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Literature / The Immortal Bard

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First published in Universe Science Fiction (May 1954 issue) by Isaac Asimov, this Science Fiction Short Story is about William Shakespeare.

Dr. Phineas Welch, a physics professor, starts bragging to Scott Robertson, an English teacher,during the faculty Christmas party. Dr Welch claims to have invented temporal transference that can bring famous historical figures into the present. He tried several geniuses who nevertheless couldn't handle the dramatic social changes of centuries. So he tried William Shakespeare, and tells Robertson about how well the Bard had adjusted, until the day a very pissed-off Shakespeare who demanded to be sent back to his own time, having never felt so insulted in his life. The English professor, clearly disturbed by the story and recognizing some of the elements, asks what could possibly make Shakespeare so angry.


This story has been reprinted several times; Earth is Room Enough (1957), Science Fiction Verhalen (1961), Introducing SFA Science Fiction Anthology (1964), Science Fiction Favorites (1975), The Far Ends Of Time And Earth (1979),Sirius (Yugoslavia/Croatia magazine #44, February 1980 issue), Raintree Reading Series 1 (1981), The Giant Book Of Science Fiction Stories (1986), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), Another Round At The Spaceport Bar (1989), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), Foundations Friends Stories In Honor Of Isaac Asimov (1997)


Examples of tropes within this work:

  • Applicability: [Invoked] William Shakespeare is amazed at the commentary and lessons taken from his stories, comparing it to creating a monsoon out of the water in a damp washcloth.
    "God ha' mercy! What cannot be racked from words in five centuries? One could wring, methinks, a flood from a damp clout!"
  • Death of the Author: [Invoked] William Shakespeare gets a failing grade in a course dedicated to analyzing Shakespeare's plays.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: This particular story shows quite a bit of physical activity from Dr Welch, seeking out glasses of alcohol and checking his pockets for Shakespeare's signature. Despite this, the supposedly crowded room may as well have been taking place in an empty parking lot due to the lack of interaction. Nor do we get a physical description of either character aside from the clothes worn by Dr Welch.
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  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Every historical figure that Dr Welch brings to the present begged/demanded to be returned to their own time in very short order, finding the present day far too alien for them to be comfortable in. The exception was William Shakespeare, who adjusted quite well and stuck around for several months... until one day he too demanded to be sent back, not because something made him uncomfortable, but because something seriously pissed him off. He took a college class on analyzing the works of Shakespeare. And failed.
  • Historical Domain Character: Archimedes is one of several people Dr Welch brought to the present-day with temporal transference. He was the most fascinated by present-day science, but became lonely and frightened away from his culture. He also brought Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei.
  • It Was a Gift: Dr Welch has William Shakespeare's signature as a keepsake from the time he visited, written on the back of a business card for a hardware store.
  • The Namesake: The title refers to William Shakespeare, and his universal writing appeal. Dr Welch had hoped, because Shakespeare understood humanity in a timeless fashion, that he would be able to adapt to present-day culture.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: The point of the story is to mock English teachers who know more about a story than the writer does. It ends with the Physics professor yelling at the English professor because they flunked Shakespeare in a Shakespeare class.
  • Shakespeare in Fiction: A college physics professor invented a way to bring historical figures into the present. One of the people he brags about bringing to the future is Shakespeare, who was excited to be in the modern time. However, a very pissed-off Shakespeare suddenly demanded to be sent back to his own time, having never felt so insulted in his life. The English professor, who clearly doesn't believe a word of this story, asks what could possibly make Shakespeare so angry. He took the English professor's class on Shakespearean theatre... and flunked.
  • Time Travel: Dr Welch calls it “temporal transference”, and used it to bring many different people to the present-day, such as Archimedes, Newton, Galileo, and William Shakespeare. The Bard stayed around long enough to enroll in a course dedicated to analyzing Shakespeare's plays.