Our assignment was to read the final two issues from Dream Country. Alan Scott reviewed A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Mike Schilling reviewed Façade.

Glyph’s introduction to Sandman, in three parts, here, here, and here.

Preludes and Nocturnes recaps here: Glyph and Patrick tackled the first four issues, I tackled the fifth, Glyph recapped six and seven. Mike Schilling recapped number eight.

A Doll’s House recaps here: KatherineMW took on the first two issues, then the next two issues. KatherineMW and Jason Tank then reviewed the fifth and sixth, respectively. Mike Schilling reviewed the final two issues.

Dream Country recaps here: Glyph reviewed Caliope and Jaybird and Maribou reviewed Dream of a Thousand Cats in the first review post for Dream Country.

It’s very difficult to discuss this book without discussing the next one (or the one ofter that, or the one after that), if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.

We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!

So, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

For the second time, we will meet William Shakespeare, who we previously met in “Men of Good Fortune”. There, he made a bargain with a dark stranger to become the world’s greatest playwright.

We begin on the Sussex Downs, by the Long Man of Wilmington. This is, of course, a real place. And all of the actors we’re about to meet (with one possible exception) are real people. In 1593, the Theatres of London were closed due to an outbreak of plague, and the acting companies were forced to tour the countryside. The one we see here is Lord Strange’s Men. The following year, many of the actors of this company (basically all of the ones we’ll meet during this story) will form a new company, The Lord Chamberlain’s men, in which Shakespeare was a partner for the remainder of his career.

Shakespeare speaking with his son Hamnet, is interrupted by Will Kemp, the company’s clown. His bit of business with a pork pie is soundly vetoed. And then a stranger is spotted at the top of the hill. It is, of course, Morpheus.

Morpheus addresses Will Shekespear. The irregular spelling is perfectly appropriate: Shakespeare was known to have spelled his own name in a variety of different ways. And we have a little exchange about the hill having long been a theatre. “Before the Normans?” Shakespeare asks. “Before the Humans” is the reply. One of my favorite lines in all of Sandman.

And now we meet Richard Burbage, the company’s leading actor, who originated many of
Shakespeare’s most famous roles. The “lover most tragical” Burbage will play is presumably Romeo – The play is thought to have premiered in 1594.

Back to Hamnet, who is now with the boy players. When your high school English teacher taught you that female roles were played by boy actors, it may have escaped mention that those “boys” were sometimes as old as 24. Gaiman’s characterization of these young men as drag queens isn’t without historical basis, though I don’t think there’s any evidence that Henry Condell (in the red dress) was a boy player. Condell (who is about 17 in our story) would later become a partner in the Chamberlain’s Men and was involved with the publishing of Shakespeare’s plays. Tommy (in the green dress) is the one player whose historical counterpart I can’t identify.

And now enter the fairies. We meet Auberon and Titania. And a much darker version of Puck than we’re familiar with from the play. And we learn that Dream has yet another name: Lord Shaper. The play begins, and Shakespeare starts to realize exactly what he’s gotten himself into.

Notice the juxtaposition of the “pale companion” line with Morpheus in the last panel on page 7.

Next, we’re introduced to our own little fairy chorus. Skarrow, Peaseblossom, and a blue fairy who goes unnamed. Skarrow’s first line sounds archaic, but they quickly transition into very modern, lower class pattern of speech. Explaining the twists and turns of the play like it’s a soap opera. Which basically, it is. And providing us with an understanding of how fairies view mortals.

There’s Kemp again. He is, of course, playing Bottom. Is that a pork pie he’s holding?

The play goes on. The fairies see themselves acted upon stage. It’s a story Titania recognizes.

And here we see Hamnet on stage. Hamnet plays the mortal child who Titania has adopted, and who is the source of friction between the fairy king and queen. The real Titania develops an interest in the boy.

Backstage, a conversation between Hamnet and Tommy. Shakespeare is strangely distant from his family since he made a pact with Dream. And a foreshadowy conversation about Hamnet’s death. Onstage, a scene between Titania and Bottom, and finally it’s time for the intermission.

Burbage asks the fairy king for gold. Puck decides he’s like to play Puck. Shakespeare is complimented by his patron, and then learns of Marlowe’s death. Dream is characteristically cold about a mortal’s death.

