The Sandman: The Tempest

The Sandman #75


Writter                    Neil Gaiman

                                (with additional material taken from the play by William Shakespeare)

Penciller                 Charles Vess

                                (with help from Bryan Talbot, John Ridgway and Michael Zulli)




The image above                 © 1996 DC Comics

All text here          © 2004 Ng Kiat Han (, unless otherwise stated ­






Page 147 (Page 1)


Panel 1                                                   The opening scene of Shakespeare’s play-

The Tempest Act 1, scene i.


Panel 3                                                   Judith Shakespeare greets her father here.  She was the second of Shakespeare’s three children, the eldest being Susanna.

                                                                The boy Hamnet, was Judith’s twin brother, and youngest of the three.


Page 149 (Page 3)


Panel 4                                                   King James is King James I of England, also King James VI of Scotland, who the King James Version of the Bible was named after, for it was he who commisioned its publication.  More on this later.


“Scottish Jimmy” came from the fact that before he became King, he was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots, and became King James VI of Scotland after her death.  In 1603, Queen Elizabeth I of England, his mother’s cousin, died and King James united England and Scotland under one crown for the first time.


“Queen James” the nickname became common when King James became open about his homosexual love affairs.  A popular joke in the courts was that Rex fuit Elizabeth: nunc est regina Jacobus (Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen.), especially after how he openly kissed Francis Stewart Hepburn, Earl of Boswell in the 1580s.



Page 150 (Page 4)               


Panels 2 – 6                                          The events of Shakesoeare’s narrative describes, more or less, what Anne Shakespeare (née Hathaway) did when she was “six-and-twenty” with her “poor silly swain” Will Shakespeare.


These panels, as well as those on Page 150 (Page 4) and Page 173 (Page 27) illustrate, with great wit and humour, how Shakespeare and a woman eight years his senior (something absurdly rare in those times) enjoy an oddly romantic relationship.




Page 151 (Page 5)


Title page



Page 154 (Page 8)


Panel 4                                                   “Doxy” means “Prostitute” as ‘Bosun” means “Boatswain”- a petty officer on merchant ships.


Panel 5                                                   Here, Shakespeare is looking mighty attentive, no surprise there, for he is actually collecting material for his new play.


Page 155 (Page 9)


Panel 6                                                   A “rawhead” or “bloodybones” was a boggart or water-goblin who lurks in water, waiting to pull in passing strangers.

Page 156 (Page 10)


Panel 4                                                   The “raucous song” Shakespeare heard became incorporated in his play as this:


William Shakespeare
The master, the swabber, the boatswain and I,
The gunner and his mate,
Loved Mall, Meg, and Marian, and Margery,
But none of us cared for Kate.
For she had a tongue with a tang,
Would cry to a sailor, ‘Go hang!’
She loved not the savour of tar nor of pitch,
Yet a tailor might scratch her where’er she did itch.
Then to sea, boys, and let her go hang.




Page 157 (Page 11)


Opening panel                                      The Tempest, Act I scene ii.


Panel 4                                                   The “good-for-nothing friend” Ben Jonson was a professional rival of Shakespeare’s who performed for the aristocracy.


Panel 5                                                   Benjamin Jonson’s “comments on Pericles” were published in his “Ode to Himself” as follows-


“No doubt some mouldy tale,
Like Pericles; and stale
('Ode to Himself', lines 21-22)







Page 158 (Page 12)                                            


Panel 4                                                   Jonson reviewed Shakespeare’s Pericles in his “Ode to Himself”, as quoted above.

Panel 6                                                   ‘Sack’ is a fortified wine originating in Spain and the Canaries in the early 16th century, with some relationship to sherry.

Page 159 (Page 13)


Panel 1                                                                                                  

raiding Holinshed” =>       Shakespeare refered to Raphael Holinshed's "Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland" (1587) as he wrote his history plays.


“Plutarch” =>                       Sir Thomas North’s English translation of Plutarch's Parallel Lives (published in 1579) was Shakespeare’s prmary source for his Julius Caesar.


Panel 2-4                                               The biography he states is true, and it is noteworthy that Jonson converted to Roman Catholicsm while last imprisoned.


Panel 6                                                   “Mermaid” Tavern was a famous London meeting place of the Friday Street Club, of which William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, John Donne, and Ben Jonson were notable members. It stood to the east of St. Paul's Cathedral, with entrances in Bread Street and Friday Street.


