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How Superman Secretly Wrote Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Today, we look at how Superman went back in time and somehow played a secret role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

This is “Look Back,” where every four weeks of a month, I will spotlight a single issue of a comic book that came out in the past and talk about that issue (often in terms of a larger scale, like the series overall, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic book from a different year that came out the same month X amount of years ago. The first spotlight of the month looks at a book that came out this month ten years ago. The second spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we look at weeks broadly, so if a month has either five Sundays or five Saturdays, it counts as having a fifth week) looks at books from 20/30/40/60/70/80 years ago.

Today, we head back to October 1946 for Superman #44’s “Shakespeare’s Ghost Writer!” by Don C. Cameron, Ira Yarbrough and George Roussos.

One of the fascinating things about William Shakespeare is that we can basically track the point that he became “William Shakespeare” and not just one of many great playwrights. In 1737, England passed the Licensing Act, which limited the amount of new plays that were allowed to be performed in basically an outright assault on the notion of free speech (plays, at the time, were thought to be getting too political and the government didn’t like that playwrights could call them out like that, so decided to force the scripts for new plays to be approved by the government before being allowed to be performed). As you might imagine, something that restricted the amount of new plays meant that good older plays increased in importance and Shakespeare’s plays, in particular, saw an immense revival and by the end of the 18th Century, Shakespeare was the most beloved playwright in all of England, nearly two hundred years after his death.

Things got even crazier as the 19th Century began. Shakespeare was already the most beloved playwright, but for years, his works were not taken quite as seriously as literature, but as the 19th Century moved on, Shakespeare was now not just a beloved playwright, but now the most beloved WRITER in England. By mid-century, it was time for the backlash, and in this case, the backlash came from a concerted discussion to ask, “Did Shakespeare REALLY write all of those plays?” Shakespeare’s plays had their place in the canon secured, but now the question was whether they were written by Shakespeare period.

As it turns out, at least one play was not written by Shakespeare, as, you see, Macbeth was written by none other than the Man of Tomorrow himself, Superman!

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In Superman #44, Lois Lane and Clark Kent are complaining about how their costs have gone up but their paychecks have not and go to complain to Perry White and ask for a raise. He tells them that they are not indispensable to the Daily Planet. At that very moment, a time machine ray accidentally hits Clark and Lois and sends them to Shakespeare’s time, where they save the Bard from some ruffians.

Clark, of course, tries to make sure that Superman shows up far away from them…

But, of course, Lois Lane is naturally wondering why in the world is Superman back in time with them if he is not Clark Kent (it really does seem too hard for even Lois to believe, right?), but Superman eventually uses some ventriloquism and a dummy to convince her that, somehow, Superman just happened to be back in time with her and Clark.

Clark and Lois then open up their own newspaper and begin to really criticize the crown (this is the sort of thing that the Licensing Act was invented to stop)…

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Things take a turn, though, when Superman visits with Shakespeare who reveals that his next play will be about how how Clark Kent is Superman unless Superman can come up with a better play for him (Shakespeare somehow is more observant than Lois Lane) and Superman agrees to his blackmail and writes Macbeth for him…

Superman then uses his powers to make sure that the play has some nice special effects and it is a rousing success…

However, the newspaper is so controversial that the king orders it destroyed and has a cannonball fired at Clark and Lois. Clark has to figure out what to do, as the canonnball bouncing off him will ruin his secret identity, but luckily, the ray brings them back to the present before the canonnball hit them. Just in time for Perry White to give them their raises!

I wonder, though, does this tarnish reading Shakespeare’s plays now for Superman, knowing what a jerk he was to him?

If you folks have any suggestions for November (or any other later months) 2011, 1996, 1971 and 1946 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we’re discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.

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