Book: No Bed for Bacon by Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon 

Charming and funny 

Caryl Brahms and S. J. Simon
No Bed for Bacon
Akadine Press, 1999 (Originally published in the UK in 1941)
ISBN: 1-58579-015-X
256 pages

No Bed for Bacon is a good and charming book, but not quite brilliant or hilarious. It's a historical novel about Shakespeare's daily life. It has things in common with the movie Shakespeare in Love (including Shakespeare having trouble deciding how to spell his name), but the movie isn't made from the book.

The book's title page bears the authors' warning: "Warning to scholars: This book is fundamentally unsound". In his quite readable introduction to this edition, Ned Sherrin quotes a review of the book when it was new by the author and critic Clifford Bax in which he says that the book is, in fact, fundamentally sound and only superficially absurd. That's probably the best way to describe the book: it's funny, not by being trivial or silly, but rather by making the funniest use of the historical material.

For example, Queen Elizabeth (famous for making political capital out of indecision) has enormous trouble deciding what to wear. Sir Walter Raleigh has returned to England with a remarkable new sort of food from the Americas and it is to be tasted first by Queen Elizabeth and various important and fashionable people at a a banquet. Alas, the ceremonial tasting of the first potato doesn't go exactly as Sir Walter had hoped. And there's a wonderfully Shakespearean moment in which a young woman has disguised herself as a boy in order to get a job as an actor in Shakespeare's company (there were no women actors then) and the part she's playing is of a young woman disguised as a boy. Understandably, she thinks she already knows how her lines should be spoken.

The section of the book in which people who were present at it recall the defeat of the Spanish Armada feels padded and, according to Mr Sherrin, it was padded at the publisher's insistence. It seems that you needed 75,000 words before you could sell a book for 8s 6d in 1941.

The book's title is a reference to a seemingly odd bequest in Shakespeare's will. He leaves his second best bed to his wife. You'll have to read the book to learn how the authors explain it.

There are references to Shakespeare's plays in the book and (as Mr Sherrin observes) if you catch them, you'll like those small jokes. But if you don't catch them (and I'm sure that I missed plenty) you won't feel cheated of something that's essential to enjoying the book. 

Posted: Fri - November 11, 2005 at 08:01   Main   Category: