Shakespeare Among the Vampires

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A recent trip to Portland, Oregon and its famous Powell’s bookshop yielded an unlikely find. In their rare books section, I stumbled upon a sale of books from the author Anne Rice’s library. Not knowing much about Rice, except that she is the New Orleans based best-selling vampire novelist, and freely admitting to having never read any of her work,I was surprised to see the large number of books in her collection on the early modern period. Many of the works on early medicine, religion, and art, I suppose, made sense and could be explained as providing her with research material. The one book, however, that stood out was Katherine Duncan-Jones’s Sir Philip Sidney: Courtier Poet. My interest was piqued, especially as I had just finished reading it myself. Was Rice using Sir Philip, the ‘Angell Spirit’ and excellent Elizabethan courtier, to model a vampire on? A quick glance at Rice’s annotations, and I knew I had to buy this book.She had inscribed it: ‘Rice opening Nov. 24, 1997 on the trail of Shakespeare’.

Seeing the notes made by a living author in a book they once owned is both interesting and strange. It provides a window into their thought processes, while also invoking a feeling of intrusion, even though the book was placed by the author herself in a public sale. Clearly searching for clues that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford was the ‘real’ Shakespeare, Rice had marked every passage in the book relating to him. She also underlined and annotated passages on Anne Cecil, Oxford’s much suffering wife, and the fact that she may have written poems reflecting on her sorrow under a pseudonym, as somehow supplying corroboration that he may have too. On Oxford’s verses written during his quarrel with Sir Philip and later referred to as ‘a pleasant conceit of Vere, Earl of Oxford, discontented at the rising of a mean gentleman in the English Court circa 1580’, she perplexingly writes: ‘Shakespeare Wrote this’. These anything but pleasant verses seem to express a rather murderous rage: ‘Fain would I sing, but fury makes me fret/ And rage hath sworn to seek revenge of wrong/ My mazed mind to malice so is set/ As death shall daunt my deadly dolours long’.

In a message to fans on her website dated 22 April 1997, Rice declares that ‘I’m falling in love with the idea that the real Shakespeare was Edward Devere, the Earl of Oxford’ and ‘also Queen Elizabeth had a very strange relationship with Edward Devere’. Although not on the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition’s Declaration of doubters, this provides a succinct summary of the Anonymous plotline years before its making.

In other parts of the book, Rice highlights paragraphs with a writer’s eyes, commenting on words and phrases in use in the period and on Katherine Duncan-Jones’s descriptions. She finds the description of Sir Philip’s newly acquired crimson and gold lace doublet ‘lovely’ and writes,‘cherish this description’ by the account of the splendour of the ceremonials welcoming Elizabeth to Oxford University in 1566. She also comments on names–admiring that of Lodowick Bryskett, Sidney’s gentleman companion on his grand tour of Europe, and highlighting Edward Dyer’s surname and that it suggested he is‘one of the living dead’. It is amusing to think that Anne Rice, known for her Interview with the Vampire, was ‘on the trail’of Shakespeare in Katherine Duncan-Jones’s work. And is there a vampire novel out there influenced by the rich descriptions of her biography of Sir Philip, with vampires named after members of the Sidney circle?

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Yasmin Arshad is a Ph.D. student in the Department of English at University College London, working on Cleopatra in the Early Modern period.
  • Anonymous

    The Anonymous experience showed us that it takes no special talent to suck the life out of Shakespeare authorship, and let’s face it, Rice is just Rice.  When it comes to making substantive contributions to the Shakespeare documentary record, as Sir Philip would say: “Give me some food!”

  • Howard Schumann

    Anne Rice was on the right trail and would love to hear her comments on the film.

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