On Neil Gaiman's adaptation of William Shakespeare's
A Midsummer Night's Dream into comic form
and the influence on his comic book series The Sandman
- Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess, and The Sandman
- Background Information
- Strategies of Adaptation - Comics as a Means of Presentation for Theatrical Plays
- Gaiman's Use of the Medium
- Textual Comparison
- Structural Parallels
- Puck's Destruction of the Structure
- Doubling and Mirroring
- Intertextuality: Shakespeare
- Mixing Mythologies
- Robin Goodfellow’s present whereabouts are unknown
- The Changeling Situation
- Sons and Fathers (Mixing Mythologies II)
- Tricksters, Actors and Playwrights
- Epilogue: The Wake
The structure of this essay may seem somewhat haphazard at first glance, but
the continually and subtle disintegration of the civilised order of the first
chapters into digressions (that aren't as superfluous as they may seem at
first) and seemingly overboarding cross references is a purposeful attempt
to reflect on the structure of both Shakespeare's play and Gaiman's comic.
At the end of my text the reader may think he had had a dream, but as Shakespeare's
Bottom and Gaiman's version of Shakespeare had had only a tiny glimpse into
the world of Faerie, it is not possible for me to give my readers a comprehensive
insight into the world of The Sandman, a comic series bordering on a four-digit page count, or the
even more voluminous works of William Shakespeare. In both cases I can only
scratch the surface, but attempt to draw flesh or at least blood.
In this essay I will examine issue #19 of Neil Gaiman’s comic series
The Sandman, titled
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
It was the first (and only1 ) comic to win the World Fantasy Award for
„best short story“ in 19912 .
Sandman #19 is the
middle part of a trilogy concerning William Shakespeare. In Sandman #13 the title character (the godlike Lord of
Dreams and Prince of Stories, subsequently called Morpheus for clarity purposes)
meets Shakespeare for a few panels and a Faustian contract is indicated. Later
we get to know that Morpheus promised the unsucessful playwright „what
he thinks he most desires“ (SM 19:11:4)3 in exchange for two plays he has to pen
for Morpheus, one at the start of the poet's career, one near the end.
In Sandman #19 we
see the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream before an audience including Morpheus and
some friends of his, namely Faerie folk like Oberon, Titania, Puck and Peaseblossom,
to list only those who appear also in Shakespeare’s play. In the last
issue of Sandman,
#75, Shakespeare fulfills
the second half of the contract, and Gaiman examins the second play born out
of the contract, The Tempest4 (see also Appendix II: Illustrations 1+2).
I will try to analyse how Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s
Dream, which is reproduced
in part in Sandman #19,
has influenced the comic, what other (chiefly literary) influences can be
traced, how themes and topics of the play resurface in the comic, how Gaiman
changes the characters and builds on them, how the medium comic can achieve
a faithful interpretation of a play by using its unique means, and in how
far intertextuality between Shakespeare and Gaiman is of interest. My focus
will be on the play and comic titled A Midsummer Night’s Dream but I will also be refering to other works
by both authors concerning similar themes and situations.
Apart from Shakespeare’s play, the comic and some sources of secondary
literature, I will support some of my points with quotations from Gaiman’s
original script, on which the comic was based, and an extensive interview
of the author on the issue in question5 . Gaiman himself quotes Erasmus Fry’s
„Writers are liars“ in the collection in which Sandman# 19
was reprinted6 , but these pre- and post-texts illuminate
a lot of points.
2. Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess, and The
- Background Information
Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman
was a critical success of the 1990's, a monthly comic book series published
by DC7 Comics in New York, then one of the two
major publishers8 of comic books. Gaiman is one of several
creators often described as part of „the second wave of the British
invasion“. The first wave consisted mainly of Alan Moore, whose revamp
of the little-known horror title Swamp Thing transformed a mock-incrusted monstrosity into an environmentally
aware plant god. More important was of course the intellectual appeal of a
comic that wasn’t „just for kids anymore“9 and was now labelled „Sophisticated
After the enormous success of Swamp Thing
and other works by Moore10 , his American editor Karen Berger went
to England to recruit other talents, among whom were Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison,
Dave McKean, Jamie Delano and Peter Milligan, whose comics for „mature
readers“ were later summarized under the umbrella title „DC Vertigo“11 .
Although introduced as an ongoing monthly, Gaiman’s Sandman was at first tentatively planned to run
for eight issues, possibly to be continued up to #12. But the obscure comic
from unknown creators featuring a new version of the little-known DC character
Sandman not only quickly developed a following
of fans, the series was also critically acclaimed. An extensive article in
the American music magazine Rolling Stone helped substantially to make The Sandman possibly the bestselling non-superhero
comic book ever, the complete 75-issue run is still readily accessible in
ten paperpacks collections.
One of the main selling points of The Sandman was the intellectual scope of the series. While being a horror
and fantasy series concerning godlike creatures12 like Morpheus and his „family“,
The Endless13 , Gaiman built his story on a many-faceted
foundation of influences. As The Sandman not only tries to examine the power and
sources of dreams, but can be interpreted as an essay on the art of storytelling,
Gaiman makes use of his knowledge of literature, and even lets literary greats
appear in the pages of The Sandman, for example (to name only those of interest
for English philologists) Geoffrey Chaucer, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson,
and a curious person looking exactly like G. K. Chesterton and calling himself
Gilbert. Gaiman also used a large cast of DC property characters, first better-known
ones like Batman,
the Martian Manhunter
or Mr. Miracle,
later on more obscure creations like Element Girl, Brute and Glob or the „teenage president of the
USA“ known as Prez.
Historical figures like Caesar Augustus, Marco Polo and Robespierre also appeared
in the pages of The Sandman as well as an aged version of John Belushi from some parallel
universe. And Gaiman especially used several mythologies and religions to
cast his supporting characters like the muse Calliope, a former love of Morpheus
and mother of his son Orpheus. Thor and Loki visit Morpheus, Lucifer gives
him the key to Hell, and two early men (and a woman) of the Christian genesis
share some secrets and mysteries14 .
It may seem far-fetched to reproduce big chunks of Shakespeare’s A
Midsummer Night’s Dream
and adapt parts of the play into the medium comic, but Neil Gaiman is a creator
at ease with many art forms. Mainly known as comic book writer and novelist15 , Gaiman also wrote screenplays, a children
book, poems, and song lyrics, and he even was responsible for the English
language text of the Japanese anime Princess Mononoké. Several of Gaiman’s works were adapted
by other creators, some of his short stories were turned into comics, some
of his comics were transformed into theatrical production or radio plays,
and there also exists a screenplay for a Sandman movie on the internet16 .
Charles Vess created illustrations for a Donning/Starblaze edition of A
Midsummer Night's Dream17 before Gaiman's comic version, he also
wrote and painted the Spider-Man
hard cover Spirits of the Earth.
After Sandman #19,
he continued to work with Gaiman on several projects, most notably the illustrated
Vess also wrote the comic book adaptation of the Steven Spielberg movie Hook (fairies again), and his latest publication
is the three-part Rose,
a prequel to Jeff Smith's Bone
3. Strategies of Adaptation - Comics as a
Means of Presentation for Theatrical Plays
Inconceivably (at least for the present writer), the art of comics is still
no generally accepted academic subject per se.
The medium comic is sometimes analysed as part of media studies, but since
it has some similarities to „real“ books, open-minded scholars of
literature also increasingly concern themselves with soundwords and word balloons.
The possibilities of the comic medium to interpret theatrical plays have so
far been neglected, not only by academics, but mostly by the creators of comics
themselves. Most Classics Illustrated only plagiarize works of literature as a means to find subjects
like Treasure Island
that could interest both young readers (and, let's face it, the main circle
of comic readers consists of male adolescents) and their parents who in these cases at least
accept the adaptations to get their children interested in „real“
books. And, sadly, there are only a few comic adaptations of works of literature
of similar merit18 as the „originals". But this
is essentially a problem of the adaptation process itself, since most movie
novelizations probably also would be regarded as a poor topic for literary
While only few readers would complain about illustrations „enriching“
a book19 , the comic medium still baffles the older
generations. Though comic preceded film as a medium (at least in its early
forms), it still lacks a similar cultural acceptance.
The process of creating a comic book is a lengthy, strenuous one, and it rarely
happens that a comic creator wants to transform a piece of literature into
comic form out of respect for the original text. Fight scenes between superheroes
are less complicated and sell better. I can only think of one example of a
comic adaptation of a longer literary work that doesn't omit parts of the
text, Oscar Zarate's version of Othello which gives the complete text in word balloons
with the artists interpretations of Shakespeare's characters in the pictures.