‘Sac’ is mentioned here again.  The name derives from Latin siccus (as in French sec), meaning dry.



Page 160 (Page 14)


Panel 4-5                                               “Papist” is an offensive term for Roman Catholic.


At the time, Catholics in England were having a worse time that the Jews in Europe. 


                                                                From the website,


“After Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had had a rough time under her reign had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their religion. Alas, he was not, and this angered a number of young men who decided that violent action was the answer.”



Panel 5                                                   Jonson was imprisoned for satire and released just in time for the Gunpowder Plot. While the exact nature of Jonson's acquaintance with the Plotters isn't clear, Jonson certainly volunteered to help the authorities with their enquiries in the days after the capture of Guy Fawkes on 5 November 1605. The “service” Jonson offered was to act as an intermediary between a Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury and a Catholic priest who could offer helpful information. Jonson was of course Catholic at this date, as mentioned above.




Page 161 (Page 15)


Panel 2-5                                               November 5th is still celebrated today, and the rhyme still well-remembered.  No sources, however, even suggest that luminaries like Shakespeare and Jonson wrote it. 


Interesting tale, though, even if it were apocryphal or just plain untrue, for it only goes to prove, in yet another instance, that the Sandman was true to his word- that Shakespeare’s work, no matter how simple or puerile, would last for all the ages of men.


<Will Shakespeare               Now, we’ll teach it to that urchin, and he’ll teach it to his friends, and it’ll last a hundred years…”

                                                                Ben Jonson                           “I doubt it.”>


                                                                We know today that, for all his cynicism, Jonson was right- that selfsame rhyme, whoseever authorship it may had been, has lasted years more than a paltry one hundred.


Panel 6                                                   The theatre companies Shakespeare worked for in London (on chronological order) were the Rose, the Curtain, and- here mentioned- the Blackfriars and the Globe.


Page 162 (Page 16)


Panel 1                                                   A Thomas Thorpe published Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets.


Panel 3                                                   Sonnets 126- 154 were of a “dark lady”, presumably Shakespeare’s mistress at that time.


Panel 7                                                   Charles Vess did a wondrous job translating the immense fatigue Shakespeare must have endured in his travails and the relief he must anticipate to know that the bargain that had lasted a lifetime will soon be concluded, into a memorable image- a face so weary and fatigued, but also so impassioned with anticipation. 


When I think of Sandman #75, this image is the clearest that comes to mind amidst the cacophony of many others.




Page 163 (Page 17)


Panel 1                                                   Opening scene: The Tempest, Act I, scene ii.



Page 164 (Page 18)


Panel 1                                                   A completely archaic word today, the ‘merrythought’ was obviously what we call the ‘wishbone’, i.e. the furcula.  ‘Wishbone’ was created in America and the word was used when two people holding the two ends of the furcula would make a wish each, and the person holding the longer piece after the bone was pulled and broken would get their wish granted.  The ‘merrythought’, however, was similar, but not exactly- the person holding the longer bone after the bone was broken would get to marry first.  That was all, and the bone’s name- the ‘merrythought’ (i.e. marry-thought)- was a euphemism for such practices. 


Gaiman’s inclusion of the practice was therefore extemporaneous, not to mention wrong (!), but it fits perfectly well in the context of his contemporary audience around the world.


                                                                A fletcher is a chappie who makes arrows.


Page 165 (Page 19)


Opening panel-panel 5                       The Tempest, Act I scene ii.


Page 166 (Page 20)


Panel 2                                                   Shakespeare begins reciting one of his stanzas from his Rape of Lucrece-


Panel 3                                                                   and his wife continues with the next line, proving she knows her husband’s work as well as, if not better that the next bloke, in that recital, and that she conducts a fine extrapolation in the rest of her speech.


Panel 5                                                   ‘…<deserting> their wives and <running>away to make up pretty tales and <writing> pretty sonnets to pretty girls and pretty boys” was more-or-less what Shakespeare did in his sonnets published by Thorpe, illustrated above, since they were printed in London.  Mrs Shakespeare knows a lot more than we suppose! J


Panel 7                                                   The Tempest Act I, scene ii.

- was actually Shakespeare’s retort to his wife’s merciless critisms over the previous few panels.

Page 168 (Page 22)


Panel 4                                                   The play he wrote as a gift for Dream’s friends (the Faerie folk) was featured in Sandman #19.


