The Man Who Killed William Shakespeare
  
The Man Who Killed William Shakespeare
Published:
7/1/2013
Format:
E-Book (available as Mobi files) What's This
ISBN:
978-1-46300-209-1
Professor Reichart is a very unhappy man: marriage failing, literary career going exactly nowhere, obsessed to the point of physical and mental exhaustion with the all-consuming genius and undying glory of one William Shakespeare. The professor's future is looking very bleak indeed—until the Harvard History Department gets their very own chrono-skimmer . . .
Gray-templed Walter Reichart, tenured professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, longed to be recognized as a writer of fiction. Actually, “longed” is far too mild a word for the ravening hunger that gnawed at Reichart’s psyche. In truth, the professor yearned for literary renown the way a suffocating victim craves air: brain afire, body convulsed and flailing, external world growing ever-darker . . . Thus it was a bitter irony to Reichart that although his wife had already tasted the fruits of literary success, she’d promptly rejected them. Three decades earlier Hilda had traced a fiery arc through the literary firmament with a critically-acclaimed novel of gender politics, Slouching Toward Matrimony. His wife’s first and only extracurricular writing project (undertaken as a summertime lark the year following the awarding of her master’s degree in Educational Psychology) the roman à clef proved a runaway bestseller, seeing double-digit printings and translated into no less than thirty different languages. The book turned Hilda into a minor celebrity whose every pronouncement on male/female relationships was treated as oracular. But Hilda had no taste for the hard-scribble life of a budding litterateur. When questioned by interviewers about her next writing project she’d only laugh and shake her head in a gesture some interpreted as bemusement, others as close-lipped professionalism. The truth was, as Hilda had unwisely confessed to her darling Walter in an unguarded moment of post-coital languor, ordering words on the page had proven as tedious as filling a salt shaker by cramming individual grains of salt through the holes in the top of the shaker and she was in no hurry to repeat that experience again, thank you very much—no matter how much critical acclaim came her way lauding her as one of the brashest, wittiest new voices in belles-lettres to hit the scene since Judith (Don’t-Call-Me-Oscar) Wilde. Walter Reichart, on the other hand, had produced three densely foot-noted and admirably recondite histories of late-medieval Europe. Abstruse, involuted and anything but post-postmodern these tomes had elicited well-mannered blurbs of tepid approval from his fellow academics and immediately gone out of print. True, he’d also published more than four-score scholarly papers on such diverse subjects as the lost years of William Shakespeare, the iconography of the Devil in Florentine painting and the erotic textual perversity of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili but this output, scholarly though it was, constituted not a single piece of publishable fiction. Thus it was that Reichart toiled on, long into the early-morning hours, filling legal pad after legal pad with his cramped, constipated cursive while seated at the stately mahogany writing desk that served as his base de l’inspiration et le travail in the dark-paneled gloom of his second-floor study. (Hilda would type these manuscripts up later, printing them out on heavy-weight plasma-jet printer paper and filing them in a fire-proof cabinet in the basement.) Driven by a lust for literary renown that only grew more acute and all-consuming the longer his heart’s desire was frustrated, Reichart produced five unfinished novel manuscripts and sixty-two stories in various genres. The stories had gone out; the stories had come back—with form-letter rejections, for the most part, fattening the self-addressed stamped envelopes he’d so jauntily tossed upon seas of mail foreign and domestic. (The Professor wasn’t especially fond of e-mail submissions. Where manuscripts were concerned he abhorred all forms of electronic reproduction, speaking dismissively of any editor who would evaluate literary fiction via a computer and its suspect software thusly: “Word processors are but the doltish, masturbatory playthings of phone-obsessed ’tweens, soul-dead office clerks and the worst kind of cement-headed editors collectively pant-hooting after ‘The Next Big Thing’. I would no sooner read a literary text off a computer screen than I would sniff a bouquet of flowers through a gasmask.”) Urged on to ever-greater effort by the floor-to-ceiling bookcases lining the walls of his sanctum sanctorum, Reichart was alternately inspired and tormented by the literary company reposing upon those groaning shelves: Cervantes, Victor Hugo, Poe, Melville, Dickens, Nabokov, Borges, et al. But the greatest and most revered of all Reichart’s literary muses was one William Shakespeare. How many sublime, happy hours had Reichart spent sunk into his favorite reading chair, thrilling to the dazzling word-play and wondrous wit of that towering Elizabethan playwright? The comedies, the tragedies, the histories—incontrovertible evidence of a fecund, Promethean genius the likes of which the world had never seen again. And most likely, never would. Yet Reichart’s admiration was riddled with jealousy—that “green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on”—in the startlingly picturesque speech of Othello. There were only so many words in the English language, after all; therefore, only so many ways of arranging these words in cunning order upon the page. And the Bard of Avon, prolific poet and pitch-perfect literary genius that he was, had forever denied certain memorable combinations of words to later writers by the mere fact of having written: “Now is the winter of our discontent”; “parting is such sweet sorrow”; “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio . . .” In committing long passages of Shakespeare’s writings to memory, Professor Reichart made Will’s words his own. As the years passed and his own creative writing amounted to nothing more than a lamentable expenditure of paper, ink and postage a risible fantasy born of frustration and poisonous envy began to exert an ever-more-powerful hold upon his imagination. Suppose he, and not some upstart plebeian Englishman, were recognized as the preeminent author in the Western canon? Immortality would be assured! How pleasant a thought: generations of English teachers and their students—scholars, critics, actors—all acclaiming the genius of one Walter M. Reichart. An absurd and impossible fantasy, to be sure. A pleasant divertissement, a whimsical daydream, a childish indulgence in wishful thinking. Until Harvard got their very own time machine. ***
Carl E. Reed joined the Marine Corps in 1981 at the age of 17 and worked the next four years as a photo-journalist in the Far East. Upon discharge in 1985 a succession of sales and marketing jobs followed. He has done improvisational theater, poetry slams and 1, 000-mile rides on a succession of V-twin motorcycles. He last worked as an educational consultant for Loyola Press. His poetry has been published in The Iconoclast; short stories in Black Gate and newWitch magazines. Since joining Book Country he has published six books (individual short stories, some near-novella length). In November of 2014 he completed a 268-page manuscript of thirteen weird tales (this story being one of the thirteen) and a closing narrative poem. This book is entitled NIGHT TERROR & OTHER WEIRD TALES.
 
 


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