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Let's Have One Other Gaudy Night: Call to Me All My Sad Captains

Jo Wilding reflects on the wide range of artistic endeavours whose titles are taken from Shakespeare's works.

Jo Wilding

Liz Dollimore's recent post about songs which use the image of Romeo and Juliet led me to muse about the legions of books, plays and film titles taken from Shakespeare’s lines. Just a few that spring to mind are: By the Pricking of my ThumbsSad CypressTaken at the Flood (all by Agatha Christie); The Darling Buds of May by H.E.Bates; Noel Coward’s play Present Laughter; the films Leave Her to Heaven and North by Northwest; the musical Salad Days; Band of Brothers (book by Stephen Ambrose and very moving TV series based on the book); Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night, and of course Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

I’m sure most readers can name the plays (or, in one case, sonnet) these titles come from. Gaudy Night, which is one of my favourite books, comes from Antony and Cleopatra and there is a nice connection linking Dorothy L. Sayers with Shakespeare (by fewer than the six degrees of separation!). In the memorable BBC adaptation of the book in the 1980s, the book’s heroine Harriet Vane was played by Harriet Walter, who was Cleopatra to Patrick Stewart’s Antony in Greg Doran’s 2006 production at the RSC. We have Pascal Molliere’s wonderful images of this production on the RSC/SBT image database held at the Shakespeare Centre Library & Archive.

Harriet Walter has recently curated an exhibition at the National Theatre of images of the older woman, its title Infinite Variety also taken from Antony and Cleopatra.

For anyone wanting to search for more book titles (fiction and non-fiction) inspired by Shakespeare, there is a website which comprehensively lists them. This includes 150 titles alone for To be or not to be!!