4. Gaiman's Use of the Medium
Neil Gaiman's A Midsummer Night's Dream
(Sandman #19) is
not a straight adaptation of Shakespeare's play of the same name, but recounts
the events of a (fictional) presentation of the play. About one fourth of
the comic consists of depictions of scenes from the play20 , as performed by Shakespeare himself and
some of his contemporaries like Will Kemp or Richard Burbage.
These parts of the comic are only of secondary importance for this essay,
but since they're nearest to the Shakespearean source material, I will start
by discussing the accuracies and liberties of Gaiman's depiction of an historical
presentation of the play.
Most points worth mentioning about the play (as we see it performed throughout
the comic) are in clear relation to the story Gaiman wants to tell. Gaiman
lets Shakespeare himself play Theseus21 and starts with the actor's startled discovery
of his otherworldly audience on page 7, which seems to temporarily let him
forget his opening lines until his son interferes as a prompter22 . This page already gives ample proof of
how Gaiman uses the medium comic to its strenghts. In SM 19:7:1 a tiny word
balloon with only three dots is an active way to show Shakespeares speechlessness
in view of the Faerie23 audience. In SM 19:7:7 the partial boundaries
of the word balloon make clear that Hamnet is whispering.
The first actual lines from the play are enacted in a rather down-to-earth
way, showing Theseus and Hippolyta with no background at all, while the last
panel of the page already shows us how Gaiman uses Shakespeare's text to illustrate
his story, the juxtaposition of „pale
companion“ (I.1.15, pg. 133) with Morpheus' chalk-coloured face (SM 19:7:8)
is only the first of many such intertextual references.
„I think if I ever staged the play myself, I'd have Puck costumed as
a serpent"24 , Gaiman reflects on Hermia's line upon
awakening, „Methought a serpent ate my heart away"25 . In a way, Gaiman as author is also the
director/producer of the comic representation of the play, and he takes some
liberties for the sake of his
story. He refrains from letting the same actor portray Theseus and Oberon
(which is a commonly accepted way of staging the play) to let Shakespeare
have the possibility to speak with his son Hamnet backstage while Burbage
performs as Oberon. Gaiman lets Hamnet play the Indian boy, even though most
theatrical directors wouldn't even think about including this character not
listed in the cast of characters. Gaiman uses an intermission to have the
chance to let actors mingle with parts of the audience. For all these points
Gaiman defends himself in a detailed interview with Hy Bender concerning his
Dream, but there are other points worth mentioning.
The detailed scenery on large movable screens, behind which the wagons of
the theatre troupe are hidden, seems inconsistent with the present-day understanding
of Elizabethan theatre. But since it illustrates details of the play which
would be difficult to comprehend for comic readers not familiar with the play,
it is a necessary concession to the less enlightened members of his readership.
He makes near perfect use of the comic form in several instances. The discussion
between Helena in Hermia in SM 19:8:6 wins through the interlocking word balloons,
the artisans acting as actors really look unconvincing in SM 19:9:1 (as they
should), though Bottom’s demonstration of lion (SM 19:9:6) roars especially
well because of Todd Klein's elaborate lettering. The boy-actors look perfectly
female (e.g. SM 19:12:6) and even add a bit of sexual stamina to some scenes
(as SM 19:10:1), the lively ass' head proofs again that comics have no special
effects budget (SM 19:14:1), and Steve Oliff's coloring delights with the
slowly fading daylight (even though this is not part of Shakespeare's play
but of Gaiman's story).
5. Textual Comparison
A detailed analysis of the „material taken from the play"26 also shows some inconsistencies: in SM
19:8:1 Lysander says „momentany as any sound", where all my text
sources state „as a sound“ (I.1.143, pg. 141). Only one small syllable,
but the iambic pentameter is disturbed27 . A similar thing happens in SM 19:22:1,
where Theseus tells us „The iron tongue of midnight hath tolled twelve",
which of course has the same sound as the original „told"28 (V.1.354, pg. 252) and so couldn't be distinguished
in an oral presentation, but it seems worth mentioning. Gaiman may have thought
these improvements of Shakespeare's text, or maybe these are only typos29 .
But one instance where Gaiman improves the textual context is in SM 19:20:6,
where not Theseus himself or Lysander talks of „The riot of the tipsy
bacchanals“ (V.1.48, pg. 234), but an balding actor presumably portraying
Philostrate or Egeus. In connection with a thorough analysis of the importance
of this sentence for Morpheus (see chapter „Sons and Fathers") there
may be a reason for this change.
An interesting (but inconsequential) example of how comics can alter time30 is page 19, where Morpheus and Titania
have a lengthy conversation while at the same time only about two lines (IV.1.205-207,
pg. 227) of Bottom's famous monologue are omitted.
While these slight alterations are worth mentioning, they seem not to represent
negligent handling on Gaiman's behalf or interpretational intentions of interest.
6. Structural Parallels
The structure of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream has some special features mirrored in Gaiman's
Acts I and V are located in Athens, the middle part takes place in the woods.
This represents a frame of civilization and order around the wilder happenings
in the woods31 involving the fairies. Gaiman also uses
this framing device on the pages quoting from Shakespeare's play. Pages 8-12
& 17-21 all work with a six panel grid starting and ending with portions
of the play, framing mostly discussions between various parts of the
audience and backstage reflections of the actors. Thus, the Shakespearean
text becomes the representation of „civilisation and order", while
the parts added by Gaiman seem „wilder", which would also apply
to a reading that concentrates on differences of cultural acceptance.
The first six and the last page of the comic also frame Shakespeare's play,
which gives not only an additional layer to the play-in-play theme32 Shakespeare used so cunningly, but negates
the aforementioned atmosphere of „civilisation and order“ that Shakespeare's
play represents. The play is completely incorporated into the comic33 .
7. Puck's Destruction of the Structure
Starting with the involvement of Gaiman's version of Robin Goodfellow, who
assumes the role of the actor portraying him, Shakespeare's play slowly and
subtly loses the aforementioned order. Puck and his „shadows of another
kind“ seem already to „infect“ Oberon/Burbage's shadow in the
first panel involving the real hobgoblin (SM 19:17:1). On page 22 and 23 Gaiman
even manages to improve Shakespeare’s ending. In the play, Puck adresses
the audience, and implies that the whole play may have been a dream as the
title suggests (especially if some spectators were not satisfied by the play).
The Sandman as a
comic about dreams cannot allow to waste the chance of a similar ambiguous
ending. The last panel of page 22 breaks apart the structure, the pretense
of a play being performed. The stage direction „exeunt all but Puck“
is taken quite literally, it’s not a question of actors leaving the
stage, all characters leave the story, Puck is left alone, no spectators,
no actors, no Shakespeare is to be seen on page 23, where Puck has given up
the pretense of being the actor Dick Cowley while reciting his concluding
monologue. The lights of the midsummer night that have perpetually been dimmed
during the story are giving way to a totally black panel at the end of Page
23, again a very literal interpretation of the stage direction „exit“.
8. Doubling and Mirroring
Apart from the aforementioned Russian doll effect of the play-in-play and
the commonly practised double roles34 of Theseus/Oberon, Hippolyta/Titania and
Philostrate/Puck (which Gaiman neglects because he doesn’t have to pay
for his actors), there are other Doppelgängers like the two young couples.
While the girls Helena and Hermia have similar sounding names, at least there
are some physical differences between them. Lysander and Demetrius on the
other hand are nearly indistinguishable35 . Through magical intervention the affections
of the four young lovers are perpetually diverted, creating a merry-go-round
of mirrored, paralleled and contrary emotions. „The more I love, the
more he hateth me.“ (I,1,119; SM 19:8:6).
Since it would be impossible to squeeze the whole play into a 24-page comic
page concerned with a new framing narration, Gaiman had to edit Shakespeare’s
lines to the core, while preserving the narrative structure, so that normal
comic readers (and not only Shakespeare scholars) would be able to follow
the major plotlines. Therefore, he „needed characters who could periodically
explain what was going on in Shakespeare’s story“36 . These characters are separated in two
groups: Morpheus invited the inhabitants of Faerie to witness the play. Oberon,
Titania and Puck are among the spectators who sit on special places37 , while there is also a „peanut gallery“38 of curious creatures, namely the giant
Bevis39 , the tiny goatfaced female Skarrow and
Peaseblossom40 . Thus we have two more groups concisting
of three characters41 similar to the three actors in double roles.
And there are also at least four spectators who are also represented in the
Gaiman repeatedly plays with this doubling effects, most prominently at the
beginning of the intermission, on page 15 of the comic. On the first panel
we see Titania with Henry Condell, the actor impersonating her, still in costume.
