7 November 2016

a series of promises in the event that I am magically transported to London 1601.

This exists in lieu of an actual review of Saving Hamlet, a new YA novel in which the protagonist is magically transported to London 1601. It's essentially a much less good version of Susan Cooper's King of Shadows, which is one of my favorite children's novels of all time. It was fun even so, but I had mixed feelings about it, largely because the central time traveler is so unrealistically incompetent that I was cringing throughout. This is a recurrent problem with time travel narratives; one of the few things I wholeheartedly admire about myself is that I know I would do a very good job of time traveling. Most of the below are not based on specific things the protagonist of Saving Hamlet does, but some of them would be good advice for her nevertheless.

See also this and this.


I will cheerfully eat and/or drink absolutely anything that anyone offers me. I will drink ale like it's water. I will not drink water, unless I am able to discreetly boil it.

I will not go around boiling water: that would attract attention.

If anyone suggests that I join them to go watch the bear-baiting, I will respond with enthusiasm and a blithe unconcern for the humane treatment of animals. This is a normal thing, I will say, and I am delighted to join you in this, a normal event which we will both without reservation enjoy.

I will be very grateful that my sense of smell is naturally quite weak, but to be completely safe I will not comment at all, even once, on the smell of anything. All smells I am smelling are normal smells, and I, a normal inhabitant of 1601, am completely okay with them. (The exception will be if I smell smoke—buildings of this period are extremely flammable, as am I, and I'm taking no risks.)

I will be very grateful that I'm not squeamish about blood.

I will express surprise at nothing; I will put forward no opinions.

I will do all in my power to ensure that no one notices me.

I will conjugate all verbs correctly. If I am unsure of how to conjugate a verb, I will not use it. There is always a workaround.

I will be aware of my use of pronouns. "You" is for strangers, social superiors, and groups of two or more. "Thou" is for friends, social inferiors, and supernatural beings. "Ye" is a plural form of "thou." I will not confuse these, but if I do I will err on the side of "you."

Despite my commitment to accurate EModE, I will not say "forsooth"; it will make me sound ridiculous. I might say "i'faith," but only if I hear other people doing it first.

Under no circumstances will I call anyone "nuncle."

I will not try to do the accent, because I have my pride. I will take as many notes as possible on the accent, though I will not let anyone notice me doing so; upon returning to my own time, I will anonymously mail these notes to Ben Crystal.

I will not attempt to invent feminism.

I will not attempt to invent vaccines.

I will not attempt to invent the germ theory of disease.

I will accept, generally, that I understand nothing about modern medicine, and that anything I say or do will help absolutely no one and might make people think I'm a witch.

That said, if I can actually do something to save somebody's life, I will.

I will express no doubts regarding the efficacy of bloodletting; in general, I will enthusiastically align myself with humor theory. Bile, man, am I right? (It will help that I already low-level believe in humor theory. Do I know it's been discredited? Yes. Do I avoid eating mustard when I'm in a bad mood? Religiously.)

I will figure out exactly what the deal was with Will Kempe and the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Any breakup that ends in one of the parties Morris dancing to Norwich must be a really good story.

I will remember that Shakespeare has not yet written Measure for Measure, All's Well that Ends Well, King Lear, Timon of Athens, Macbeth, Antony & Cleopatra, Pericles, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, The Tempest, or Two Noble Kinsmen. I will make no reference to any of these plays. I will be wary of mentioning Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cressida, and Hamlet, all of which date to 1601 +/- a couple years. I will under no circumstances reference any of his sonnets at all; none of them have yet been published.

Anything by Kit Marlowe is fair game, though; he's already dead.

When I attempt to place evidence of myself in the historical record, I will do so subtly and with as little true anachronism as possible.

I will be extremely polite to Richard Burbage.

If I meet Edward de Vere, I will punch him in the face, and I will refuse to explain why. I may or may not seek him out for this express purpose.


  1. Delightful! You are well-prepared to visit 1601!

  2. Your last one made me laugh, today.

    I have found out why some people used to think Francis Bacon wrote Shakespeare! It's because he quotes Shakespeare before Shakespeare was published. This is actually because he lived at Gray's Inn and went to the theatre all the time and had good taste.

    1. glad I could do you some good, today of all days.

      What a strange argument! As evidence it’s more persuasive than honorificabilitudinitatibus, but—as you say—the obvious answer to "how is he quoting unpublished plays?" is surely "he goes to the theatre often." (Or Bacon was a time traveler; I’m always prepared to believe the science-fictional explanation over the anti-Statfordian one.)

    2. I have thought before that if people in general knew more about Francis Bacon I would write a story where he time travels to Oxford or Cambridge in the late C.20 and has things explained to him in a typical traveller-in-utopia style, and he understands some part of it, and then they end up watching Shakespeare. Because reading him, especially the Novum Organon really is much more like somebody who had a muddled vision of the real future than seems plausible.

      But he wasn't Shakespeare.

    3. I'd read that story, FWIW, even though I don't know anything about Bacon. People can always be inspired to learn, and anyway there's never too many time travel stories.