Sarah Berger: bitte öffnet den Vorhang

Oktober 2002
Thomas Vorwerk

Freie Universität Berlin
Institut für Englische Philologie

Faerie Continuity
On Neil Gaiman's adaptation of William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream into comic form and the influence on his comic book series The Sandman

Seminararbeit zum Proseminar PS 17306 „A Midsummer Knight’s Tale - Verhandlungen zwischen Chaucer und Shakespeare“

Dozenten: Tobias Döring & Andrew James Johnston
Faerie Continuity

Faerie Continuity

On Neil Gaiman's adaptation of William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream into comic form and the influence on his comic book series The Sandman


  1. Introduction
  2. Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess, and The Sandman
    - Background Information
  3. Strategies of Adaptation - Comics as a Means of Presentation for Theatrical Plays
  4. Gaiman's Use of the Medium
  5. Textual Comparison
  6. Structural Parallels
  7. Puck's Destruction of the Structure
  8. Doubling and Mirroring
  9. Intertextuality: Shakespeare
  10. Mixing Mythologies
  11. Robin Goodfellow’s present whereabouts are unknown
  12. The Changeling Situation
  13. Sons and Fathers (Mixing Mythologies II)
  14. Tricksters, Actors and Playwrights
  15. Epilogue: The Wake

0. Caveat

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.

1. Introduction

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 Sandman
- 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 Suspense“.

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 novel Stardust. 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 comic series.

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 studies.

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 comic.

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 play.

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 hobgoblin's suggestion.

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 the following:

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, Stratford law, 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 of Titania:

"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 and Titania."60

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 Ovid, 'Hecate: called Cynthia 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 Night's Dream and Titania 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 the hobgoblin.

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 Night’s Dream 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 SM 19:11:3).

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 fairy nature."98

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 circumstances.

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 II)

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 same form.

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 fairies' blessing

"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 son Hippolytus
"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 and Playwrights

„[C]haracteristics of a Trickster, which are important in The Sandman, include being a shape-shifter and 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.“ (SM 75:37:5).

Appendix I: Works Consulted:

1. Primary Sources:

1.1. Literature:

Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook’s Hill, Tauchnitz-Edition, Leipzig 1906.
Rudyard Kipling, Rewards and Fairies, Tauchnitz-Edition, Leipzig 1910.
"Shakespeare's Ovid", London 1961 (FACSIMILE of W.H.D. Rouse's 1904 Edition of Arthur Golding's Translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, originally published in 1567.
William Shakespeare, 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, The Tempest 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, #3: Land of Summer’s Twilight, 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 Night’s Dream, written by Neil Gaiman (with additional material taken from the play by William Shakespeare), art by Charles Vess, DC Comics, New York 1990.
(Reprinted in The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country TP)
The Sandman #66: The Kindly Ones: 10, 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 cover)
Showcase # 73: The Coming of the Creeper, writer uncredited, art by Steve Ditko, DC Comics, New York 1968. (Visual influence on the comic version of Puck)

1.3. Films:

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 #19, 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

2. Secondary Sources:

2.1. Regarding William Shakespeare, his Times, his Works, especially A Midsummer Night's Dream,and the Role of the Fairies:

David Bevington, „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 in Dutton (Ed.), 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, London 1959.
Katharine M. Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies, Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogies and other Supernatural Creatures, London 1976.
Katharine M. Briggs, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature, London 1967.
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 Dream, Hemel Hempstead 1992.
Wolfgang Clemen, Introduction to „The Signet Classic Shakespeare Series“ edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, New York 1963, pg. xxiiv - xxxvii.
Edward DowdenShakspere: 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, Shakespeare, Man and Artist, London 1938.

Peter Holland, „Introduction“ (and Annotations) to the Oxford Shakespeare Edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oxford 1994, pg.1-117 (resp. 131-256).
Jan Kott, 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 Dream, New York 1963, pg. 155-170.
Bernhard Reitz, „Anmerkungen“ in the Reclam edition of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Stuttgart 1989, pg. 105-124.
Richard Wilson, „The Kindly Ones: The Death of the Author in Shakespearean Athens", REPRINT in Dutton (Ed.), New Casebooks, A Midsummer Night's Dream, London etc. 1996, pg. 198-222.

2.2. Regarding Neil Gaiman, The Sandman and Comics in General:

Hy Bender, The Sandman Companion, New York 1999.
RKevin Doyle, untitled fan-letter, written in Honolulu 1990, printed in Sandman #23, DC Comics, pg. 31, New York (cover date February 1991).
Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Northhampton 1993.
Greg Morrow, David Goldfarb, Ralf Hildebrandt et al., The Annotated Sandman
Michael Niederhausen, Signifying in Comic Books: Neil Gaiman's The Sandman
(An essay submitted to the Xavier University, Cincinnati, in 1999, found on the internet at:
Roger Sabin, Adult Comics, An 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.