The play resumes. Auberon explains that the fairies will not visit earth again. Will is taken with how well Puck is being played, not realizing, of course, that Puck is doing the playing. And Hamnet has been told wonderful tales by the Fairy Queen.

“Lord what fools these mortals be”, says Puck at the end of page 17. And it’s true. Everyone’s been talking, and nobody’s been listening. Particularly Shakespeare, who is ignoring his son. But he’s certainly not the only fool here.

The play continues. And Dream explains why he made his bargain: Through Shakespeare, the Great Stories will live for another age. Has he done the right thing? Has he done right by Shakespeare? “The price of getting what you want, is getting what you once wanted”. But Titania’s not even paying attention.

On page 20, there’s a great sequence that juxtaposes lines about the madman, the lover, and the poet against various characters. As Theseus (played by Shakespeare) speaks of the madmen, beset by devils, we see the sinister red eyes of the fairies, more strange and malevolent than Shakespeare ever imagined. Next, he speaks of the lover who sees beauty in “a brow of Egypt” while Hamnet looks at the father he never really knew. This, I think, is a reference to the “dark lady” from the Sonnets.

Shakespeare’s sonnets are carefully arranged into two sections. The first group of sonnets is directed towards a character called the young lord by Shakespeare scholars, and imply a homosexual romance. But the second group is written to a character known as the dark lady (for references to her complexion: “If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun”, from sonnet 130, is one such.) Is the “brow of Egypt” line subtly implying that Shakespeare’s romance with a real-life dark lady is partly responsible for Shakespeare’s distance from his son? Or am I just reading to much into things?

After the madman and the lover, he speaks of the poet, showing both the players and the fairies as the “forms of things unknown” bodied forth by imagination. And showing dream as “the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.”

Dream explains his gift. By commissioning the play, he has ensured that though the fairies leave this world, that the world will not forget them.

But now it is time for them to leave. But not Puck of course. Oh no, he is staying. The mortal world is much too fun. He too, departs into the shadows, as he recites the closing lines of the play: That the whole thing, is perhaps, only a dream.

The players wake, alone on the hillside. Was it merely a dream after all? No, but of course Auberon’s gold was only illusion.

And then we are at the end. And we are told that Hamnet Shakespeare died a few years later. I don’t think we are meant to believe it. I think the child that died in 1596 was a fairy changeling. That the real Hamnet Shakespeare was spirited away by Titania. That Hamnet Shakespeare, who played Titania’s mortal child in the play, who was fed a magic by the fairy queen, who was told such wonderful tales, and whose father was so blind and deaf to him; that he is kept as a pet in a fairy court.

Dream said that Shakespeare would pay a greater price than he knew. Here, at least, is a part of it. In order to be the one to tell the Great Stories to our age, Shakespeare lost his son.

But there’s another story hidden here, and another price payed. After all, Shakespeare was not the first one to tell the Great Stories. On page 10, Titania told how she “Heard this tale sung once, in old Greece by a boy with a lyre.” On page 20, one of the possible entertainments from Theseus’s wedding feast is highlighted: “The riot of tipsy bacchanals tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.”

Two issues ago, we learned that Calliope and Dream had a son. “That boy-child who went to hades for his lady-love, and died in Thrace, torn apart by the Sisters of Frenzy for his sacrilege.” Orpheus of Greek myth. The one who told the Great Stories to the previous age of man. Who was the previous vessel of Dream’s will. Shakespeare, it seems, is not the only one who paid the price of a son.


Façade is well named.    It’s very much a story about appearances, with the main symbol being the mask.   Its main character is Rainey Blackwell, who’s also well-named: her life is never sunny, and her darkness goes deep.   She is actually yet another obscure DC Comics hero, Element Girl, who has the ability to transmute herself into any chemical element (her full name is, of course, “Urania”).  This power has had a dreadful effect on her appearance; she looks almost like a corpse, with crepe-like, dead-white skin.  This depresses her so that she hides in her rooms, her only human contact being phone conversations with Mulligan, the functionary who arranges her disability checks.   She dreams sometimes of what changed her: exploring a pyramid, whatever remains of the god Ra gave her this power to aid in his fight against the serpent Apep.  That dream is worse than any nightmare, and Rainey would much prefer simply to cease to exist.  (A callback to Dream’s comment that he is far more terrible than his sister.)