Page 169 (Page 23)


Opening scene                                      The Tempest, Act II, scene ii, Trinculo's Monologue

It includes the scene in the tavern pages before about the customers “laying out” money “to see a dead indian”.


Page 170 (Page 24)


Panel I                                                   “Master Lively” mentioned here is Dr Edward Lively, the Regius Professor of Hebrew at the Univerity of Cambridge, and one of the translators appointed for the King James Bible.


                                                                This is another minor extemporaneous error, hidden under the cloak of ignorance since I, and virtually the entire Sandman audience, didn’t know that this conversation occurs in 1610, but Dr Lively died in 1605.  Apologies to those who did know; I said “virtually”.


Panel 5                                                   A ‘setebos’, mentioned here, is a deity of the Patagonians, introduced by Shakespeare in his The Tempest, Act I, scene ii- i.e. what he’d just written.

Page 171 (Page 25)


Panel 1                                                   Kit Marlowe’s “poor Faustus” was a doctor who sold his soul to the devil, Mephisopheles, and therefore entered an irrevoccable bargain in which he damned himself, dammit.


Panel 3                                                   The Psalm the priest speaks of is the Psalm 46 of the King James Bible, the source of much talk of its authorship, and is a very interesting anecdote after all. 


                                                                Taken from the website,


“Shakespeare was baptized on April 26, 1564. It is widely assumed that he was born that year. The Authorized Version was being revised in 1610, by which time Shakespeare would have been 46. In the King James Version of Psalm 46, counting 46 words down from the top, we find "shake", and counting 46 words up from the bottom, we find "spear". "Selah" doesn't count -- it is sprinkled throughout the Bible as a sort of punctuation mark.”



Panel 5                                                   Good Will Shakespeare knows perfectly well the real magician is the Sandman.


Page 172 (Page 26)


Entire page                                            The closing lines of The Tempest.


Page 173 (Page 27)


Panel 2                                                   Prospero speaks, as Shakespeare does, in the dream sequence illustrated in the lovely paint colours of the panel, among many others littered throughout the story as parts of the fiction, and his words are un-italicised.


Page 174 (Page 28)


Entire page                                            The Tempest, Act I, scene v.


Page 175 (Page 29)


Panel 1                                                   “Exeunt Omnes” is Latin for “All Exit”, used in theatre for stage direction to indicate the end of a play.


Page 176 (Page 30)


Panel 4                                                   Could it be that “the beating of mightly wings” Shakespeare heard was

“the sound of her wings”, i.e. Death’s?  Perhaps.

Ref.- Sandman #6 “The Sound of Her Wings”


Page 177 (Page 31)                            


Opening panel                                      Sandman fans should recognise this as the gate to the Dreaming, guarded by the Griffin, Hippogriff and Phoenix.


Panel 3                                                   The caretaker of the Dreaming is in his 17th Century incarnation as Merrow Turniphead, brandishing an archaic wooden water bucket.  The present-day equivalent is Mervyn Pumkinhead.


Panel 5                                                   Sonnet 129 glorified the mesmerising beauty of Cleopatra and the Romans called her ‘gypsy’- from the word “Egyptian”.  From the events described, we can guess that the Sonnets, perhaps the plays on Cleopatra, were likely somehow inspired by that liaison (however brief) with the gypsy girl. 


Page 178 (Page 32)


Panel 3                                                   The portraits of the Endless on his walls alter all the time.  First, these pictures look different in other tales (and) in other books, and interestingly they change position here constantly.  I checked the panels on the next few pages to confirm this, and it is true.  This is likely a subtle hint Gaiman put in to remind us all that the Endless, since they exist for the mortal world, do not only serve as aspects of ourselves, but also of each other.


Panel 4                                                   That notable scene in Sandman #13.


Page 179 (Page 33)


Entire page                                            Endless portraits shift in every panel.


Panels 5- 6                                            It is perhaps fortunate that Shakespeare denies learning the answer to his question, for the events in Sandman #19 point to the undeniable fact that young Hamnet Shakespeare died in that his being was spirited to Faerie under the bidding of Queen Titania. 

Hamnet caught her eye while the Faerie folk were watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Ergo, the answer to Shakespeare’s question is that Hamnet _would_ have lived had his father not made that bargain with the Sandman, and should history be played out the same way it did.


Page 180 (Page 34)


Entire page                                            Endless portraits shift in every panel.


Panel 4                                                   “My dark lady”, who broke Shakespeare’s heart as mentioned here, was the woman he glorified in his sonnets as mentioned above.


