William Shakespeare has been referenced by Harry Turtledove many times in many ways.

Ruled BritanniaEdit

Shakespeare is one of the main characters of Ruled Britannia. The book includes extensive quotations from his actual works and from two fictional plays of his, which he wrote in a timeline where England was occupied by Spain - a play about King Philip II of Spain written to please the occupiers, and a play about the Briton Queen Boudicca, written to arouse a rebellion against them. Turtledove borrows several single lines from Henry VIII, Titus Andonicus, The Merchant of Venice, and King John and adapts them to fit into one or the other fictional plays.


This figure, that thou here seest put/It was for gentle Shakespeare cut/Wherein the graver had a strife/With Nature, to out-do the life/Oh, could he have but drawn his wit/As well in brass as he hath hit/His face, the print would then surpass/All that was ever writ in brass/But, since he cannot, reader, look/Not on his picture, but his book.

At different points throughout the novel, Shakespeare works on a play titled Love's Labours Won. This is the title of one of his storied "lost plays;" it is believed to have been meant as a sequel to Love's Labours Lost. The play which Shakespeare works on in the novel seems to be Love's Labours Lost with a different title and minor alterations (like The Maltese Elephant and The Phantom of the Catacombs in Southern Victory, Invaders from Minerva in A World of Difference, or, in Ruled Britannia itself, Prince of Denmark and If You Like It)

Existing plays referred to specifically include Richard III, Hamlet (under the title "Prince of Denmark"), Macbeth, and Romeo and Juliet. Turtledove writes a scene in which Prince of Denmark is performed live in its entirety, with Shakespeare's fellow King's Men Richard Burbage as Hamlet and Will Kemp as the Gravedigger. Shakespeare himself plays Hamlet's deceased father.

The fictional Constable Walter Strawberry is based on Dogberry from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing.

Several famous lines of Shakespeare are worked seamlessly into the narration and dialogue, and may pass over the heads of most readers.

We Haven't Got There YetEdit


Catching the conscience of the King

Shakespeare is also the viewpoint character in the short story "We Haven't Got There Yet," which revolves around him discovering that another playwright has plagiarized his work. Shakespeare attends a live performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, at first intending to confront Stoppard and demand he stop stealing Shakespeare's scenes and characters, then intending to compliment Stoppard on the play's cleverness, and finally learning that Stoppard is long dead from the theater company's perspective and centuries unborn from his own, and that the actors themselves come from the impossibly distant future. While watching the performance, Shakespeare also reflects on how the conventions of Elizabethan-Jacobean theater are not observed by the play.

The story uses several Shakespearean quotes, though very few are simply slipped into characters' dialogue as so many had been in Ruled Britannia. The most heavily quoted play is Hamlet, mostly lines which also appear in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and are excerpted from the latter. At the end of the story a 21st century actress quotes a good-sized chunk of The Tempest for Shakespeare's benefit. The Tempest is believed to have been written in 1610 and 1611; the story is set in 1607, so Shakespeare is hearing lines which he himself had not yet written but would later, or would have, written. The implications of this alarm him to the point that he flees the 21st century actors' company. It is not clear how if at all his as-yet unwritten projects will be affected by this encounter.

Other WorksEdit

Shakespeare is not a character in the following works, but homage is still paid to him.


In Opening Atlantis, Victor Radcliff reflects that Blaise Black's definition of honor and courage under fire closely match those of Falstaff. He declines to explain this to Blaise as changes to the English language in the two lifetimes since Shakespeare had written would render the archaic speech incomprehensible to one who was not yet fluent in English. This gets Radcliff curious about the rates of change in other languages.

In The United States of Atlantis, Victor Radcliff reflects that the line "Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness" (Hamlet Act V) was equally applicable to enduring the horrors of war as it was to gravedigging.

A very short while later, Radcliff once again invokes the graveyard scene of Hamlet by addressing the skull of a honker which William Radcliff had acquired a century earlier with "Alas, poor Yorick . . . " Blaise Black intrudes upon him at this point and regards the scene with nothing more than a raised eyebrow.

In "The Scarlet Band," after Athelstan Helms reveals that the government of the United States of Atlantis was implicit in a conspiracy to discredit the House of Universal Devotion, an unnamed Atlantean investigative journalist promises "Now that we know something's rotten in the state of Denmark, like, we'll be able to run it down ourselves." James Walton, the POV character of the story, reflects that the line contains a Shakespearean allusion.[1] (It comes from Act I of Hamlet.)

The Case of the Toxic Spell DumpEdit

David Fisher reflects on the relative advantages of magical technologies which use living and nonliving components. The former tend to be more resistant to curses because they have, on some level, no matter how slight, a force of will with which to resist "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." The "slings and arrows . . . " phrase comes from Act III of Hamlet.