Puck visits his human counterpart in panel 2 and 6, and Richard Burbage, the
leader of Lord Strange’s Men who plays Oberon in the play, seems a vastly
inferior copy of the real king of Faerie, but won’t be intimidated by
the glorious appearance of Oberon and asks him for gold, which -of course-
later will turn into yellow leaves42 .
Another doubling effect concerns the group of actors performing Pyramus
and Thisbe. Shakespeare names all six of them, and
Gaiman also names six actors: William Shakespeare (Theseus), Richard Burbage
(Oberon), Will Kemp (Bottom), Henry Condell (Titania), Tommy Nash (Hermia),
and Dick Cowley (Puck). Shakespeare's son Hamnet portrays the Indian boy,
but since this „role“ is an addition by Gaiman (for obvious reasons
that I will examine later), a mere visual presence and technically an „extra“,
he can’t be counted as a real actor.
Most of Gaiman's actors double character traits of their roles, and even if
they are professionals (unlike the Shakespearean craftsmen), they show a lot
of weaknesses concerning their performances. Burbage is a bit full of himself43 , Kemp like Bottom is mostly interested
in enlarging his role and building in jokes44 . Especially the actor portraying Puck lacks
professionality, which Gaiman subtly works into his narrative: We first only
hear him practising his lines (badly) in SM 19:4:4, then he is the only actor
whose mask reveals part of his face (SM 19:10:3). During the intermission
no other actor seems concerned with further practising of his lines (SM 19:15:1-2),
and the real Puck's compliment „You played me well, mortal"45 is wasted on the unconcious performer (SM
19:15:6). Only when Puck plays himself we learn the name of the actor not
acting anymore: „Dick Cowley acts well today. [ …] He seems almost two-thirds
hobgoblin.“ (SM 19:17:4). Gaiman maybe wants to hint at the possibility
that Shakespeare's craftsmen in the play were not as ironic in their lack
of skills as modern readers would assume.
On the last page of the comic Shakespeare as well as his son Hamnet take the
possibility into account that they only dreamt the strange events of the last
night, which is mirroring Bottom's dream46 , but after Puck's Epilogue, thus even confirming the
9. Intertextuality: Shakespeare
A Midsummer Night's Dream
shows some connections to other plays by Shakespeare, and Gaiman's version
of the Dream builds
on some of the inherent themes, on which I want to reflect shortly. Gaiman
uses the year 159347 for his performance of A Midsummer Night's
Dream, which is as
early as credibility allows for, but his reasons (to build on the plague in
London and the death of Christopher Marlowe) are plausible48 . Since Gaiman’s presentation would
be the very first (even preceding known public performances), and there are
no hard facts proving the opposite, I won’t start nitpicking here.
Most Shakespeare scholars assume that Romeo and Juliet preceded the Dream, but some think the opposite possible.
That both plays were written at about the same time is undebatable. Henry
Alonzo Myers states
At the time of writing Romeo and Juliet
and A Midsummer Night's Dream
, Shakespeare must have
been deeply impressed by the thought that the same material - the theme of
love, for example, of life itself - may be treated
as either tragic or comic."49
Shakespeare's first great comedy and tragedy were penned at the same time
and deal with the same topic. In Romeo and Juliet
the Liebestod of the title characters is tragic and moving, in the artisans'
production of The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of
Pyramus and Thisbe50 the same topic (and destiny) is a laughing
matter, „the silliest stuff that ever I heard“ (V.1.209, pg. 243,
resp. SM 19:21:6). Through more or less „divine“ intervention A
Midsummer Night's Dream ends
with a triple wedding, a triple happy ending, which in itself could mark the
distinction between comedy and tragedy51 in Elizabethan times.
When Burbage recounts his wish to play „a lover most tragical“ (SM
19:3:3), the reference to Romeo
is obvious52 , and the queen of the fairies and the subject
of dreams are also the topic of Mercutio's famous „Queen Mab"-speech.
At the heart of Gaiman's story, Shakespeare's neglected son tells us, that
his twin sister Judith „once joked that if I died, he'd just write a
play about it. 'Hamnet.'", and there are indeed theories on the autobiographical
inspiration of Hamlet53 .
10. Mixing Mythologies
A Midsummer Night's Dream
is a good example for Shakespeare's „strong digestive imagination"54 , „his perfect assimilation of his
raw material"55 .
Edgar I. Fripp calls
it „the loveliest thing he has yet attempted or perhaps ever will"56 :
"In a 'fine frenzy', out of Ovid and the Bible, Chaucer, Marlowe and
Spenser, North's Plutarch
folk-lore and scenery, and his own incomparable wealth of fancy, the young
Poet, aged thirty, shapes the World of Faerie, full of enchantment and music, and gives to 'airy nothings
a local habitation and a name'"57
Building on Freudian dream interpretation, Peter Holland even compares Shakespeare's „thoroughly
digested“ sources of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the „day-residue", the sources
which fed common dreams58 . In context with further examination of
Gaiman's use of Titania and Puck, I want to state some of Shakespeare's source
material for these characters. Shakespeare's Athens (or at least the woods
nearby) bursts with very English fairies and craftsmen sounding not at all
Greek. This mixing (or „digestion", to use Briggs's term) is also
evident in those two characters.
Peter Holland explains
that before A Midsummer Night's Dream
"Robin Goodfellow, hobgoblins and pucks all belonged to the same group
of fairies, a class of rough, hairy domestic
spirits characterized by their mischievousness. Scot lists all three as distinct
and separate types of 'bugs' with which
'our mothers' maids have so terrified us'. [ …] Shakespeare alone combines
the three into a single spirit, Robin Goodfellow
the puck, also known as 'hobgoblin'."59
Holland sees a similar development in the origin
"Shakespeare derives his choice of name, Titania, directly from Ovid's
Metamorphoses, where it appears five
times, including once for Diana in the narrative of Actaeon (3.173). It never
appears in Golding who always
uses phrases like 'Titan's daughter'. [ …] Shakespeare's use of an Ovidian
name is, in effect, a mirroring of
Golding's incorporation of English fairies in his translation of Ovid, a deliberate
part of Golding's Englishing of Ovid. Ovid's classical nymphs become fairies with remarkable frequency. [ …]
But it also allows
[Shakespeare] to invoke and use extensively the complex associations of Diana
Holland also interprets Puck's
identification as „we fairies that do run / By the triple Hecate's team
(V.1.374-375, pg. 253) as a gesture
„at the multiplicity of the nature of Diana: as George Sandys noted in
the marginal note in his translation of
in Heaven, Diana
on earth, and Proserpina
in hell: from whence she received the name of Trivia
'. As Cynthia, the goddess
is associated with the moon, causing lunacy and change; as
Diana, with hunting and chastity, as Proserpina, with the seasons. A Midsummer
in particular connect with all these aspects."61
While we should keep in mind
Titania's (or more correctly: Diana's) connection to Proserpina (or Persephone,
the Greek version of the name) and the Hecate, another point I want to make
is that, according to Holland, Shakespeare
"is combinig two markedly separate traditions, one in which the fairy
kingdom is ruled by a fairy queen alone
and another in which there is a joint and equal power-sharing monarchy of
king and queen. This latter
tradition is frequently linked to the presentation of Pluto as 'king of Fayerye'
with Proserpina as 'his wyf, the
queene' in Chaucer's 'Merchant's Tale' (II. 2227ff.)"62
11. „Robin Goodfellow’s present
whereabouts are unknown“
In Shakespeare's play the fairies' connection with mortals „is revealed
as unfailingly beneficient and altruistic"63 . Only Robin Goodfellow is „employed
[ …] to frighten and misled mortals"64 . According to Minor White Latham, an expert on fairies65 , Shakespeare „introduced“ Puck
to the fairies. „He was no fairy, if the records of his history before
1594 be true, and this was his first inclusion in fairyland."66 Additionally,
"he is reduced to the position of jester and messenger of Oberon whose
commands he must obey. Although, in this situation,
he is able to carry out any mad pranks which come into his head, he is forced
to explain his mistakes and to
suffer a sharp reproof from Oberon because of his jokes"67
Gaiman’s version of Puck seems at first to correspond with this interpretation.
In SM 19:6:2 the Puck jestingly questions Morpheus' immortality, is reprimanded
by his master in SM 19:6:3 ("Mind your manners"), and Morpheus reflects
on the „fool's prerogative to utter truths that no one else will speak68 „ (SM 19:6:4). But it quickly becomes
evident that Gaiman's Puck is more than a mere mischiefmaker and jester. Gaiman's
versions of the fairies seem also to be a lot more dangerous than Shakespeare’s.
