Yesterday, April 23, was the death anniversary (and some say the birthday) of William Shakespeare. Of course, he’s remembered for being one of the greatest writers in the English language, but it’s entirely possible that he was buried as a businessman – a local boy who had done well in London and had property to disperse.
The Conversation has a 2016 article describing Shakespeare’s death and funeral as a “non-event” compared to other famous writers who were commoners. And there’s an interesting article by the BBC and the British Council (also 2016, I think) that describes how a four-month scientific analysis of the will from 2015 to 2016 sheds new light on various theories about Shakespeare and his family.
And that was the end of Shakespeare, the man, but only the beginning of Shakespeare, the literary giant. So, in my brain, one thing leads to another. Shakespeare’s will was considered by scholars to be a variety of things: some conjectured a snub of his wife with the bequest of his “second-best bed” to her; some thought it showed a distrust of his second daughter Judith and her new husband (who had just been convicted for unlawfully impregnating
a local woman, who then died and was buried with her child).
Whew, poor Judith was the stuff of soap operas! (Her sister married a doctor. Imagine the sibling rivalry . . . .)
The will makes a great inciting incident for a story or novel.
One of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels is Cotillion, which starts with the reading of a will . . . only this time, the old man in question is alive, and nasty, and gleefully looking forward to the fighting and wrangling of his heirs. (If you enjoy a lot of Heyer, you’ll probably remember Kitty and the grandnephews who she must choose from to inherit: Jack, Freddy, Dolph and Hugh.)
We know that it’s a trope to start a novel with a problematic will, and let the drama and plot spin out from there, right? But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember another story that involved such an inciting will. Well, TV Tropes to the rescue! The Cotillion will is one of the “On One Condition” tropes; in this case, Kitty has to marry a grandnephew in order to inherit.
TV Tropes, of course, has dozens of “Will and Inheritance Tropes” so it’s a good way to spark a little inciting incident in a writer’s brain. (Mandatory timesuck warning: Going to TV Tropes can involve spending 200 percent more time than you intended looking up odd and interesting stories and tropes. Enter when you can spare the time.) Do you have a favorite “It Started with a Will” story?