Unexpectedly, Rainey gets a call from Della, an old co-worker, who invites her to lunch. Rainey transmutes herself to her old appearance, a pretty woman with a smooth, unlined face (now made of silicates), and flowing, orange-red hair (the color of uranium oxide, sometimes used as a dye).  Accompanied by repeated wordplay about putting on her face and facing the world, Rainey goes forth.  At lunch, Della reveals that she’s pregnant by her married lover.   He is of course going to get a divorce and marry her [1], but in the meantime she can’t tell a soul, because he works for the same company. [2]  Rainey, on medical retirement, is a safe confidant.  What Della is most scared of is that, at 36, she’s too old to have a healthy child. Pointing to a group of retarded children, she says that she’s freaked out about having a freak.  This freaks Rainey out so badly that her mask (literally) drops, and she runs screaming back to her apartment to hide.    She’s abandoned her purse with her keys in it, and to get in has to incinerate her doorknob by transmuting her hand into magnesium.  She tries to phone Mulligan, only to find that he’s been transferred away.   All that’s left now is suicide.  If only someone with her powers had a way to do that.

Now, another character enters.  A pretty, charming, Goth-looking girl, who offers to talk about Rainey’s problems.   They discuss Rainey’s masks (which she uses for ashtrays, once they’ve come off), and how she’d like to die, but all the things she’s thought of won’t kill her, and would just make things worse.  The girl reminds Rainey of another one like her who died in a volcano, and Rainey realizes who the girl must be to know that.  And she’s thrilled, thinking that Death has finally come for her.

No such luck, though.  Death had come for her upstairs neighbor, and just stopped by to chat.  Death describes some of the horrors she’s about to deal with: civil war in Africa, and the destruction of a far-away planet.  As in her previous appearance, she describes this as a job she has to do, and this time looks forward to when the last living thing dies and she’s finally done.  But none of it makes any impression on Rainey, who’s interested only in her own pain.   Death can’t take her, but she does give Rainey a clue: Since Ra changed her, Ra can release her. Ra is not the brightest bulb (pun intended), since he’s still recruiting soldiers to fight a serpent who died thousands of years ago, but he’s still a sun god: Rainey needs to ask the sun for help.

She does just that.  Behind the mask of the sun, she sees the face of Ra.  Looking upon it, she’s no longer hideous; she is (pun somewhat intended) radiant.  The sunlight is intense enough to turn her into a pile of ash.   (That’s two bad habits that work out well for her: smoking, which had made her feel human, and looking into the sun, which finally released her.  Both involve ashes. )  She’s gone now.  Death wishes her a cryptic “Better luck next time”.  Rainey’s phone rings.  It’s Mulligan, finally returning her call (too late.)  Death puts him off with a series of literally true evasions [3], and ends with a Prisoner-like “Be seeing you”, which is appropriate in at least two ways: First, he’s a spy who wants information, and won’t get it.   Second, it’s again literally true.

1. Yeah, sure he is.

2. After enough references to “the company” and “company policy”, we realize that they all work for the CIA.

3, E.g, Rainey doesn’t live here any more.






Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to


  1. Your review is wonderful, Alan! I’ve read that chapter a few times (and the play itself at least once) and always had the sense I was missing things; you drew out a lot of points I hadn’t noticed.

    Facade is easily my favourite of the four stories in this book. Partly because of the character of Rainey, and the premise isn’t bad either, but mostly because Death is my favourite Sandman character by a good margin, and this story develops her characterization and shows her understanding of herself very well.

    • All of Sandman rewards a thorough reading. Midsummer in particular, I think. I only picked up on the references to Orpheus as I was reading in preparation for the recap — probably the seventh or eighth time I’ve read the book.

    • Death, again, has a narrow view of her duties. She could have put Mulligan’s mind at ease by saying (again literally true) that Rainey was in good spirits when she last saw her, but she has no obligation to comfort the living.

    • And Alan’s review is absolutely awesome. The way it worked this week is that JB posted it as a draft, so I could post it after appending the Facade review. It was a pretty intimidating act to try to follow.

  2. Alan – awesome writeup. Once again we see Jaybird’s genius in spreading these writeups around, because the Shakespeare historical knowledge you are dropping is stuff I did not know at all.

