Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mistress Shakespeare: A Novel by Karen Harper

Mistress Shakespeare: A Novel by Karen Harper. G. P. Putnam's Sons - Penguin Group. February 2009. ISBN #: 9780399155451

George Santayana warned leaders and citizens alike, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Karen Harper's Will Shakespeare goes one step further with a quote that deeply resonates throughout this novel narrated by his "real" wife, Anne Whateley, "The past is prologue. All is true."

Beginning with a youthful romance and secret wedding, Anne records her love/hate relationship with Will as he struggles to escape the glove-maker trade and become a poet/playwright in a world that sharply degrades and damns the latter trade. But creativity and love are the the true prologue that unites Will and Anne through multiple tragedies such as the suicide death of a beloved friend, Kat, over lost love; the death of Anne's father; Will's forced, loveless marriage to Anne Hathaway; and far too numerous other family member deaths.

Readers will enter the world of Queen Elizabeth I, the Gloriana monarch revered by Anne but mistrusted by Will. For it is widely believed that the Queen's Players, the dramatists Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson, John Lyly, George Peele and especially Christopher Marlowe are perhaps spies for the monarch in one way or another. Still their talent places them in the forefront of Will's competition as he slowly but surely earns his fame as poet and playwright in his own right. The Earl of Southampton becomes Will's patron through Anne's mediation, a relationship that becomes a liability when the Earl's relationship connects him to the political rebellion led by the Earl of Essex.

These glorious pages teem with the creative process Will and Anne share in writing and producing Will's famous plays, beginning with Love's Labour's Lost, written for Anne, a tribute and tragic look at their relationship. Friends are innumerable who help Will obtain the monies he needs to begin his literary career which flourishes. Anne and Will survive the devastating Black Plague and the treachery of former friends and foes.

The tension never lags in this most tempestuous relationship fraught with fear of discovery and jealousy, the conflicts a catalyst for even more vibrant, vivacious plays and poetry that thrill and entrance theatre-lovers from the Queen and subsequent King James to the majority of common English citizens.

Yes, history is prologue, building and forging historical and personal relationships that endure because of Will and Anne Whateley's writing, a searing sword piercing every thought, word and deed to expose the truth defining the essence of human beings.

Mistress Shakespeare is a beautiful, well-plotted, intricately characterized novel that will become a classic for sure of superb historical fiction!

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