The Book of Will

Julie and I caught this marvelous play last Sunday. The Abbey Players delivered a professional performance alive with heartfelt emotion and saucy punchlines. The Book of Will tells the true story of how William Shakespeare’s colleagues scoured London three years after his death for prompts, notes, and surviving copies of his plays. Their goal: To publish a First Folio of his entire works. This massive undertaking demanded years of research, reading, and editing, all while battling unreliable and even unscrupulous printers, sponsors, and producers who plagiarized and corrupted Shakespeare’s plays.

And as in any significant undertaking, life — and death — complicate things. When John Heminges’s wife dies unexpectedly, Heminges questions the massive, risky undertaking that’s taken so much out of them. “Story is a forged life,” he says. “Why do we bother with any of it?”

His friend and associate, Henry Condell, answers:

“To feel again. … That’s the miracle of it. The fairies aren’t real. But the feeling is. And it comes to us here, player and groundling alike, again and again here. … And you will test your heart against trouble and joy and every time you’ll feel a flicker or a fountain of feeling that reminds you that, yes, you are yet living. And that is more than God gives you in His ample silence. And then it ends. And we players stand up and we look at the gathered crowd and we bow. Because the story was told well enough.”

The story was told well enough … that’s the goal, isn’t it?

The playwright, Lauren Gunderson, also tosses in several Easter eggs for in-the-know Shakespeare fans. With its romping story line, serious scholarship, and fascinating characters, The Book of Will is the most enjoyable and inspiring play I’ve seen in years.

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