This is particularly obvious after the first appearance of Puck in the play,
when the „real“ Peaseblossom repeats one of the better-known lines
of Puck to reflect on it:: „ ‘I am that merry wanderer of the
night’? I am that giggling-dangerous-totally-bloody-psychotic-menace-to
life-and-limb, more like it.“ --- „Shush, Peaseblossom. The Puck
might hear you!“ (SM 19:10:4). Even the giant Bevis seems afraid of
Apart from the extremely dangerous nature of Titania and Puck which I will
analyze in detail, Skarrow seems preoccupied with eating human flesh (SM 19:8:3-5,
SM 19:14:4-5) and Peaseblossom reacts angrily and agressively to Bottom’s
request to the play’s version of him:
“’Scratch his head’
I’ll give him scratch his bleedin’ head!“ (SM 19:18:4).
As I mentioned before, during the intermission Puck overcomes Dick Cowley,
the actor impersonating him, and pretends to be „the actor playing Puck“69 .
While in Shakespeare's play Oberon, the „king of shadows“ (III.2.347,
pg. 206) reshapes the plot70 by ordering Puck to perform magic, in the
comic the hobgoblin takes the initiative and even makes the reader the sole
observer of the play's end, thus destroying the first public performance for
the Faerie audience.
Starting with the moment of the „real“ Puck's inclusion into the
play, Burbage's Oberon may seem more threatening for the audience (SM 19:17:1),
but it's obvious that Puck is indirectly playing a prank on his „master“
and seems less and less controllable.
A line from Shakespeare astonishingly not surfacing in Gaiman's comic is Oberon's
„But we are spirits of another sort.“ (III,2,388, pg. 207). David
Bevington explains Oberon's reference to his and
Puck's disassociation from the other fairies, „the spirits of the dark"71 , and we may speculate that Shakespeare's
line might have inspired the hobgoblin to refrain from returning to Faerie
at the end of the story. The last words of the comic book are „Robin
Goodfellow’s present whereabouts are unknown“ (SM 19:24:7).
Let's take a look at Gaiman's inspirations72 for his version of Puck, for which we return
to the very first caption of the comic, which reads „June 23rd, 1593“
(SM 19:1:1). The location shown is part of the Sussex downs (Cf. SM 19:3:5),
beneath the Long Man of Wilmington (SM 19:1:1; SM 19:5:1-3), a giant chalk
outline of unknown origin. In the story Morpheus reveals Wendel’s Mound73 as a outdoor theatre of long tradition
(SM 19:2:5-7). While choosing this location, Gaiman not only had in mind the
convenient gatekeeper Wendel or the comfortable fact that the place was only
a ten-mile drive from his home at that time74 , should he have to shoot reference photos
of the site for his American artist.
He also thought of Rudyard Kipling
who’d written that „the fairies had left our cities a long time
ago“75 and who used a spot nearby for his Puck
stories. In Puck of Pook’s Hill the hobgoblin meets two children, Dan and Una, who perform
a shortened version76 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Pook’s Hill.
„[I]n the middle of the bend lay a large old Fairy Ring of darkenend
grass, which was the stage“77 . After performing the play thrice, Puck
sets in with Shakespearean lines of Puck, the character: „What hempen
homespuns have we swaggering here, So near the cradle of the fairy Queen?“78 . It would perfectly fit into the continuity
that the Gaiman comic suggests that Puck knows the play79 , the reference to the „cradle of
the fairy Queen“ is in lieu of the spot where we see Gaiman’s
Titania, and, as an added bonus, Puck still80 seems to be fond of acting as himself,
as he continues: „What, a play toward? I’ll be an auditor; An
actor, too, perhaps, if I see cause.“81
Furthermore, the date is of interest. The night before June 24th is midsummer’s
night82 , which is of course not the correct date
concerning the action of Shakespeare’s (taking place between April 29th
and May 1st83 ), but presumably the day the play was first
performed84 (if not necessarily in the year 1593).
But both Kipling85 and Gaiman state the 23rd of June, Gaiman
even takes the whole night and thus the comic’s title A Midsummer
couldn’t be more accurate.
Of course, Kipling's version of Puck, just as Shakespeare's, is not as malicious
as Gaiman's, but that could be explained by the apparent differences between
comic plays, children books and horror comics.
Puck, who was the first character of the Sandman series to imply that Morpheus might be mortal (“They
say the seven Endless are for ever, mighty Dream. You and the other six, until
the end of time itself. What say you to that, king of the riddle-realms?“,
SM 19:6:2), reappears86 in the penultimate storyline of The Sandman,
The Kindly Ones,
and is one of the beings responsible for Morpheus's death.
After Puck's partner-in-crime, the Norse trickster Loki87 has been overcome in Sandman # 66, Puck quotes William Butler Yeats' poem The Second Coming: 'Things fall apart, the centre cannot
hold, mere anarchy is loose[d] upon the world.' That's me. Ex-Jester to the
King of Faerie.“ (SM 66:1:7). It may seem strange that Puck isn't quoting
Shakespeare or Kipling, authors that made him „immortal“ in a cultural
sense. My interpretation would be that Puck is not satisfied with the watered-down
depictions of Shakespeare's play and Kipling's children books, „that
painty-winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake your head set of impostors"88 , but instead chooses to recognize himself
in ghastly verses89 of an author who really believed in fairies90.
12. The Changeling Situation
In Shakespeare’s play the „Indian boy“, a servant of Titania’s
who awakes Oberon’s jealousy, is the main reason for Oberon to manipulate
his emperess into falling in love with preferably „some vile thing“
(II,2,40, pg. 172).
My remarks at the end of the preceding chapter, concerning the depiction of
Puck in the writings of Shakespeare and Kipling, also concern the depiction
of changelings. Katherine M. Briggs
points out that Kipling's Cold Iron
is „the first story since A Midsummer Night's Dream to treat the changeling traffic from the
fairies' point of view."91 In both cases the fairies have an „affectionate
motive"92 , they want to protect orphaned humans.
White Minor Latham
remarks that this „unfailingly beneficient and altruistic"93 attitude of Shakespeare's Titania is „vastly
different from that of Diana, 'the goddesse of the Pagans' associated with
witches“ in The Discovery of Witchcraft"94
The traditional belief regarding fairies stealing human children had little
to do with the friendly motivations of Shakespeare's and Kipling's fairies95 , as Katherine M. Briggs explains:
"Children were supposed to be stolen into Fairyland either to pay a TEIND
to the Devil, to reinforce the fairy
stock or for love of their beauty."96
Gaiman builds on this premise97 when Titania notices the Indian boy played
by Shakespeare’s son Hamnet and she’s „looking at the child
as if she wants him - possessively, acquisitively, hungrily“ (SCRIPT
On page 4 of the comic Hamnet complements Henry Condell, who plays Titania
in the play, on his looks and is promised a strawberry (SM 19:4:3). This foreshadows
a conversation between Titania and Hamnet during the intermission, when she
hands him some Faerie fruit (SM 19:16:7).
"From very early times there have been traditions of mortals carried
away into Fairyland, or detained there if
they ventured into a fairy hill and were inveigled into tasting FAIRY FOOD
or drink, and so partaking of the
Shortly before this scene, on page 13, „arguably the heart of the story“99 , Gaiman shows us Hamnet’s sad perspective
of his father’s career. Gaiman would have liked to enhance the doubling
effect100 , but Hamnet can only confess his discontent
with his father’s preoccupation with art to Nash who is acting in a
„totally unresponsive“101 way.
After Titania has told Hamnet of the land of „summer’s twilight“102 (SM 19:16:7), he tries repeatedly to tell
his father of this encounter, but Shakespeare has no time for „foolish
fancies“ (SM 19:24:5), because he’s encompassed into his play.
His attempt to play down the encounter with Morpheus and the fairies by suggesting
it could have been a dream (SM 19:24:3) is also paralleled by lines he performs
as Theseus. While standing before an otherworldly audience with menacing red-glowing
eyes (SM 19:20:2), he declares „The lunatic, the lover, and the poet
are of imagination all compact. One sees more devils than vast hell can hold.
That is the madman.“ (V,1,7-10, pg. 231)103 . For Gaiman, „[p]age 20 demonstrates
one of the most powerful feature of the comics medium: ironic counterpoint
between words and pictures.“104 Theseus/Shakespeare continues in the next
panel: „The lover, all as frantic, sees Helen’s beauty in a brow
of Egypt.“(V,1,10-11, pg. 231) and pictured is Hamnet „goofy with
love for Titania“105 (SM 19:20:3).
In the final panel of Sandman #19
we receive the historically accurate information „Hamnet Shakespeare
died in 1596, aged eleven.“ But in Books of Magic Vol. 1#3, Land
of Summer’s Twilight
(also by Gaiman and Vess), a story which takes place about 1990, we will meet
him again, as servant of Titania. He is adressed as Hamnet, clearly recognisable,
and even is dressed in the same „Indian boy“ costume (Books of
Magic 3:35:3, subsequentially abbreviated to BOM, see also Appendix II, Ill.
