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Monday, March 16, 2009

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
Publisher: Putnam
Genre: Historical
Length: Full (384 pages)
Heat: Sweet
Rating: 5 books
Reviewed by Rose

MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE is the real story of Shakespeare in love.

All fiction—and real life—is about ‘what if?’

What if the record of the marriage bond previous to and in the same 1582 registry (still in existence) between Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton and William Shakespeare indicates that Will loved and wed another woman before he married Anne Hathaway? A later entry links him to “Anne Hathway [sic] of Stratford in the Dioces [sic] of Worchester maiden.” The earlier Whateley entry can hardly be a mere slip of the pen, for not only the last names but the women’s villages are different. As Germaine Greer says in her recent nonfiction book, SHAKESPEARE’S WIFE (about Anne H.), if the Whateley/Shaxpere marriage bond is a scribal error, it’s really an odd one.

Will’s marriage to Anne H. was what we would call a “shotgun” wedding, not unusual for the time, but it may well not have been voluntary on his part, for it was enforced by two friends of the bride’s family, who put up a goodly sum to produce Will for the ceremony. What if the famous “second best bed” in Shakespeare’s will was given to Anne H. because he and Anne W. had the first best bed at their Blackfriars Gatehouse in London—a property he made certain did not go to his wife or daughters in his will.

So--what if Anne Whateley was really the love of his life, the dark lady of his sonnets, his inspiration and muse? What if you read their story, then decide for yourself?

I am a long-time fangirl of Karen Harper's romantic suspense novels, but I'd never read any of her historicals before. So, it was with trepidation I picked up Mistress Shakespeare. Any fears her historicals would not keep me as riveted as her contemporary works were laid to rest with the first lines of this volume.

Told in first person in the persona of Anne Whateley, this story is in answer to a question the Earl of Salisbury puts to her: what is William Shakespeare to you? The character of Anne, admitting a duality of love and loathing toward Shakespeare, tells the story of how she is, in her heart, "the first Mistress Shakespeare, Will's other wife."

This book is exceptionally well researched and documented. There will be no way of ascertaining whether or not this scenario is true, but this is not a history text. It only asks...what if? And, the scenario Ms. Harper puts forth answers easily questions that have arisen in the past about Shakespeare and his marriage to Anne Hathaway; questions that have arisen about the "dark lady" of his sonnets; questions that have arisen regarding his life and his will.

The setting is masterfully drawn. I could feel the jostle of the crowds, see the beauty of the countryside. The entire book is a tapestry woven that shares with the reader the England of Queen Elizabeth I, with all the turmoil and drama of the time.

Emotionally, I became Anne W., torn with conflicting emotions toward the man who had stolen my heart when I was but a child. No matter what his faults...the love and the bond were forged. This pair of ill-fated lovers and their attempts to do what was right while at the same time being drawn to each other will wrench the reader's heart. Through Anne W.'s eyes, we see Will...not merely the genius who penned such wonderful plays and sonnets, but the flawed man who had fits of jealousy and selfishness.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Shakespeare, historical mysteries, or historical romance.