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I read this story decades ago, in a F&SF collection.

Longish novelette or maybe a shortish novella, I don't remember. I don't think there was actual any element of fantasy, just alternate history (well, I suppose things did not happen exactly as told in the story).

I don't remember much. It describes Shakespeare on his death-bed, thinking about whom to mention in his will, and reminiscing. For some reason he feels a huge guilt which is not quite clear, but IIRC, some people were killed in the past. Whom, and by whom, I completely forgot. I am almost sure noone was killed by Shakespeare's hand. But guilt was there.

I think there are some flashbacks, also. Other characters are Anne Hathaway and their daughters.


EDIT

I have been thinking about the story. I am not quite sure, but I think the man on his death-bed worrying about his will is not the real Shakespeare. Though I am pretty sure he did not kill anyone with his own hands, he feels guilty about being in some way responsible of the death of the real Shakespeare and then pretending to be him, coming back to Stratford after a long absence and hoping noone would be able to tell. IIRC, Anne Hathaway immediately knew about the substitution, but kept silent.

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  • This was the plot of Somersby.
    – Valorum
    Oct 13, 2023 at 9:34
  • You might be very interested in comic book The testament of William S
    – Stef
    Oct 13, 2023 at 10:33
  • 1
    @Valorum You mean, the movie ? There is also a french movie "Le Retour de Martin Guerre" with this plot. But my story is definitely about Shakespeare.
    – Alfred
    Oct 13, 2023 at 10:33
  • @Stef Thank you for the information. But being a 70-years old Frenchman, I was (and still am) a fan of the original Blake and Mortimer comic books by Edgar P. Jacobs and I am always weary of imposters (like the guy who pretended to be Shakespeare) : -) .
    – Alfred
    Oct 13, 2023 at 13:21
  • In the mid-90's, there was a spate of alternate-history anthologies. I think one of them was a whole "altername Shakespeare " anthology.
    – Spencer
    Oct 13, 2023 at 18:14

1 Answer 1

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This sounds like Connie Willis's Winter's Tale. It appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction in 1988, and then in her collection, Impossible Things in 1993. A great story, and the questioner's memory is spot-on.

The story opens with Shakespeare's return to Stratford, accompanied by friends (one realizes at once that some are more than simple companions). Although Ann bids her him welcome, at their first moment alone she demands. "Where is my husband?".

Spoilers follow:

He explains that he is actually Kit Marlowe, long believed dead; Shakespeare (never anything more than a minor actor) was murdered to provide Marlowe with a safe identity to step into when he fell out of favour with the queen. Marlowe's friends did this, unbeknownst to him.

Ann Hathaway had suspected from the beginning that 'her' Shakespeare must be dead, from the moment regular remittances began to arrive from London, as she'd known her husband had deserted her!

The story even offers an explanation for Ann being left the second-best bed in Shakespeare/Marlowe's will: it was the first bed they shared (the best bed having been reserved for the guests)

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  • Can you explain how this story matches the description?
    – Valorum
    Oct 14, 2023 at 21:49
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    @Valorum Oh yes it does ! The dying man is indeed Kit Marlowe. I had forgotten it but now that Barnaby mentioned it, I remember. Marlowe felt guilt for the death of Shakespeare for what his friends did but indeed, he did not know beforehand. That fit my memory, too : he felt guilt but had not shed blood himself. And I did remember that Anne Hathaway immediately knew that the man who just arrived was not her husband, but chose to go along.
    – Alfred
    Oct 16, 2023 at 14:57
  • "The story even offers an explanation for Ann being left the second-best bed in Shakespeare/Marlowe's will" I believe that explanation is also commonly accepted outside of this story. That is to say, it is a historical detail mentioned in the story, not something original that the writer created. Oct 28, 2023 at 16:21

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