5+6) As additional treat for attentive readers, again strawberries are mentioned.
In the same comic we also get to know about the danger of accepting a gift
from inhabitants of Faerie, when Titania tricks Tim Hunter106 into catching a key (BOM 3:34:3-4), and
wants to keep him as a page also, but he has to be released because of lucky
The term „changeling“ describes not only the fairies' captives,
as in the case of Shakespeare's Indian boy, but also describes the substitutes
the fairies leave in place of the stolen children.
"Sometimes it was a STOCK of wood roughly shaped into the likeness of
a child and endowed by
GLAMOUR with a temporary appearance of life, which soon faded, when the baby
would appear to die and
the stock would be duly buried."107
In the context of Gaiman's story we are to assume that the buried son of Shakespeare
was such a changeling taken to be the kidnapped Hamnet.
13. Sons and Fathers (Mixing Mythologies
Very early in the writing process Gaiman realized that he „was not just
going to be telling Shakespeare’s story but also Hamnet’s; and
that at heart this was going to be a story about the relationship, and the
emormous gulfs, between a father and his son.“ An important similarity
between Shakespeare and Morpheus, the main heroes of Sandman #19, is their
responsibility for their sons' deaths, in Morpheus' case even directly. While
the particular circumstances of the shedding of his son’s blood and
how this brought about his own demise are not the topics of this essay, the
death of Orpheus is of interest as there are several references concerning
these actions during A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and these are not restricted to the comic,
but also involve Shakespeare’s play, as if the poet had also used „additional
material by Neil Gaiman".
„The riot of the tipsy bacchanals / Tearing the Thracian singer in their
rage“ (SM 19:20:5, V,1,48-49, pg. 234) is one of the possible diversions
Philostrate offers his lord Theseus for his wedding. This is one of four alternative
theatrical entertainments, three of which have their source in Ovid's Metamorphoses108 , which Shakespeare had available in the
translation of Arthur Golding of 1567.
The first one, „The battle with the centaurs, to be sung / By an Athenian
eunoch to the harp.“ (V,1,44-45, pg. 233) is equally inappropriate, since
the carnage took place at a wedding feast109 .
The Sandman Special #1: The Song of Orpheus tells us in detail the story Shakespeare only hints at, and
Morpheus' face in SM 19:20:5 seems to reflect the remembrance of his son's
wedding with Eurydice. Gaiman's version of the dismemberment (Sandman Special
1:44-46, subsequently abbreviated to SMS, see also Appendix II, Ill. 7) is
no less drastic than Goldings words:
„And then with bluddy hands
They ran uppon the prophet who among them singing stands.
They flockt about him like as when a sort of birds have found
An Owle a day tymes in a tod : and hem him in full round,
As when a Stag by hungrye hownds is in a morning found.“
(11.23-27, pg. 219)110
Again we are reminded of the Actaeon myth, and an interesting question comes
up: Is Diana (aka Titania aka Proserpina, whom Gaiman calls Persephone) again
involved? Gaiman's Titania also allows us to draw a connection with Persephone,
when she reacts to A Midsummer Night's Dream in SM 19:10:5. „It seems to me that
I heard this tale sung once, in old Greece, by a boy with a lyre", which
is a rather obvious reference to Orpheus, and thus an indication Persephone
and Titania are indeed the same. In BOM 3:46 we also see several „aspects“
of Titania and throughout the Sandman series she seldom appears twice in the
Orpheus also once calls Persephone „Kore“ (SMS 1:16:2), another
name which is also the Greek word for „maiden"111 , which brings us, at last, to the triple
goddess, the Hecate, whose various aspects in the Sandman series also encompass (among others) three
relatively harmless looking witches, who were the hosts of another 1970's
DC Comics horror anthology called The Witching Hour, the Furies or Eumenides, bringing doom
to anyone spilling his family's blood, and, last but by no means least, the
three witches from Macbeth112 . They are also identified as „maiden",
„mother“ and „crone". The maiden aspect reminds us not
only of the translation of „Kore", but can also easily be connected
with Diana, known for her chastity113 . But when both Persephone and the Furies
appear in The Song of Orpheus,
this clarifies that Gaiman is not interested in losing his ambiguity. In SMS
1:35:5 (see also Appendix II, Ill. 8) Persephone may or may not speak of an
aspect of herself in third person.
If we now remember Shakespeare's connection of Titania with the triple goddess
when Puck says: „And we fairies, that do run / By the triple Hecate's
team“ (V,1,375-376, pg. 253), another parallelism between Gaiman and
Shakespeare is established.
But back to parallels between Morpheus and Gaiman's version of Shakespeare.
Right from the start of the story, Hamnet's „But father“ (twice
in SM 19:1:2, once in SM 19:2:1) is turned into a running gag that becomes
less and less funny. When Hamnet eats the forbidden Faerie fruit (SM 19:16:7),
Will is concerned with the play, when the boy later wants to tell him about
the „pretty lady“ that „said such things to me", Shakespeare
again has no time for his son (SM 19:17:5) and Puck comments with the lines
from the play „Lord, what fools these mortals be!“ (SM 19:17:6,
resp. III,2,115, pg. 195). But mortals aren't the only fools114 .
Morpheus is too involved in his petty rules and a sense of duty to try to
keep harm away from his son or later help him. Again the „But father“
is ignored (SMS 1:16:3 and SMS 1:48:2). And when Morpheus at last sees sense
and breaks one of the rules to show his son mercy, he seals his own demise
at the hands of the furies.
Peter Holland reveals
another parallel regarding Theseus (played by Shakespeare): Soon after the
"Never mole, harelip, nor scar,
nor mark prodigious such as are
Despisèd in nativity,
Shall upon their children be"
(V,1,402-405, pg. 255)
the play ends. Theseus' future
"was unquestionably a stereotypically gorgeous macho man. But the result
of this physical beauty is Phaedra's
sexual obsession with him and Theseus' responsibility for his own son's death."115
14. Tricksters, Actors
„[C]haracteristics of a Trickster, which are important in The Sandman, include being a
rhetorician. Gaiman uses and mentions many different trickster characters
in The Sandman. The most notable is Loki of Norse
mythology. Puck or Robin Goodfellow from A Midsummer Night’s
Dream is a
known faerie trickster. These two team up and help cause the demise of Dream.
[ …] Even Dream himself can
be considered a trickster because many call him Lord Shaper and he does change
shape many times. Also, he is the Prince of Stories and, therefore, a rhetorician.“116
If we start out from Michael Niederhausen’s partly definition of a trickster, it is selfevident
that Shakespeare himself qualifies as a trickster, because he is a playwright
(and thus, a rhetorician) and an actor, a profession which at least shows
some similarities to „shape-shifters“. Niederhausen continues
that the trickster is „someone who brings laughter and pain“,
which perfectly reminds us of the fact, that the Shakespeare of that particular
period was just proving himself with his first great comedies and tragedies117 .
Shakespeare’s version of Oberon is probably the most outstanding rhetorician
of the play and while Gaiman’s version only tricks Burbage with the
Faerie gold118 , Shakespeare’s Oberon is much more
of an active trickster, who first observes secretly (“But who comes
here? I am invisible; And I will overhear their conference“, II,1,186-187,
pg. 164-165) and later manipulates to bring laughter and pain, even if he
not always gets the desired results because of misunderstandings with Puck.
Thus the motif of the trickster is a theme connecting both Shakespeare and
Gaiman, and in the second play Shakespeare supposedly writes for Morpheus
(and thus gives Gaiman the chance to reflect on), The Tempest, this motif is even more evident.
Gaiman himself as comic author is one rhetorician who lets his words be interpreted
by artists and thus „Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
/ A local habitation and a name.“ (V,1,16-17, pg. 231)
15. Epilogue: The Wake
Gaiman's The Sandman
series ended with a double-size issue concerning The Tempest thus paralleling the end of Shakespeare's
active career as sole writer119 . The last words Morpheus speaks in the
series are „But I thank you.“ towards Shakespeare in a dream (SM
75:37:1), which may also express Gaiman's gratitude. Shakespeare then awakes
and is as relieved as Gaiman probably were: „It is over.“ (SM 75:37:3)
„All of it. The burden of words. I can lay it down now. Let it rest.“
Appendix I: Works Consulted:
1. Primary Sources:
Puck of Pook’s Hill
Tauchnitz-Edition, Leipzig 1906.
Rewards and Fairies
Tauchnitz-Edition, Leipzig 1910.
London 1961 (FACSIMILE of W.H.D. Rouse's 1904 Edition of Arthur Golding
's Translation of Ovid
, originally published in 1567.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
(The Oxford Shakespeare), Oxford 1994, edited by Peter Holland.
