“Shakespeare in the Underworld” [Complete: Parts I-III]

Selections from The New House of Fame by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess

A chat with England’s bard will make it clear
that death for stars is still a thing to dread.
I trust you’ll recognize this person here
[Unless you’ve got no brain inside your head].
That’s William Shakespeare–Britain’s treasured dear,
A man among the greatest of the dead.
Now have a conversation with the Bard
To see that death’s a fate that’s always hard.

Before the Bard could say a single word,
He was approached by Richard Number Three
(A king who’s also known as “Rick the Third”).
The Bard inquired, “What dost thou want of me?”
The Third replied, “Thou sland’ring boorish bird,
Thy song hath brought me lasting infamy.
Thy play–a dreadful toy, a trivial thing–
Hath made me seem the worst of any king.

I thank thee–balding, bitter, whoreson, hack–
For making sure that all posterity
Would think me evil with a crooked back.”
Said Will, “To thee, I gave eternity.
A famous name–which many hate to lack–
I gave thee as an act of charity.
Without my widely-read and studied play,
How many would recall your name today?”

Richard glared and turned to walk away.
Then, William took a seat and breathed a sigh
And said these weary words I’ll now relay:
“A second death I’d volunteer to die.
I deeply loathe this place of gloomy gray,
And passage out of here I’d gladly buy.
Although my body long ago decayed,
It seems my spirit’s not allowed to fade.”

I never rest. Each moment seems to bring
Complaints from ev’ry lady and her lord,
From ev’ry princess, baron, queen, and king
Whose fame on page and stage has ever soared—
Instead of being some forgotten thing
That future ages knew not and ignored.
If I had known they’d never let me be,
I never would’ve written history.”

“Thou’ hast not come, I hope, with foul design…
In other words, to ask about my work:
‘The plays and poems–are they truly thine?
Above the questions never cease to lurk.’
Some claim that visions from a source divine
Reveal the Bard was Russian or a Turk,
While others say he served our Holy Lord
Or was a pirate living by the sword.”

“Another says, ‘Well, ev’rybody knows–
As royal flower comes from royal bud–
No lowly peasant ever could compose
Those works that hint at none but noble blood.
Our culture’s greatest poetry and prose
Was fathered only by a noble stud.
He who composed those lines we read today
Was never making gloves to earn his pay.’

‘Perhaps the credit Will so long has taken
Belongs to Earl of Oxford, Ed de Vere—
If not a king, a queen, or Francis Bacon.’
Said Will, “For love of peace, I’ll shake no spear
At silly theories that they’re fond of makin’,
But lies have harmed old Ed and Frank, I fear—
They both believe they wrote A Winter’s Tale,*
And their debate has grown a little stale.”

*De Vere, believed by some conspiracy theorists to have been “Shakespeare,” died several years before the composition of A Winter’s Tale.

“I’d also keep the scholars out of here:
[‘If Bottom turned by magic to an ass
Is, like I think, a bawdy pun on “rear,”
I’ll teach my Early English Drama class
That Will was saying slyly, “I am queer”
And scenes in drag express his inner lass.’]
[‘Does Lear suggest it’s choice or iron fate
That makes a person bi, or gay, or straight?’]

“One critic claims I had a proto-commie’s voice,
While others say that freer enterprise
Was doubtlessly my economic choice.
He thinks I served the state with pretty lies,
She says rebelling made my heart rejoice.
They make me what they love or most despise…
The real “me” critics think they can define
Is not contained in any written line. “

“Another blow from fickle, frightful fate
Are bards I often am assaulted by.
How deep’s the well of bitter rivals’ hate!
I’d thought with death that jealousy would die,
But writers foul, along with writers great,
Despise that I’m one critics deify.
Although the fault is surely none of mine,
It irks them that my name’s become divine.”

Although there’s truth in much of what he said,
It seemed he wanted only to complain.
His whiny ways began to hurt my head.
As much as this confession causes pain,
I admit that, from England’s bard, I fled
As people flee from falling acid rain .
I went in search of other famous ghosts
And hoped they’d serve as better spirit-hosts.


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