon. No Bed for Bacon. London: Michael Joseph, 1941.

Shakespeare in Love. Dir. John Madden. Perf. Gwyneth Paltrow, Joseph Fiennes, Geoffrey Rush and Tom Wilkinson. 1998. DVD. Miramax, 1999.

It's not easy to forget the introduction to William Shakespeare that Shakespeare in Love gives us. The camera shows us a quill in close-up behind the opening title—Shakespeare is hard at work. Then we cut to what he's writing, and it turns out he's practicing his signature, complete with different spellings. In a lovely gesture, he wads up a sheet of signatures (which would be worth a hundred times its weight in gold if Southby's had such a sheet to auction off) and tosses it in a mug marked "A Present from Stratford upon Avon." Here's the scene in question:

It's marvelous, it's humorous, and it's intriguing. But where did that idea come from? Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard are the co-authors of the screenplay. Did they come up with that remarkable moment?

In some work I've been doing on Shakespeare-related fiction, I chanced upon a 1941 novel entitled No Bed for Bacon. There, on page 13, is the idea—though not, certainly, the details carried out in the film:
In a cold dark little room over against the back of the Theatre, Sir Francis Bacon was talking eloquently. Opposite him a melancholy figure sat tracing its signature on a pad.
He always practised tracing his signature when he was bored. He was always hoping that one of these days he would come to a firm decision upon which of them he liked the best. He looked at them. He considered. He shook his head. (13)
Does that count as an allusion? An independent idea developing in two independent locations? Homage to the book? Plagiarism?

I'm not sure I would go as far as the last of those possibilities, but I have checked the credits of Shakespeare in Love, and I find no credit given to the book. And if the writers got the idea there, they should cite the source!

I am aware of a documentary that plays far too much on the popularity of Shakespeare in Love. Next time, Shakespeare in London: The Exact Same Thing as Shakespeare in Love (Except for the Last Four Letters).

Links: The Film at IMDB.

Click below to purchase the book from amazon.com
(and to support Bardfilm as you do so).


LEPV said...

Interesting post indeed. However its might have mentioned a far older issue which I am sure you know. There is a great debate about the authorship of Shakespeare. The most important candidate... Francis Bacon (hence the title of the book). One of the points for doubting about Shakespeare... there are more thatn 36 spellings of his name in different documents. Tom Stoppard with all his knowledge about Shakespeare must have known this. Hence the coincidence. If it was not such, I agree with you, the credit should be there.

By the way, great blog, just discovered it

kj said...

Thanks for the comment! Yes, it's a marvelously quick and witty way to abandon the authorship issue at the outset. The question is brought up only to laugh at it and drop it immediately.

Take care!


Anonymous said...

Brahms and Simon were wonderful satirists and it's a great shame that Simon's early death prevented more wonderful collaborations. In the latest pb addition of "No Bed..." Ned Sherrin (Brahm's literary executor)mentions the situation but is not specific on whether any legal actions were taken. I suspect that a private deal may have been done.

Bardfilm is normally written as one word, though it can also be found under a search for "Bard Film Blog." Bardfilm is a Shakespeare blog (admittedly, one of many Shakespeare blogs), and it is dedicated to commentary on films (Shakespeare movies, The Shakespeare Movie, Shakespeare on television, Shakespeare at the cinema), plays, and other matter related to Shakespeare (allusions to Shakespeare in pop culture, quotes from Shakespeare in popular culture, quotations that come from Shakespeare, et cetera).

Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from Shakespeare's works are from the following edition:
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd ed. Gen. ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
All material original to this blog is copyrighted: Copyright 2008-2039 (and into perpetuity thereafter) by Keith Jones.

The very instant that I saw you did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and, for your sake, / Am I this patient [b]log-man.

—The Tempest