(For further quick reference concerning Hamlet
, King Lear, Macbeth,
Romeo and Juliet
I used The Complete Works of William Shakespeare
, London 1990, edited by
W. J. Craig)
1.2. Comics and Illustrations:
The Books of Magic Vol.1,
: Land of Summer’s
, written by
Neil Gaiman, art by Charles Vess.
(Reprinted in The Books of Magic TP
The Sandman #13
Men of Good Fortune
written by Neil Gaiman, art by Michael Zulli and Steve Parkhouse, DC Comics,
New York 1989 (cover date: February 1990).
(Reprinted in The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll's House TP
The Sandman #19: A Midsummer
, written by Neil Gaiman (with additional material taken from
the play by William Shakespeare), art by Charles Vess, DC Comics, New York
(Reprinted in The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country TP
The Sandman #66: The Kindly
, written by
Neil Gaiman, art by Marc Hempel and Richard Case, DC Comics, New York 1994
(cover date: January 1995).
(Reprinted in The Sandman Vol. 9: The Kindly Ones TP
The Sandman #75: The Tempest
written by Neil Gaiman (additional material by William Shakespeare), art by
Charles Vess (uncredited assistants: John Ridgway, Bryan Talbot and Michael
Zulli), DC Comics, New York 1996.
(Reprinted in The Sandman Vol. 10: The Wake TP
The Sandman Special #1: The
Song of Orpheus
, written by Neil Gaiman, art by Bryan Talbot and Mark Buckingham,
DC Comics, New York 1991.
(Not reprinted in book form, but once as comic book without the glow-in-the-dark
Showcase # 73: The Coming
of the Creeper
uncredited, art by Steve Ditko, DC Comics, New York 1968. (Visual influence
on the comic version of Puck)
Shakespeare in Love
USA 1999, directed by John Madden, written by Marc Naiman & Tom Stoppard.
To Be Or Not To Be
USA 1942, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, written by Edwin Justus Mayer.
1.4. Screenplays and Scripts:
Original Script for Sandman
, final (second?)
draft, unpublished. A limited amount of copies was handled to subscribers
of „Magian Line“, a quarterly newsletter concerning Neil Gaiman
and his work, starting in March, 1993.
Unofficial version of the screenplay
to Shakespeare in Love
, found on the internet under http://www.un-official.com/SIL/sil.html
2. Secondary Sources:
2.1. Regarding William Shakespeare, his Times,
his Works, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream,and the Role of
„But We Are Spirits of Another Sort: The Dark Side of Love and Magic
in A Midsummer Night's Dream
originally in S. Wenzel (Ed.), Medieval and Renaissance Studies
, Chapel Hill (N.C.) 1978, pg. 80-92, REPRINT
New Casebooks, A Midsummer Night's Dream
, London etc. 1996, pg. 24-37.
Katharine M. Briggs
The Anatomy of Puck. An Examination of Fairy Beliefs among Shakespeare's
Contemporaries and Successors
Katharine M. Briggs
A Dictionary of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and other Supernatural
, London 1976.
Katharine M. Briggs
The Fairies in Tradition and Literature
Katharine M. Briggs
Pale Hecate's Team, An Examination of the Beliefs on Witchcraft and Magic
among Shakespeare's Contemporaries and His Immediate Successors
, London 1962.
James L. Calderwood
Harvester New Critical Introductions to Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's
, Hemel Hempstead 1992.
Introduction to „The Signet Classic Shakespeare Series“ edition
of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, New York 1963, pg. xxiiv - xxxvii.
Shakspere: A Critical Study of His Mind and Art
(3rd ed. originally published in 1877), EXCERPT in „The Signet Classic
Shakespeare Series“ edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream
, New York 1963, pg. 137-141.
Edgar I. Fripp
, Man and Artist
, London 1938.
„Introduction“ (and Annotations) to the Oxford Shakespeare Edition
of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Oxford 1994, pg.1-117 (resp. 131-256).
Shakespeare Our Contemporary
New York 1964.
Minor White Latham
The Elizabethan Fairies: The Fairies of Folklore and the Fairies of Shakespeare
, originally New York 1930, EXCERPT reprinted
in: Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, A Casebook
, ed. by Anthony Price, London 1983.
Henry Alonzo Myers
„Romeo and Juliet
and A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Tragedy and Comedy", EXCERPT from his Tragedy: A View of LIfe
, Ithaca, N.Y., 1956, REPRINT in „The
Signet Classic Shakespeare Series“ edition of A Midsummer Night’s
, New York 1963,
„Anmerkungen“ in the Reclam edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream
, Stuttgart 1989, pg. 105-124.
„The Kindly Ones: The Death of the Author in Shakespearean Athens",
REPRINT in Dutton
(Ed.), New Casebooks, A Midsummer Night's
, London etc.
1996, pg. 198-222.
2.2. Regarding Neil Gaiman, The Sandman and
Comics in General:
The Sandman Companion
New York 1999.
untitled fan-letter, written in Honolulu 1990, printed in Sandman #23
, DC Comics, pg. 31, New York (cover date
, Ralf Hildebrandt
et al., The Annotated Sandman
Signifying in Comic Books: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman
(An essay submitted to the Xavier
University, Cincinnati, in 1999, found on the internet at:
Introduction, New York 1993.
2.3. Additional Interviews with Gaiman:
Amazing Heroes #152
Westlake Village 1988, pg. 21-27. ("From an English Country Garden",
Interview by Peter Sanderson).
Comic Book Rebels
Conversations with the Creators of the New Comics, edited by Stanley Wiater
& Stephen R. Bissette, New York 1993, pg. 186-199.
Afterwards the application
rules of the literary award were modified to exclude comics from winning. 2
, The Sandman Companion
loc. cit., pg. 74.
When quoting from the several
sources I will use a shorthand to avoid confusion. In connection with Shakespeare’s
play I’ll use the common reference to act/scene/line, followed by the
page in the Oxford Edition, e.g. „What angel wakes me from my flowery
bed?“ (III,1,122, pg. 185). When referring to comics, I’ll use
the title (or an abbreviation like SM for Sandman), issue number, page and
panel. When quoting Gaiman's original script on which Sandman #19
is based, I’ll add „SCRIPT“ at the beginning and correspondingly
„ANNO“ when I’m citing from The Annotated Sandman
. Two examples: „The actor playing Titania
is leaning up from being asleep, staring lovingly at Bottom, with asses head“
(SCRIPT SM 19:14:1). „Titania has been afflicted by the love potion.“
(ANNO SM 19:14:1). Furthermore, for reasons of readability, I will refrain
from using capital letters as they are used for „stage directions“
in the script and dialogue in comics.
4 A Midsummer Night’s
and The Tempest
have some points in common: Apart from Love’s Labour’s Lost
, they are the most original
(i. e. without too obvious sources) plays written by Shakespeare. Both include
supernatural beings (and were thus called his „fairy plays“ by
some). And, last but not least, they’re Neil Gaiman’s favourites
loc. cit., pg. 56).
, loc. cit., pg. 64-88.
6 Dream Country
trade paperback, pg. 3.
DC is short for Detective
Comics, the series in which Batman
first appeared. Other
well-known properties of the publishing house include Superman
and Wonder Woman
(an amazon colleague of
The other is of course
Marvel Comics, known for Spider-Man
, the Fantastic Four
or the X-Men
A DC marketing slogan of
that time. Swamp Thing
was the first DC title dropping the seal of the „Comic
Code Authority“ a self-regulating initiative of the American comics
publishers founded in 1954 to prevent harmful influence on minors (cf Sabin
, Adult Comics, An Introduction
loc. cit., pg. 251ff, 270).
, V for Vendetta
or The Killing Joke
, all drawn by British
artists of the „first wave“, namely Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd
and Brian Bolland.
Notable early works of
these creators for DC include Animal Man
, Doom Patrol
(both written by Morrison),
(written by Morrison, art by McKean), Black Orchid
(written by Gaiman, art
by McKean), Hellblazer
(written by Jamie Delano) and Shade the Changing Man
(written by Milligan,
art by Chris Bachalo). Dave McKean also did the covers for Hellblazer
and The Sandman
„He’s not even
a god, because gods die eventually …people stop believing in them. He’s
one of the Endless. [ …] They’re anthropomorphic personifications.
He’s not a person; he’s almost an idea.“ (Gaiman
, interviewed in Amazing
Consisting of seven personified
aspects of (especially human) life: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, the
twins Desire and Despair, and Delirium (who was once Delight).
Gaiman uses versions of
Cain, Abel and Eve that were hosts of 1970’s DC horror anthologies like
House of Secrets
House of Mystery
His latest novel American
had made its impact on the US bestseller lists a few months ago.