Appendix II: Illustrations:

(c) DC Comics
1: Shakespeare's discussion with Christopher Marlowe
(Sandman #13, art by Zulli)
(c) DC Comics
2: Morpheus' reenactment of the same scene in a dream
(Sandman #75, art by Vess)
(c) DC Comics
3: The Creeper
(Showcase #73, art by Ditko)
(c) DC Comics
4: Puck as Dick Cowley as Puck
(Sandman #19, art by Vess)

(c) DC Comics
5: Hamnet as the Indian boy (note the headgear)
(Sandman #19, art by Vess)
6: Hamnet as Titania's page
(Books of Magic, Vol. 1, #3, art by Vess)
(c) DC Comics
(c) DC Comics 7: "The riot of the tipsy bacchanales Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage" One of the less graphic pictures of Orpheus' dismemberment (note the grapes)
(Sandman Special #1, art by Talbot)
8: "lt seems to me that I heard this tale sung once, in old Greece, by a boy with a lyre" (Titania) -
Persephone, one of the aspects of the triple goddess?
(Sandman Special l, art by Talbot)
(c) DC Comics

1 Afterwards the application rules of the literary award were modified to exclude comics from winning.

2 Cf. Bender, The Sandman Companion, loc. cit., pg. 74.

3 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 Dream 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 (cf Bender, loc. cit., pg. 56).

5 Bender, loc. cit., pg. 64-88.

6 Dream Country trade paperback, pg. 3.

7 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

8 The other is of course Marvel Comics, known for Spider-Man, Hulk, the Fantastic Four or the X-Men.

9 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).

10 Like Watchmen, V for Vendetta or The Killing Joke, all drawn by British artists of the „first wave“, namely Dave Gibbons, David Lloyd and Brian Bolland.

11 Notable early works of these creators for DC include Animal Man, Doom Patrol (both written by Morrison), Arkham Asylum (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.

12 „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 Heroes #152, loc. cit.).

13 Consisting of seven personified aspects of (especially human) life: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, the twins Desire and Despair, and Delirium (who was once Delight).

14 Gaiman uses versions of Cain, Abel and Eve that were hosts of 1970’s DC horror anthologies like House of Secrets, House of Mystery or Plop.

15 His latest novel American Gods had made its impact on the US bestseller lists a few months ago.

16 See under

17 Unfortunately long sold out, and I wasn't able to obtain a copy fur further studies.

18 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 Stories) and Evan Dorkin's very short (and hilarious) versions of Catcher in the Rye, The Lottery and 1984 are about the only adaptations I would recommend.

19 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.

20 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).

21 „Bottom was a role for Kemp, Theseus for Shakespeare", Edgar I. Fripp, Shakespeare, Man and Artist, loc. cit., pg. 397.

22 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).

23 When appropriate, I will stick to Gaiman's preferred spelling.

24 Gaiman in: Bender, loc. cit., pg. 83.

25 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, „Introduction“ to the Oxford Shakespeare edition of the play, loc. cit., pg. 4) 

26 As Gaiman puts it in the „credits“ on page 5 of the comic. See also his comments concerning this „acknowledgement“ in Bender, loc. cit., pg. 79.

27 And Gaiman is able to handle iambic pentameter, as the conversations in e.g. SM 13:13:2-3 or SM 19:11:4 prove.

28 Which is of course a pun on „tolled“ (Cf. Holland's annotations of the Oxford edition, loc. cit., pg. 252).

29 Even less interesting is the spelling difference between „muskroses“ (SM 19:18:1) and „musk-roses“ (IV.1.3, pg. 213).

30 For more information I recommend Scott McCloud who reserves one whole chapter (and more) of his Understanding Comics to explain the intricaties of „Time Frames“ (loc. cit., pg. 94-117).

31 The woods as place of misbehaviour remind us of the Middle English meaning of „wood", i.e. „mad".

32 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).

33 When asked for his personal favourites of the comics he wrote, in 1993 Gaiman also listed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, „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.)

34 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“ (cf. Holland, loc. cit., pg 220), but for a dedicated director these are mere challenges. 35 As were Palamoun and Arcite in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, one of the sources of the play.

36 Gaiman in Bender, loc. cit., pg. 80.

37 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).

38 Gaiman shows Shakespeare's own peanut gallery in SM 19:21:6

39 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 Butt-head.

40 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.

41 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 play.

42 „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).

43 Cf. Gaiman in Bender, loc. cit., pg. 78.

44 While Gaiman 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.

45 This, and the following lines, as derived from a quote by Gaiman's favourite rock singer Lou Reed (Cf. Bender, loc. cit., pg. 84), seems not at all to represent the hobgoblin's sentiments.

46 In Shakespeare Our Contemporary Jan Kott describes this phenomenon as a „censorship of day which orders everything to be forgotten“ (loc. cit., pg. 226).

47 Gaiman himself is of the opinion that „most authorities guess that MND was written between 1593 and 1595“ (SCRIPT SM 19, pg.1).

48 The movie Shakespeare in Love 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.

49Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Tragedy and Comedy", loc. cit., pg. 163

50 The title also mirrors The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

51 Thus The Tempest was considered a comedy in earlier times.

52 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 Night's Dream, the overly Freudian dream interpreter Dr. Moth who could be an inspiration for one of the fairies called Moth.