The Hot WarEdit

After dropping and atomic bomb on Harbin, Bill Staley feels like Lady Macbeth, trying to wash the blood off his hands.[2]

In the Presence of Mine EnemiesEdit

Despite completely dominating Britain in the early 21st century, Nazi Germany has developed a deep reverence for Shakespeare by 2009. In fact, the study of Shakespeare is more dynamic in Germany than in the Anglosphere. This is in part because a 19th century German translation made Shakespeare less archaic and more accessible in language and in much larger part because Germans enjoy a much higher standard of living than do the citizens of any Anglophone country, and correspondingly have more time and resources to devote to scholarship of all stripes.

Joe SteeleEdit

In Joe Steele, as President John Nance Garner is facing impeachment, he remembers Shakespeare's Antony's eulogy of Caesar in Julius Caesar that "The evil that men do lives after them,/The good is oft interred with their bones." Despite the fact that Joe Steele is dead, the dictatorial regime he created in the United States survives him, and continues to subvert U.S. democracy.

The Man With the Iron HeartEdit

In The Man With the Iron Heart, Diana McGraw's conscience troubles her after her affair with Marvin. When her dense husband asks her what's wrong, she assures him all is well and she loves him, then thinks to herself "Methinks the lady doth protest too much." (Hamlet Act III)

Southern VictoryEdit

In How Few Remain, Abraham Lincoln reads Shakespeare without paying much attention to it during a mostly solitary train ride across the Upper Midwest during which he is preoccupied with his own melancholy thoughts.

In Breakthroughs, during a major US victory on the Roanoke Front, US barrels carry with them large bundles of lumber to fill in wide ditches that Confederate military engineers had dug in an attempt to immobilize them. Captain Cremony, Chester Martin's CO, is reminded of Macbeth, and exclaims "Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane!"

Also in Breakthroughs, Charley Sprague quotes the third act of Hamlet: "Aye, there's the rub." On recognizing the quote, Percy Stone comments that, between it and an earlier Biblical quote, Sprague is bringing a touch of class to Jonathan Moss's squadron. Encouraged, Sprague quotes Shakespeare again, this time Act III of Henry V:

"But when the blast of war blows in our ears
Then imitate the action of the tiger."

This time Stone responds that he is not limber enough to lick his own balls.

In The Center Cannot Hold, Vice President Hosea Blackford, reflecting on the unparalleled influence Theodore Roosevelt had had on recent American history, quotes The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act I:

"Why, Man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves."

Then Blackford, his wife, and Upton Sinclair compare Roosevelt to Julius Caesar, with Flora pointing out that, had he been a true Caesar, he would not have accepted the results of the 1920 election but would have called out the troops to maintain presidential power. She also admits that the troops might have followed such an unlawful order coming from Roosevelt.

In an attempt to break the chilling mood this reflection had brought, Blackford skips ahead to the third act of Julius Caesar by saying:

"I come not to praise Caesar, but to bury him."

In Drive to the East, Scipio, realizing that his son is beginning to plan to take up arms against the Freedom Party, is reminded of a very appropriate quote from the first Act of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar:

"Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much: Such men are dangerous."

In The Grapple, the same line is paraphrased by a Naval Review Board officer about Sam Carsten. The line is paraphrased as:

"Yon Carsten has a lean and mustang look.
He thinks too much: Such men are dangerous."

Following this paraphrase, Carsten reminisces about his school days. Though he dropped out of school before completing high school, he did remember Shakespeare almost thirty-five years after having read it, thanks to the effectiveness of his English teacher, Miss Brewster, as an educator.

Again in Drive to the East, Granville McDougald cynically passes judgment on the state of humanity by quoting Act V of The Tempest:

O brave new world, to have such people in't!

In The Grapple, Ophelia Clemens quotes John Milton to Abner Dowling, and Dowling mistakenly believes the quote is Shakespearean.

In In at the Death, Dowling has the opportunity to prove that he's not entirely ignorant of Shakespeare by reflecting that the short, slim, and dour Falstaff Jeffries does not live up to his name--that is, he does not match the magnificent clown from the two parts of Henry IV. Falstaff was larger than life both in terms of physical size and force of personality.

On a much earthier note, in The Center Cannot Hold, Jonathan Moss consoles himself for having accidentally impregnated Laura Secord by reminding himself that Shakespeare had impregnated his wife before their wedding.

State of JeffersonEdit

The "Jefferson series" installment "Typecasting" revolves around the Ashland Shakespeare Festival's controversial production of The Tempest. After the conflict is resolved, the story ends with Governor Bill Williamson declaring "All's well that ends well," the title of another Shakespeare play.