    Some random observations on Midsummer:

    Dream and Titania seem…close, don’t they? Their body language and conversation implies…something. He admits he basically made the play happen as a gift to the Fae (her?); and he also haltingly attempts to open up to her emotionally, questioning whether he has done the right thing by Shakespeare (she, of course, doesn’t really listen to this). It is interesting to note that Dream is seated between Auberon & Titania, and often shadowed – we know from the play that the King & Queen of Fae’s relationship is somewhat less than 100% monogamous, to say the least; and Auberon is drawn with horns. Guvf tvirf n fbzrjung fvavfgre rqtr gb gur snpg gung Nhoreba nyybjf gur Chpx gb fgnl oruvaq jura gur Snr yrnir (guvf, nsgre gur Chpx unf nyernql fgngrq gung Nhoreba’f juvz vf uvf pbzznaq).

    Interesting that the gift of stories, can isolate one and cuts one off from human connection and true empathy. Shakespeare and Morpheus appear to share this affliction. We also see a recurrence of two other themes from Calliope in this regard – a dim view of the teller, unrelated to the veneration of the tale.

    Fry says that “Writers are liars” – yet both Fry and Madoc, it is implied, produced work that was beautiful and true, despite (or because of) their crimes. Shakespeare is not a criminal, but is not a particularly good father; and in this story, we are told more than once that what we are seeing never happened, yet is still true (“Tales and dreams are the shadow-truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes, and forgot.”)

    The final two sentences of the story are a terrific one-two punch. The news of Hamnet’s “death” (I agree that it is likely a changeling; but that wouldn’t lessen Shakespeare’s grief or the tragedy of it); followed by the fact that the Puck is still at large, is a real “ouch”, then “uh-oh”.

    Well-known trivia about this issue: it won a World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1991, after which the rules were changed because it offended some people’s sensibilities that a “comic book” should be eligible.

    • I’m glad you appreciate the history bits, Glyph. I’ve got a BA in Theatre Arts, and I figured I should probably put it to some use. (Of course, about half of the tidbits I’ve offered are courtesy Professor Wikipedia and Doctor Google.) I’ve also volunteered to cover Gur Grzcrfg (fpurqhyvat crezvggvat), jurer jr frr jung orpbzrf bs Funxrfcrner va uvf yngre lrnef nf ur jevgr gur frpbaq cebzvfrq cynl.

      Some interesting historical bits that got cut for space:

      *Gaiman is probably cheating quite a bit to give us the cast he does. Shakespeare probably spend the plague years in London, writing poetry instead of plays. Lord Strange’s men toured along with another, equally famous group of players called the Lord Admiral’s Men. They, and their leader Ned Alleyn are missing from Sandman, likely because they were less connected to Shakespeare than Burbage and Co.

      *Shakespeare’s admonishment of Kemp’s ad-libbing is characteristic. His plays include such admonishments, such as “Speak the speech, I pray you…” from Act III of Hamlet. Kemp had a falling out with the Lord Chamberlain’s Men in 1599 or so: The comedic Falstaff was written out of Henry V, and Kemp morris-danced the hundred plus miles between London and Norwich as a publicity stunt.

      *despite that Thracian poet mentioned in Sandman, Midsummer is one of the few major plays that is not known to be based on an existing work. Though Theseus, Hippolyta, Oberon, Titania, and Robin Goodfellow were all characters from existing myth and folklore.

      *The theatre companies were sponsored by noble patrons. But they were owned by the “Sharers”, actors who owned equal shares in the company. Sharer’s in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men included Burbage, Shakespeare, Kemp (for a time), and Condell (eventually).

      • There are so many little things in this issue that I missed that you caught. I’d like to echo everyone else in thanking you for pointing them out!

        One of the things I thought was interesting was the banter between the actors who played women and how very catty they were to each other. The moment I wonder if that’s ahistorical, I start to wonder about how people would be people no matter what. It does strike me that their attitude towards weight gain would be different from 1991, though…

        • Given that whoever plays Helena and Hermia must spend a good portion of their stage time in what is perhaps the world’s most famous catfight, it’s hard to imagine that they weren’t at least a little bit catty to eachother.

          Judging by his own writings, the “fat” of Shakespeare’s day seems to have been dark-skinned. Not that such a thing necessarily stopped Shakespeare from having a dark-skinned mistress, of course.