53 „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)

54 Katharine M. Briggs, Pale Hecate's Team, loc. cit., pg. 77.

55 Katharine M. Briggs, ibid., loc. cit., pg. 77.

56 Edgar I. Fripp, loc. cit., pg. 394.

57 Edgar I. Fripp, loc. cit., pg. 394f. Note the deviation in the quote (nothing[s]).

58 Cf. Holland, loc. cit., pg. 3.

59 Holland, loc. cit., pg. 35. The quotation is from Reginald Scot, The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584), Bk. 7, ch. 15, pg. 152f.

60 Holland, 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. 220).

61 Holland, loc. cit., pg 32f. The quotation is from George Sandys, Ovid's Metamorphoses Englished (1632), pg. 233. Holland also refers to Noel Purdon, The Words of Mercury: Shakespeare and the English Mythography of the Renaissance (Salzburg, 1974).

62 Holland, loc. cit., pg 30.

63 Minor White Latham, The Elizabethan Fairies, loc. cit., pg. 59.

64 Latham, loc. cit., pg. 61.

65 Holland speaks of „the two great scholars of Elizabethan fairies, Minor White Latham and Katharine Briggs"  (loc. cit., pg. 22f.).

66 Latham, loc. cit., pg. 62.

67 Latham, loc. cit., pg. 64.

68 Which reminds us of the role of the fool in e.g. King Lear.

69 Gaiman’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).

70 Cf. Calderwood, loc. cit., pg. 151.

71 „'But We Are Spirits of Another Sort': The Dark Side of Love and Magic in A Midsummer Night's Dream", loc. cit., pg. 25. 72 Gaiman also states other influences. I've already mentioned Lou Reed (The first Sandman story involving Shakespeare, #13, 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.

73 Gaiman explains: „’Wilmington 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).

74 Cf. SCRIPT SM 19, pg.1.

75 According to Gaiman, in: Bender, loc. cit., pg. 75.

76 „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 arms.“ (Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill, loc. cit., pg. 5). It is worth noticing that Gaiman shows us these scenes also.

77 Kipling, 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.“

78 Kipling, 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 artisans.

79 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.

80 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).

81 Kipling, ibid., loc. cit., pg. 7, resp. Shakespeare, III,1,67f.

82 Cf. Clemen, loc. cit., pg. xxiv.

83 Cf. Clemen, loc. cit., pg. xxv.

84 This is mere speculation, but it would explain the play's title and some scholars adopt this train of thought.

85 [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.“ (Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill, loc. cit., pg. 6). And Kipling's sequel Rewards and Fairies also starts on Midsummer's morning.

86 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.).

87 Apart from the trickster connection there is little evidence in Sandman why Puck and Loki worked together. Kipling's 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.)

88 Puck in Kipling's Puck of Pook's Hill, loc. cit., pg. 21.

89 Describing also accurately the disarray of Morpheus' kingdom, the „Dreaming“ at that point of the story.

90 „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 and Literature, loc. cit., pg. 172).

91 Briggs, ibid., loc. cit., pg. 204.

92 Briggs, The Anatomy of Puck, loc. cit., pg. 46.

93 Latham, loc. cit., pg. 59.

94 Latham, loc. cit., pg. 59. The quotation again is from Reginald Scot, The Discovery of Witchcraft (1584)

95 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.

96 Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies [etc.], loc. cit., pg. 71. Terms in CAPITALS indicate other entries of the dictionary.

97 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).

98 Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies, loc. cit., pg. 62.

99 Bender, loc. cit., pg. 83.

100 „[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).

101 Gaiman, 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.

102 Note the inclusion of this term in the title of The Books of Magic Vol.1 #3, Land of Summer's Twilight.

103 Edward Dowden 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 and Art loc. cit., pg. 139).

104 In Bender, loc. cit., pg. 86.

105 Gaiman, in Bender, loc. cit., pg. 87.

106 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.

107 Briggs, A Dictionary of Fairies, loc. cit., pg. 70.

108 Cf. Holland., loc. cit., pg. 233.

109 Cf. Holland., loc. cit., pg. 233.

110 Shakespeare's Ovid, loc. cit.

111 ANNO SMS 1:16:2.

112 In Sandman #58 Gaiman even borrows a recipe from Shakespeare's witches. See ANNO SM 58:14:6.

113 Cf. „Or on Diana's altar to protest / For aye, austerity and single life.“ (I,1,89-90, pg. 138)

114 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).

115 Cf. Holland, loc. cit., pg. 58-59.

116 Michael Niederhausen, loc. cit.

117 See again Henry Alonzo Myers, loc. cit.

118 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 in: Bender, 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 and Bevington (loc. cit.)). And, last but not least, in Gaiman’s version Titania gets her Indian boy and so is victorious in every aspect.

119 The sheer audacity suggests that Gaiman, like Burbage, is „a bit full of himself“ (cf. Gaiman in Bender, loc cit., p. 78).