Page 181 (Page 35)


Entire page                                            Endless portraits shift in every panel.


Panel 1                                                   “I am of all faiths”, the Sandman says here, just as he had said to the Caliph Haroun al-Raschid in Sandman #50.


Panel 2                                                   Neil Gaiman’s Sandman universe is a world where all our gods and demons exist in a multiverse of realities; and the story arc Seasons of Mists, among other things, strongly imply that people end up in Hell partly because some small part of them wants to go there in the first place.


“I have no liking for prisons, Master Li. Sometimes I suspect that we build our traps ourselves, then we back into them, pretending amazement the while.”

Dream, in SANDMAN #74, "The Exile"


Panel 2-3                                               Shakespeare hid his name in a Psalm very cleverly, apparently. See Page 171, Panel 3 above for further elucidation.  We know today that this is likely untrue, though for fine fiction it does make.


Panel 4                                                   Shakespeare admits he “stole a speech from one of Montaigne’s essays”.  Gonzalo’s commonwealth in the play was taken from Montaigue’s essay "Of the Cannibals".



Page 182 (Page 36)


Entire page                                            Endless portraits shift in every panel.


Panel 1                                                   Dream recites what Prospero says from Act V, scene i.


It is 1611, and the Sandman has stated (on the previous page) that he “wanted a tale of graceful ends, [He] wanted a play about a King who drowns his books, and breaks his staff, and leaves his kingdom.  About a magician who becomes a man.  About a man who turns his back on magic” and, very significantly, admitted that he “will never leave [his] island”.



<Dream -                               “They are destroying the dreaming,. What else can I do?

I have made all the preparations necessary.”


  Death -                                 Hmph.  You’ve been making them for ages, you just didn’t let yourself know that was what you were doing.”


  Dream  -                               “If you say so.”>


Conversation, closing pages of Sandman #69, 1995


Panel 7                                                   The Sandman’s statement in the above paragraph is entirely about what he will do in 1995.  Perhaps he is a chap who “[does] not change”, as he so pronounced in Panel 6, but in the 16th Century, perhaps he knew he would have to, and leave his kingdom in the end.


Page 183 (Page 37)


Panels 8-9                                             The beginning lines of Prospero’s epilogue to The Tempest.


Page 184 (Page 38)


Panels 1-8                                             The remaining lines of the epilogue.


Finale panel                                          The events in the captions are wholly true, and it is fitting, then that Shakespeare wrote nothing else after The Tempest, as the “burden of words” had been lifted.



As the tale ends, we see a Will Shakespeare finally glad that the deal he made with the Sandman had concluded.  More significantly, we see signs, such as that he wrote nothing more after The Tempest, and that he badgered the Sandman about what would have happened had he not made that pact that, not insignificantly, changed the history of the world, and that of his own life.  These signs point to the overwhelming doubt and uncertainty Shakespeare faced as he contemplates the price of getting his wishes granted.


“Will is a willing vehicle for the great stories.  Throught him they will live for an age of man; and his words will echo down through time.  It is what he wanted.  But he did not understand the price, Mortals never do.  They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream.  But the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.  [Bold format mine, words are Gaiman’s]

And had I told him?  Had he understood?  What then?  It would have made no difference.  Have I done right, Titania?  Hve I done right?”


Dream, to Queen Titania, Sandman #19.


Will Shakespeare the writer based many of his plays on historical events or popular drama, and only two of his plays were said to be truly original- A Misummer Night’s Dream, and The Tempest.  The comic tales about these stories- Sandman #19 and this one- were gloriously simple, yet magnificently complex.


More importantly, this tale marks the definite end of the Sandman saga.  Truly, as mentioned, it was one of graceful endings about a king who leaves his kingdom.  Gaiman threw in an enchanting piece of historical fiction, accounts of romances both odd but delightful (Will and Anne’s) and odd and ‘off’ (Tom and Judith’s), and a wondrous coda to the magical Sandman saga that had lasted so many years.  I will here omit to acknowledge even the existence of the ridiculously (and painfully) disappointing The Sandman: Endless Nights.  <NB: It wasn’t bad, just cluttered, inconsistent and ultimately, disappointing> For all its fun, glamour and occasional disappointments (see above sentence), The Sandman was a really enjoyable ride.

 “But I thank you.”

the Sandman, The Wake, Sandman #75, Page 183 (Page 37)




The Sandman Companion,               1999, by Hy Bender