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The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare

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This graceful historical novel traces Shakespeare's momentous path of creative and emotional self-discovery focusing on his apprentice years and concluding before the great plays that would earn him his fame. It begins with the glover's son roaming the fields of Stratford, hungry for knowledge and restless to escape the boundaries of his small town and loveless marriage. Leaving his family for the turbulence and excitement of London, Will becomes a struggling actor whose charmed, reckless circle of literary and ...
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Overview

This graceful historical novel traces Shakespeare's momentous path of creative and emotional self-discovery focusing on his apprentice years and concluding before the great plays that would earn him his fame. It begins with the glover's son roaming the fields of Stratford, hungry for knowledge and restless to escape the boundaries of his small town and loveless marriage. Leaving his family for the turbulence and excitement of London, Will becomes a struggling actor whose charmed, reckless circle of literary and theatrical friends includes John Heminges, Ben Jonson, and Christopher Marlowe - men who will in time create an unforgettable period of theater. All the while, however, Shakespeare continues to challenge himself as a writer; soon he is selling his plays and earning acclaim in the world of the London theater and aristocracy. Yet perhaps his finest and most heartfelt writing of the period can be found in the sonnets written for the Earl of Southampton, the beautiful young lord whose affection and aloofness stir the poet's soul. The Earl becomes Shakespeare's patron, friend, romantic rival, and eventually, his lover. With the Earl and the bewitching Italian musician Emilia Bassano, Shakespeare plunges deep into a tempestuous love triangle that will threaten both his desire to write and his sense of himself.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having established herself as an historical novelist of the first rank with Nicholas Cooke and The Physician of London, Cowell returns to Elizabethan England with a beautifully nuanced portrait of the young William Shakespeare. Beginning her narrative in 1564 in Stratford, she depicts him as a country lad, as apprentice to his father, a glover, and as hastily married husband, the prelude to his flight to London in search of a job as an actor and playwright. His impoverished years as a walk-on player and a fledgling writer unfold against a vibrantly visualized background of historical events. The narrative is solidly grounded in robust descriptions of daily life, from noisome taverns, alleys and markets to the interiors of courtly mansions and the early theaters themselves. A disciple of the celebrated English critic A.L. Rowse, Cowell subscribes to his theory that Shakespeare's sonnets were written to his patron, the Earl of Southampton, and that the intimacy expressed therein was one of friendship and close association rather than homosexual relations. The mysterious Dark Lady of the Sonnets is here capricious musician Emilia Bassano, and the sexual triangle that ensues when the Earl beds the poet's mistress is the crucible in which Shakespeare suffers and matures. Throughout, Cowell portrays Shakespeare in great agitation as he ponders his talent and ambitions, very much aware, at the age of 31, when the book ends, of his deserted wife and three children and his lack thus far of a permanent career. Part of the pleasure of reading this book is Cowell's measured, graceful language, easily reproducing the cadences of 17th-century English. Because the narrative is a leisurely account of a genius finding himself, there is less action here than some readers may expect. For those who long to become engrossed in another time, however, it will be a treat. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Concentrating most of its entertaining span on the "apprenticeship" years of William Shakespeare, this novel is based both on fact and on the author's imagination. A few short chapters introduce William as a Stratford lad, then as an unhappily married young man. Soon he has arrived in London and begins to live the kaleidoscopic but poverty-stricken life of a struggling actor and playwright. Among his friends are the writers Christopher Marlowe and Ben Johnson. The city of London emerges as a character itself, a warren of brothels, bear-baiting arenas, gambling dens, churches, houses, shops, and stalls. Poetry, work, and friendship rule William's life in hectic measure until love makes a fool of him. First comes his love for Emilia, an Italian girl employed as a musician in the household of an aging lord. Next, William suffers a baffling love for his patron, the young Earl of Southhampton, to whom many of his sonnets are written. A love triangle between these three characters brings William to a hard-won maturity as both a writer and man. This illuminating historical novel from an expert at reconstructing the Elizabethan era (e.g., The Physician of London, Norton, 1995) is sure to find many readers among Shakespeare's latest generations of fans. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/96.]Keddy Ann Outlaw, Harris Cty. P.L., Houston
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393040609
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/28/1997
  • Pages: 252
  • Product dimensions: 6.31 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephanie Cowell
Stephanie Cowell is the critically acclaimed author of the historical novels Nicholas Cooke, The Players: A Novel of the Young Shakespeare, and The Physician of London (winner of a 1996 American Book Award). Trained as a lyric coloratura soprano, she lives with her husband in New York City.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2000

    rich and engrossing

    Stephanie Cowell's 'The Players' is a stirring and utterly convincing portrait of arguably the greatest writer of Western civilization -- William Shakespeare. The rich historical detail combined with the passionate characters of the novel provides an intense reading experience -- I definitely vote for 'the Players' as one of the best historical novels I have ever read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2000

    Beautiful Account of the Bard and His Times

    Stephanie Cowell's great gift -- among many literary gifts -- is her ability to provide rich and vivid historical detail while telling a lively and interesting story of characters who have both complexity and depth. This fictionalized account of the young Shakespeare's life is as enjoyable for its portrayal of young Will as for its depiction of Elizabethan England and the other colorful characters whom Shakespeare knew. Cowell's extensive research lends a compelling verisimiltude to this beautifully written book. If you want to be transported to another place and time, this is the book for you. Highly recommended.

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