From across the pond and across the centuries, the words of Stratford-upon-Avon's most famous resident have never rung with such screwball truthiness as in Jess Winfield's My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare.

Winfield, who as co-founder of the hilariously funny Reduced Shakespeare Company holds the world record for the shortest-ever production of Hamlet (43 seconds), stretches out in his first novel, contrasting the travails of UC Santa Cruz graduate student William Shakespeare Greenberg with those of the Bard himself.

Each enmeshed in comparative backwaters of academia - Greenberg writing his master's thesis, Shakespeare teaching Latin to recalcitrant youth - our two scholars find their lives transformed in strange and mysterious (and oddly parallel) ways by sacred talismans entrusted to them for delivery to a third party. In Shakespeare's case, it's a Catholic relic; in Greenberg's, it's a giant mushroom of the species Psilocybe cubensis. Both objects are on their respective government's to-don't list, and place their bearers in some peril.

Each alternating chapter opens with either a Shakespeare quote (the Greenberg chronicles) or a paragraph of lit crit (when the Bard takes the stage). But throughout, My Name Is Will deftly avoids the musty bouquet of the library stacks as Winfield's twin heroes vault off the page in 3-D, Technicolor, surround-sound exuberance. With Winfield, as with his muse, the wordplay's the thing, and both of his Shakespeares live by their wit - sharp-thinking, sharp-tongued observers in a world that seems alternately obliging and oppressive.

And, without giving anything away, even Winfield's old troupe makes a cameo at the story's end, albeit in disguise. To borrow a line from guess who, "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet." One cautionary note: mindest thou this fair novel's subtitle! and were by bawdy tales thy temper e'er distress'd, then from this work thy fancy best should fly; but those of sterner stuff shall see themselves impress'd, and to their great delight to it should hie.

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