The Secret Life of William Shakespeare: A Novel

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare: A Novel

by Jude Morgan

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Secret Life of William Shakespeare 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
the.ken.petersen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is a scene, in this book, where William is coating his face in white make up to appear as a ghost in one of 'the plays what he wrote' (a small tribute there to another great British playwright, the late Ernie Wise). He seems to have kept the mask throughout this tome. Anne Hathaway, John Shakespeare (his father) and even Ben Johnson have life breathed into them by the author but, I am as much mystified about William Shakespeare now, as I was upon first opening this book.Why William hankered for the stage is not told; why he, a modest actor, felt the desire to write, where he developed the talent - these are amongst so many questions that this book does not address. The other main characters seem in awe of William and unable to fathom him and Jude Morgan appears to say, 'If these people living with the Bard could not comprehend the man, how then should I?' This may be a fair comment, but it does leave the reader feeling just a little cheated. We know that he was a great talent, we hoped to understand, rather than stand in the wings admiring the genius.It would have been easy to turn this book into a list of Shakespeare's plays, with a few obscure facts about each. Our author avoids this pitfall well; almost too well. This book is far more about Anne trying to comprehend what William could see in her; rejecting him when he goes to London, blaming him, unjustly, for the death of their son and determined to prove that he went to the capital only to have an affair - possibly with a woman, or perhaps with one of the lady-boys used for female characters in those times. Anne comes across as a deep, not altogether likeable, character but Will remains a chimera. From page one to the last sentence, he is always just about to come into focus but, always remaining in soft focus on the edge of the camera's view.I am not sufficient of a scholar to be able to confirm all the details of seventeenth century life but Mr Morgan certainly portrays an eminently believable picture of what it was like. The only thing that I would question, is the manner in which the middle ranking, which I take Shakespeare senior to be, and even the lower ranks of society seem to talk in a cod Shakespearian manner. There is little of the common man who would surely have featured in the life of a theatrical making his way in the metropolis.Reading over this review, it is rather more negative than I intended it to be. I enjoyed this book and would commend it to your bookshelves; but it is not a source of enlightenment upon W. Shakespeare esquire.
GeraniumCat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jude Morgan, who has acquired many plaudits for his accounts of Byron, Caroline Lamb, the Brontës and others, has daringly turned his hand to Shakespeare, a man whose very existence has been doubted by many. This book tells the story of Shakespeare's adult life, while he was still working in Stratford for his glovemaker father, and beginning with his meeting with Anne Hathaway. Despite his father's disapproval he is drawn to the performances staged by travelling players, conscious that there is something missing in his life, a need which proves to be only temporarily assuaged by his love for Anne. What starts as a minor rebellion becomes an open one and he leaves for London with a troupe of players. Life as an actor, even a competent one, is hard in a city where the theatres are frequently closed by plague, so he turns his hand to improving scripts and, eventually, to his own plays, but his writing is driven as much by the creative urge as by the need for survival.You really need a spark of genius to put words into William Shakespeare's mouth, he had such facility with words, coining a new one when there was nothing that would immediately answer. Jude Morgan is very, very good, but there was a tiny lack, for me, of that spark of brilliance, and a recognition that all the best lines in the book actually come from Shakespeare's plays, but this is subtly handled and there's never any hint of pastiche. Morgan uses the neologising nicely, making it the subject of discussion between writers, producing some inspired examples. There are some well-wrought Shakespearean conceits, too.The joy of this book was when the attention was turned to writing - to the creative drive, the pleasure of words, the turning of old stories into new. At such times all the playwrights, Will himself, Marlowe, Jonson, Kyd, Dekker, seemed most alive, close to our modern sensibilities but not anachronistically so ¿ after all, the problems that face the writer are born anew with every individual. Something of that is true for actors, too - you can learn technique, but not talent. Will's also an actor, of course, and Morgan uses this adroitly to address the issue of Shakespeare's identity, drawing one of those characters who's difficult to know, someone who slips through the fingers of even the most perceptive acquaintance.This is an excellent historical novel which offers some convincing insights into Shakespeare and his contemporaries. If Morgan set out, in the words of his protagonist, to "write me a man, who thinks and lies and bleeds, and you remember him when you lay the book down or leave the theatre, recall and judge and think around him like a man you've known long to drink with", then he has succeeded here.