See under http://www.wordplayer.com/archives/SANDMAN.script.html.
Unfortunately long sold
out, and I wasn't able to obtain a copy fur further studies.
David Mazzucchelli's version
of Paul Auster's City of Glass
, Stephane Heuet's interpretation of Marcel
Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu
, some works by P. Craig
Russell (especially his Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde
and the Jungle Book
and Evan Dorkin's very short (and hilarious) versions of Catcher in the
, The Lottery
are about the only adaptations
While I mainly think in
terms of medieval illuminations, Gustave Doré, George Cruikshank or
John Tenniel here, it is very interesting how far pictures of Harry Potter
seem to play a distinctive role in selling the books about this character.
But only about five percent
of Shakespeare's lines is represented in the comic. Gaiman
specifies: „By the
way, the lines I quoted from the play were of two types: They either conveyed
major beats of the plot, helping readers understand what was going on; or
they in some way commented on the themes of my story, or of Sandman
in general.“ (Bender
, loc. cit., pg. 79).
„Bottom was a role
for Kemp, Theseus for Shakespeare", Edgar I. Fripp, Shakespeare, Man
and Artist, loc. cit., pg. 397.
There are similar scenes
in the films To Be or Not To Be
(when Joseph Tura as Hamlet starts the famous
monologue responsible for the film’s title, and a young soldier repeatedly
leaves the auditorium to make use of Tura’s long stage sojourn in the
actor’s wife’s dressing room, which increasingly infuriates the
unknowingly doubly offended performer) and Shakespeare in Love
(where Viola, dressed
as „Thomas Kent“ to be allowed to act despite her sex, misses
her cue as Romeo shortly before the play’s first kiss with Juliet, because
she is love-struck with Will Shakespeare, her Romeo).
When appropriate, I will
stick to Gaiman's preferred spelling.
, loc. cit., pg. 83.
II.2.155, pg. 177 (resp.
SM 19:12:6), the only „description of something that may unequivocally
be taken to be a dream, one 'real' dream“ (Peter Holland
to the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the play, loc. cit., pg. 4)
puts it in the „credits“
on page 5 of the comic. See also his comments concerning this „acknowledgement“
, loc. cit., pg. 79.
And Gaiman is able to handle
iambic pentameter, as the conversations in e.g. SM 13:13:2-3 or SM 19:11:4
Which is of course a pun
on „tolled“ (Cf. Holland
's annotations of the Oxford edition, loc. cit.,
Even less interesting is
the spelling difference between „muskroses“ (SM 19:18:1) and „musk-roses“
(IV.1.3, pg. 213).
For more information I
recommend Scott McCloud
who reserves one whole chapter (and more) of his Understanding
to explain the intricaties of „Time Frames“ (loc. cit., pg. 94-117).
The woods as place of misbehaviour
remind us of the Middle English meaning of „wood", i.e. „mad".
James L. Calderwood
also points out in the
Harvester New Critical Introductions
that the omission and addition of prologues and epilogues
in the play makes the structure even more complex, which he compares to a
set of Chinese optical boxes (loc. cit., esp. pg. 146-148).
When asked for his personal
favourites of the comics he wrote, in 1993 Gaiman
also listed A Midsummer
, „because that was such hard work. And I’m
really proud of it. I’m proud of the fact you can’t see me with
my desk, covered with tiny pieces of paper, trying to keep the action backstage,
frontstage, back of the audience, and the play, all moving along in three
dimensions, and getting it all down saying everything I have to say.“
(Comic Book Rebels
, loc. cit., pg. 197.)
I'm aware of the problems
of doubling in IV.1.101-102, pg. 220, where there is „no gap between
the exit of Oberon and Titania and the entrance of Theseus and Hippolyta“
, loc. cit., pg 220), but for a dedicated director
these are mere challenges.
As were Palamoun and Arcite
in Geoffrey Chaucer
’s The Knight’s Tale
, one of the sources of
, loc. cit., pg. 80.
This reflects the similarities
between the „Fairy Queen“ (III,1,73, pg. 181) Titania and Queen
Elizabeth I. Edmund Spenser’s famous The Fairie Queene
(1590-96) also uses this
allegory. (Cf. Bernhard Reitz
's „Anmerkungen“ in the Reclam-edition
of the play, loc. cit., pg. 106).
Gaiman shows Shakespeare's
own peanut gallery in SM 19:21:6
This name is only given
in the script, not in the actual comic, but there is frappant similarity to
an infamous MTV-cartoon character called Beavis, who has the same dental problems,
isn’t very bright and is mainly watching television, the modern equivalent
of theatre, while discussing the qualities of music videos with his friend
Who „looks like one
of Swamp Thing’s more unpleasant relatives“ (SCRIPT SM 19:12:2)
or „one of Arthur Rackham’s worst nightmares“ (SCRIPT SM
19:8:3). Arthur Rackham also illustrated some editions of Kiplings Puck
of Pook's Hill
to which I will later refer.
Morpheus, Titania, Oberon,
and Puck are of course four characters, but Puck is not on par with the other
three, solely converses with his Lord Oberon and vanishes halfway through
„The standard ending
to fairy stories has those who ventured into the fairy world waking on a hill,
their gold changed to something worthless.“ (ANNO SM 19:24).
, loc. cit., pg. 78.
asserts this is based
on a W. S. Gilbert anecdote (Bender
, loc. cit., pg 76f.), it also reminds us of Bronski's
line addition of „I'll heil myself“ as Hitler in Lubitsch's To
Be Or Not To Be
and the importance of the dog on stage in Shakespeare in Love
This, and the following
lines, as derived from a quote by Gaiman's favourite rock singer Lou Reed
loc. cit., pg. 84), seems not at all to represent the hobgoblin's sentiments.
In Shakespeare Our Contemporary
describes this phenomenon as a „censorship of day which orders everything
to be forgotten“ (loc. cit., pg. 226).
himself is of the opinion
that „most authorities guess that MND was written between 1593 and 1595“
(SCRIPT SM 19, pg.1).
The movie Shakespeare
uses the same year and events and concentrates even more on the plague (which
threatens to close the London theatres) and Shakespeare’s reaction to
Marlowe’s death (because he thinks he may be responsible). However,
for obvious reasons, the movie neglects to mention Shakespeare’s children.
„Romeo and Juliet
and A Midsummer Night’s Dream
: Tragedy and Comedy", loc. cit., pg. 163
The title also mirrors
The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Thus The Tempest
was considered a comedy
in earlier times.
In Shakespeare in Love
which sets Romeo and Juliet
before the Dream
and tells the (fictional)
story behind the tragedy, there is also a subtle reference to A Midsummer
, the overly Freudian dream interpreter Dr. Moth who could
be an inspiration for one of the fairies called Moth.
„It is rumored that
the Ghost of Hamlet's Father is one of the roles actually played by Shakespeare.
There are theories that the plot of Hamlet
was influenced by Anne
Hathaway's supposed infidelity with Will's brother.“ (ANNO SM 19:13:3)
Katharine M. Briggs
, Pale Hecate's Team
, loc. cit., pg. 77.
Katharine M. Briggs
, ibid., loc. cit., pg.
Edgar I. Fripp
, loc. cit., pg. 394.
Edgar I. Fripp
, loc. cit., pg. 394f.
Note the deviation in the quote (nothing[s]).
, loc. cit., pg. 3.
, loc. cit., pg. 35. The
quotation is from
The Discovery of Witchcraft
(1584), Bk. 7, ch. 15, pg. 152f.
, loc. cit., pg. 32. At
this point it should be pointed out that there is the possibility to see the
transformation of Bottom as an inside-out parody of the Actaeon myth. Where
Actaeon is punished by Diana for his voyeurism by being transformed into a
stag which causes his death by being torn apart by his own hunting dogs, Bottom's
transformation goes hand in hand with his magically winning Titania's favour
and his spending the night with her. In another context Jan Kott
would even go so far to
speculate on the sexual potency of the ass who „among all quadrupeds
was supposed to have the longest and hardest phallus“ (loc. cit., pg.
, loc. cit., pg 32f. The
quotation is from
Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished
(1632), pg. 233.
The Words of Mercury: Shakespeare and the English Mythography of the Renaissance
, loc. cit., pg 30.
Minor White Latham
, The Elizabethan Fairies
loc. cit., pg. 59.
, loc. cit., pg. 61.
speaks of „the two
great scholars of Elizabethan fairies, Minor White Latham and Katharine Briggs"
cit., pg. 22f.).
, loc. cit., pg. 62.
, loc. cit., pg. 64.