Kelly Birnbaum reflect on roughing it in the wilderness when doing geological fieldwork and thought of the gravedigger's line in Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1 that "Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness." This reflected her becoming accustomed to the hardships as time went on.[3] Her familiarity with this scene also let her contemplate how deeply buried in ash the I-90 from Missoula was, deeper than alas poor Yorick, a skull the gravedigger comes across during his work.[4]

After Louise Ferguson's pregnancy test came back positive, she scrubbed her hands in the washroom sink repeatedly like Lady Macbeth. This is a reference to Act 5, Scene 1, of the play Macbeth where Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and tries to wash imaginary bloodstains from her hands after the murder of King Duncan.[5]

All Fall DownEdit

Justin Nachman was complaining about being stuck in Guilford, Maine to which Rob Ferguson replied he kind of liked the town. Nachman then gave Ferguson a look that said "Et tu, Brute". This line is uttered by Julius Caesar as he was assassinated in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 1.[6]

Vanessa Ferguson contemplated being stuck in a FEMA refugee camp due to her lack of funds. She had transferred her savings from Wells Fargo to a local Denver bank because she received more personal service. But as Hamlet had said "there was the rub". This line comes from a soliloquy in the play Hamlet Act 3, scene 1.[7]

Louise Ferguson complains to her co-worker Patty that her son Marshall charges her the going rate to provide childcare for her infant son while she went to work. Patty sympathetically quotes "Sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child" from King Lear Act 1, scene 4, although she incorrectly attributes it to the Bible.[8]

Things Fall ApartEdit

Rob Ferguson thought one winter in Maine how he had become accustomed to using snowshoes and reflected on the gravedigger's line in Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1 that "Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness."[9]


An Emperor for the LegionEdit

At the beginning of An Emperor for the Legion, Nevrat meets Marcus Scaurus after having been brought in by Scaurus's Khatrisher scouts. Mistaking the Khatrishers for Yezda, Nevrat initially fled from them. She did not heed their cries of "Friends! Countrymen!" but did allow herself to be brought in when they cried "Romans!"[10]

"Friends, Romans, countrymen" is the famous opening line of Mark Antony's eulogy for Julius Caesar in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act III Scene 2.

War Between the ProvincesEdit

In Sentry Peak, Turtledove writes a character who is a stand-in for Union General William Rosecrans. Noting the similarity between the names "Rosecrans" and "Rosencrantz," Turtledove named the character after the other half of the hapless duo of Danish gentlemen Shakespeare created for Hamlet: Guildenstern.

The War That Came EarlyEdit

In Coup d'Etat, the major quotes Act I, Scene 7 of Macbeth to Alistair Walsh as the two scout the defenses of 10 Downing Street: "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it was done quickly."


In Upsetting the Balance, Jens Larssen, upon reaching the top of a hill overlooking the prairie of Washington State, is reminded of the line

"Oh God! I could be bounded in a nutshell
And count myself a king of infinite space!"

He knows the line is Shakespearean, though he cannot remember whether it comes from Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear. (It comes from the second act of Hamlet.)

In Striking the Balance, the cessation of hostilities allows electricity to return to Britain. David Goldfarb reflects that he rather misses the atmosphere which torchlighting had leant the White Horse Inn, saying that it had been possible to imagine Shakespeare visiting the place.

In Homeward Bound, Sam Yeager reflects on how much American English has changed in the sixty-odd years between his going into cold sleep and his encountering the crew of the Commodore Perry. He reflects that the English language has always been a dynamic language and that Shakespeare would find Ernest Hemingway incomprehensible,

Literary NoteEdit

This idea of Shakespeare struggling to understand later generations' versions of the language is seen firsthand in "We Haven't Got There Yet."

"Lee at the Alamo"Edit

In "Lee at the Alamo," George Thomas expresses support for Lee's decision to stand siege in the eponymous fortress by quoting Macbeth Act I, Scene 7, lines 1 and 2:

"If it were done when 'tis done,
Then 'twere well it were done quickly."

Lee recognizes the line and reflects that he greatly prefers Shakespeare to most nineteenth-century authors.

Literary NoteEdit

A quote from the first act of Macbeth is an interesting choice for this story and may foreshadow the story's final scene, where Lee, having been honored for service to his country on the field of battle against an army of traitors, finds himself sorely tempted to turn traitor himself. Macbeth faces the same dilemma in the first act of the play, but decides to give in to the temptation, whereas Lee ultimately overcomes it.


  1. See e.g.: Atlantis and Other Places, pg. 436, HC.
  2. Bombs Away, pg. 324, HC.
  3. Eruption, pgs. 59-60, HC.
  4. Ibid., pg. 205.
  5. Ibid., pg. 251.
  6. All Fall Down, pg. 23, HC.
  7. Ibid, pg. 64.
  8. Ibid, pg. 74.
  9. Things Fall Apart, pg. 62, HC.
  10. An Emperor for the Legion p 3

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.