Inspiration — Interred With Their Bones

Posted by on Mar 9, 2014

A Moment of Discovery


One autumn evening early in my sojourn in graduate school, poking about among the old books in a back room on the top floor of Harvard’s Widener Library, I came upon a four volume set of books: The Elizabethan Stage by E. K. Chambers, published in 1923. One by one, I opened them. They were full of information, most of which I had no idea what to do with, such as the note that “many Elizabethan actors were half acrobats, and could no doubt fly upon a wire.” Near the back of the third volume, however, I found a few pages on Shakespeare, concluding with a brief section titled “Lost Plays.”

I knew that the large majority of drama written in the English Renaissance has not survived, and so I suspected — loosely — that some of what Shakespeare wrote must have gone missing. What surprised me was that Chambers knew a thing or two about what had been lost. Staring up at me in black and white were two titles and, in the case of one play, clues to a basic plot.

I began to wonder what it would be like to find one of these plays. Where might one unearth such a thing? What would the moment of discovery feel like? And what would the finding do to the shape of one’s life — apart from the bestowal of instant wealth and fame? The obvious places to look for Shakespeare’s missing plays are English libraries and historic houses. But surely, if one were lurking somewhere so predictable, it would already have been found.

In the selfish way of daydreams, I began to ponder where one might plausibly find a play of Shakespeare’s outside the UK. More specifically, in someplace I might be likely to find it. For a time, this kept me from boredom while standing in line or waiting for the bus. Occasionally, I went so far as to look fitfully through boxes of books in antique shops in old barns around the back roads I happened to find myself on in New England. But nobody had left a Shakespearean quarto, much less a manuscript, lying about.

Somewhere along the way, I admitted to myself I was never actually going to find one of Shakespeare’s lost plays — and that it might be more fun, in any case, to make it into a story, since I would then have control over what happened, and to whom. It took me well over a decade just to start, but Interred With Their Bones is the result.

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