  3. Regarding Facade:

    This is a story I usually don’t enjoy very much. Not to say it’s not well-done, because it is – there are so many great lines/ideas in it (the idea that Ra just keeps on fighting his never-ending-but-in-reality-long-since-ended battle; Death putting chairs on tables and turning out lights and locking the Universe behind her.)

    But it really is a great thumbnail depiction of depression – the way that when you are depressed you put on a face, and fake being normal (and how sad/creepy is Rainie’s come-on to Mulligan over the phone?), and listen to others chatter about their lives and problems, and it just doesn’t mean anything at all. That hits me hard, as I have been there a couple times in my life, as most everybody probably has at one time or another.

    I also think that although it’s appropriate to the story, and handled well, and resonates with many of the larger “Sandman” themes (Rainie’s a prisoner, released with Death’s help, bapr fur qrpvqrf fur jnagf gb tvir hc guvf boyvtngvba naq ynl qbja ure oheqra) I have an aversion to the depiction of suicide as ever “good” or “beautiful” or a “release” – if someone dies by choice, we instinctively want it to have been for something, not simply to escape horrendous emotional suffering and isolation.

    So: a well-done story, that makes me uncomfortable.

    That’s still art, innit?

    • Yeah, part of what makes Facade so sad is that one knows that there are thousands and thousands of people out there who would be delighted to sit around and smoke cigarettes with her and not particularly care that she looks different or weird or anything. The bone-crushing loneliness she’s feeling (she was looking forward to making that phone call alllll day) is something that is quite overcomable. I was able to imagine any number of situations that would have helped… she could have gone to live in a commune. She could have gotten a blind roommate. She could have started hanging out with stoners.

      And that’s not even talking about hanging with the Birds of Prey and turning bad guys into component parts. (Or, fine, turning their clothing into solid steel and thus immobilizing them.)

      But I’m a human looking at the problem she was having and not an Endless looking at the problem she was having.

      • The thing about the loneliness that arises from depression (or is it the other way ’round?) is that it is not easily overcome. Not only can we not look at the problem as an Endless does; if we are of relatively sound and non-depressed mind, we can’t even look at the problem the way a depressed person does – Rainie would never, in her current state of mind, truly *believe* that the commune of blind stoners really cared about her – she would be unable to feel any connection to them at all, likely depressing her further. Depression/loneliness is a chicken/egg phenomenon.

        Too bad she couldn’t change the chem comp of her brain to include more serotonin or dopamine.

        • The fact that she was willing to fight to get out to go to a restaurant and looked forward to her phone calls to her handler struck me as her reaching out and fighting… what was plaguing her.

          How difficult is it to imagine a different outcome to the lunch date? (“I decided to go retro and wear a headband. John McEnroe always struck me as sexy, I don’t know why everyone I knew hated him. Well, except Green Arrow. Green Arrow thought he was a bit of a role model.”)

  4. On Hamnet as a changeling, the third of The Books of Magic is set in Faerie, and in Titania’s court there’s a young boy named Hamnet. And the book’s disclaimer begins”Any resemblance to any real people (living, dead, or stolen by fairies)…” So yeah, I think that’s where Gaiman went.

    That issue also has the following marvelous lines from Titania, which echo the idea of Dream of a Thousand Cats and tie in with Dream’s cognomens of Morpheus and Shaper:

    “You wish to see the distant realms? Very well. But know this first: the places you will visit, the places that you will see, do not exist. For there are only two worlds — your world, which is the real world, and the other worlds, the fantasy. Worlds like this are worlds of human imagination: their reality, or lack of reality, is not important. What is important is that they are there. These worlds provide an alternative. Provide escape. Provide a dream, and power, provide refuge, and pain. They give your world meaning. They do not exist; and thus they are all that matters.”

    • Is Books of Magic worth a re-read? I read it in college and thought it was OK, but have not read since.

      • I would think so, but only if you have the regular series.

        Because the regular series was the bomb diggity.

        • When I was working in a comic shop during Freshman year, I read one of the later series. It was the “Tim Hunter is a surly seventeen year old now”. It wasn’t bad, but it didn’t exactly scream “Classic!”. Am I missing out by having not read the miniseries and the earlier series?

          • Dude, I had a serious make-out date doing some reading of the Books of Magic series. (It’s cool, the date was with Maribou.)

            It holds a special place in my heart.

Comments are closed.