Which reminds us of the
role of the fool in e.g. King Lear
’s comment „Oh
god this is getting complicated. Welcome to Infinite Mirror Comics“
reflects (no pun intended) the doubling effect. (SCRIPT SM 19:17:1).
, loc. cit., pg. 151.
„'But We Are Spirits
of Another Sort': The Dark Side of Love and Magic in A Midsummer Night's
loc. cit., pg. 25.
Gaiman also states other
influences. I've already mentioned Lou Reed (The first Sandman
story involving Shakespeare,
was titled Men of Good Fortune
, which is also a song written by Reed). The „ho
ho ho“ line is supposedly „from The Ballad of Robin Goodfellow
- possibly written by Ben Jonson, but more probably a folk song - which is
filled with little verses that describe funny things Puck does and end with
'ho ho ho'“ (Gaiman
, in: Bender
, loc. cit., pg. 79). Here Gaiman seems to have
forgotten that Shakespeare also used the tradiotional „Ho, ho, ho“
in III,2,421, pg. 210. Interesting for comic fans is the visual inspiration
for Puck: „If you ever were going to cast the DC comics performance of
MND, Puck'd probably be played by the Creeper
, if you see what I mean, if that doesn't
trivialise the character. I think I'm thinking of the way that Ditko used
to hav the Creeper
moving, like an animal, or a leapfrogging monkey-spirit.“ (Gaiman
, SCRIPT SM 19:5:4). See
also Appendix 2, Ill. 3+4
may have been derived from the longer name „Wendel’s Mound Town,’
and the chalked figure Wendel was thought by some to be a god. Further, ‘Wendel’
comes from the old Norse Venda, meaning ‘to change course, to travel,
to move forward.’ So it seemed reasonable to me to refer to the chalked
figure as Wendel and to designate him a gatekeeper.“ (Bender
, loc. cit., pg. 76).
Cf. SCRIPT SM 19, pg.1.
According to Gaiman
, in: Bender
, loc. cit., pg. 75.
„Their father had
made them a small play out of the big Shakespeare one, and [ …] They began
were Nick Bottom the Weaver comes out of the bushes with a donkey’s
head on his shoulders, and finds Titania Queen of the Fairies asleep. Then
they skipped to the part where Bottom asks three little fairies to scratch
his head and bring him honey, and they ended where he falls asleep in Titania’s
, Puck of Pook's Hill
, loc. cit., pg. 5). It is worth noticing
that Gaiman shows us these scenes also.
, ibid., loc. cit., pg.
5, who continues on page 6: „a grown-up who had seen it said that Shakespeare
himself could not have imagined a more suitable setting for his play.“
, ibid., loc cit., pg.
7, resp. Shakespeare
, III,1,65f, even when he cites a part neither practised for
his performance nor fitting with the kids chronology, but instead Kipling
uses the lines as a comment on the situation, since the children are probably
just abot as „professional“ performers as Bottom and the crude
Even when he cites a part
neither practised for his performance nor fitting with the kids chronology,
but Kipling uses the lines as a comment on the situation, since the children
are probably just about as „professional“ performers as Bottom
and the crude artisans.
You have to keep in mind
that Kipling did write his novel earlier, but the events of Gaiman’s
comic show us an earlier (and nastier) version of Puck. And comic authors
tend to like fitting their stories into an existing time frame, a continuity
(hence the name of my essay).
, ibid., loc. cit., pg.
7, resp. Shakespeare
, loc. cit., pg. xxiv.
, loc. cit., pg. xxv.
This is mere speculation,
but it would explain the play's title and some scholars adopt this train of
[The children] „were
not, of course, allowed to act on Midsummer’s Night itself, but they
went down after tea on Midsummer’s Eve, when the shadows were growing.“
, Puck of Pook's Hill
, loc. cit., pg. 6). And Kipling's sequel
Rewards and Fairies
also starts on Midsummer's morning.
The reappearances of Puck
and Titania, only hinted at with the last panel of Sandman #19
, didn't surprise acute
readers. RKevin Doyle
wrote soon thereafter: „I hope that dear old Robin Goodfellow
will spring up in future issues, as I hope that the doomed Hamnet will reappear
as a charge of Titania, should the fairy-folk ever appear in a Gaiman story
again.“ (loc. cit.).
Apart from the trickster
connection there is little evidence in Sandman why Puck and Loki worked together.
story Cold Iron
(In: Rewards and Fairies
, loc. cit.) at least gives reasons why Puck could dislike
Thor and thus feel a connection to Loki. (Kipling is another author mixing
mythologies with ease.)
Puck in Kipling
's Puck of Pook's Hill
loc. cit., pg. 21.
Describing also accurately
the disarray of Morpheus' kingdom, the „Dreaming“ at that point
of the story.
„With Yeats' poetry
a different note came into our literature, for he believed in the fairies.
[ …] To Yeats fairies were a real danger, and a real delight.“ (Briggs
, The Fairies in Tradition
, loc. cit., pg. 172).
, ibid., loc. cit., pg.
, The Anatomy of Puck
, loc. cit., pg. 46.
, loc. cit., pg. 59.
, loc. cit., pg. 59. The
quotation again is from
The Discovery of Witchcraft
It seems especially remarkable
that Kipling's fairies in Cold Iron
were untainted by feelings
of racism, until the coloured orphan living a happy life in the land of the
fairies returns to his human kind to be enslaved by the cold iron around his
neck. Inhowfar Kipling's political point of view is represented by his writings
remains an interesting question.
, A Dictionary of Fairies
[etc.], loc. cit., pg. 71. Terms in CAPITALS indicate other entries of the
Puck on the other hand
won't reveal his motives so easy, when he is confronted after the kidnapping
of Daniel: „Why did you steal this boy?“ --- „None o' your
beeswax. I've stol'n many a child in my time, left many a changeling in its
crib to stare with old eyes from a baby's face.“ (SM 66:2:1).
, A Dictionary of Fairies
loc. cit., pg. 62.
, loc. cit., pg. 83.
„[I]n a perfect world,
for purposes of dramatic irony and reflection, [Hamnet would] be having this
conversation with the boy actor playing Titania; however, ‘Titania’
is ‘asleep’ on stage at this point, so it’ll have to be
Nash, the boy playing Hermia“ (SCRIPT SM 19:13:1).
, in Bender
, loc. cit.. pg. 84. I
could not find an apparent parallel to the failures in communication that
play an important part in Sandman #19
, save for the misunderstanding between Puck and
Oberon concerning the identity of the Athenian youth.
Note the inclusion of this
term in the title of The Books of Magic Vol.1 #3
, Land of Summer's Twilight
interprets those lines
as „the touch which shows how Shakspere stood off from Theseus, did
not identify himself with this grand ideal (which he admired so truly), and
admitted to himself a secret superiority of his own soul over that of his
noble master of the world.“ (Shakspere: A Critical Study of His Mind
loc. cit., pg. 139).
, loc. cit., pg. 86.
, in Bender
, loc. cit., pg. 87.
A young magician wearing
glasses, who owns a pet owl, created by Gaiman and John Bolton in 1990, several
years before Joanne K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
, A Dictionary of Fairies
loc. cit., pg. 70.
., loc. cit., pg. 233.
., loc. cit., pg. 233.
110 Shakespeare's Ovid
, loc. cit.
ANNO SMS 1:16:2.
In Sandman #58
Gaiman even borrows a
recipe from Shakespeare's witches. See ANNO SM 58:14:6.
Cf. „Or on Diana's
altar to protest / For aye, austerity and single life.“ (I,1,89-90, pg.
Compare also the phrasing
of Will's „Foolish fancies, boy“ (SM 19:24:5) and Morpheus' „You
are talking foolishness, my son.“ (SMS 1:16:2).
, loc. cit., pg. 58-59.
, loc. cit.
See again Henry Alonzo
, loc. cit.
It is also worth noting
how far Gaiman ridicules his Oberon: He is horned, there are several subtle
hints that also Morpheus was once Titania’s lover (cf. Bender
, loc. cit., 79 & 86)
and her invitation „But you will always be welcome in our land, Dream
Lord. The gates to Faerie are never fully closed. Come when you wish.“
(SM 19:17:3) seems overly sexual. Oberon’s behaviour towards Puck at
times (SM 19:9:3, „an interesting shot in which the animal-like Puck
is being caressed by the king, showing the almost sexual relationship between
people and their pets“, Gaiman
, pg. 80) is bordering towards bestiality
and thus mirrors Titania’s infatuation with the ass-headed Bottom (more
on the dark aspects of love and especially bestiality in the texts of Kott
(loc. cit.)). And, last
but not least, in Gaiman’s version Titania gets her Indian boy and so
is victorious in every aspect.
The sheer audacity suggests
that Gaiman, like Burbage, is „a bit full of himself“
loc cit., p. 78).