Thursday, February 5, 2009
Review: Mistress Shakespeare, by Karen Harper
Mistress Shakespeare is a what if? story. William Shakespeare’s life was riddled with mysteries, one of which was that a license was issued for him to marry an Anne Whateley—the day before he married Anne Hathaway. So who was the other Anne? Karen Harper explores the mystery in this expertly-written novel, delving into the relationship between Shakespeare and his “first mistress.”
Harper is a Shakespeare scholar, and she’s in her element in this novel. You could tell she had a lot of fun researching and writing this book. Late 16th century London and its playhouses are described in exquisite detail, and the love story between Anne and Shakespeare is very real and not overly sappy or sugary. Harper plays to her strength—her knowledge of Shakespeare’s works inside and out—and she explores his inspiration for his plays and sonnets in some depth in this novel (though it might bore people who aren’t aficionados of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama). She also has a great knowledge of the way that people acted and spoke back then, and her characters never feel overly modern. Maybe Harper was an Elizabethan in a previous life?
My only problem with the book is that it moved a little too quickly from great event to great event in Shakespeare’s life, especially towards the end. But in all, this is a very solid, well-written and researched novel, about love that lasts forever; I preferred this over The Last Boleyn.
Also reviewed by: Foreign Circus Library, S Krishna Books, Devourer of Books