“My Name is Will: a Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare” by Jess Winfield

Right after I saw My Name is Will reviewed in Entertainment Weekly (link not online), Winfield was scheduled to appear at Rain Taxi’s annual Twin Cities Book Fest. I’ve been on something of a Shakespeare binge this year, so I decided to attend. Late, I hurried through the building toward the room I thought, but wasn’t sure, the reading would be in. A man I passed assured me, “You’re headed in the right direction. Don’t worry. You’re not going to miss it.” How Jess Winfield knew I was going to HIS reading I don’t know, but I laughed, slowed down, and we arrived at the room together. I was fortunate enough to chat for a few minutes before the session with both Winfield and actor Stacia Rice, who introduced Winfield before hustling out to prepare for opening night of The Scottish Play, in which she was Lady Macbeth.

Winfield read a few passages from My Name is Will. The chapters alternate between William “Willie” Shakespeare Greenberg, an 80’s era UCSC grad student, and the William “Will” Shakespeare of 1582 Stratford-upon-Avon. Both are beset by troubles. Willie is avoiding both his master’s thesis and his father with an impressive array of illicit drugs and a few willing women.

He couldn’t go back to Robin’s as he was: no cash, no direction, no thesis, and no fucking clue of who or what William Shakespeare Greenberg was, let alone William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon.

He looked at his watch again. He would do it all. Right now. Today. Figure out his thesis before the library closed; deliver the mushroom tonight, or tomorrow morning at the latest; be back tomorrow.


Will is persecuted for his family’s Catholicism, while also pursuing women, being strong armed into making an honest woman of Ann Hathaway, and embarking on a career of writing and playacting. Both Willie and Will are endearing wastrels, and their entwined stories are brought to a satisfying, bittersweet conclusion.

Winfield was a founding member of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and spent years writing and producing stories for Disney. He knows how to tell a ripping yarn; this is a thumping good read. The historical details for Will are mostly accurate. Like Shakespeare’s histories, this is an entertainment, not a factual tract. It also doesn’t flinch from explicit scenes of drug use and sex. The subtitle for the book isn’t a come on, it’s truth in advertising. This book is not for the easily offended. It _is_ for fans of Shakespeare and comedy, though, and very accessible to those with only a passing knowledge of the Bard. Indeed, it might even encourage those students who see Shakespeare as a chore to do a little experimenting on their own.

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