Mistress Shakespeare

Mistress Shakespeare

by Karen Harper


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A bold and intriguing novel about the woman who was William Shakespeare's secret wife, by the national bestselling author.

As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton was betrothed to William Shakespeare just days before he was forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway. Here, Anne Whateley takes up her pen to tell the intimate story of her daring life with Will. Obliged to acknowledge Will's publicly sanctioned marriage, Anne Whateley nevertheless follows him from rural Stratford-Upon-Avon to teeming London, where they honor their secret union, the coming together of two passionate souls. Persecution and plague, insurrection and inferno, friends and foes all play parts in Anne's lively tale.

Spanning half a century of Elizabethan and Jacobean history, and sweeping from the lowest reaches of society to the royal court, this richly textured novel tells the real story of Shakespeare in love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399155451
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 02/05/2009
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 18 - 14 Years

About the Author

Karen Harper is a New York Times– and USA Today–bestselling author whose novels, both historical and contemporary, have been published worldwide. A former college and high school English instructor, Harper now lives in Columbus, Ohio, and Naples, Florida, and frequently travels around the country to promote her books and speak about writing.

Read an Excerpt



When I opened my door at mid-morn and saw the strange boy, Ishould have known something was wrong. I'd been on edge for threedays, not only because of the aborted rebellion against the queen, butbecause Will and I were at such odds over it—and over our ownrelationship.

"You be Mistress Anne Whateley?"

My stomach knotted. The boy was no street urchin but was wellattired and sported a clean face and hands. "Who wants to know?" Iasked as he extended something to me. He must have a missive sayingsomeone was ill. Or dead. Or, God save us, arrested.

"'Tis a tie from a fine pair of sleeves meant for you with othergarments too, once adorning Her Majesty's person," he recited ina high, singsong voice as he placed a willow-green velvet ribbonlaced with gold thread in my hand. In faith, it was beautiful workmanship.

"Didn't want me carrying all that through the streets," he added.

"'Tis all waiting for you at the Great Wardrobe nearby."

"I know where that is, lad, but have you not mistook me foranother? I have naught to do with the queen's wardrobe."

"Three figured brocade gowns, two fine sleeves with points andribbon ties, a butterfly ruff and velvet cloak for the Lord Chamberlain'splayers to use at the Globe Theatre. Since they be busy today, Iam to fetch you to receive the garb."

Of late certain nobles had given me donated garments to pass onto Will's fellows. I'd done many things for the players behind thescenes, as they put it. I'd once helped with costumes, and that at courttoo. In the disastrous performance but three days ago, I'd held thebook and prompted the players. I'd copied rolls for Will and his fellowsas well as taken his dictation. Many knew I had helped to providethe fine cushions that padded the hard wooden seats beneaththe bums of earls and countesses who graced the expensive galleryseats at the Globe. So mayhap the word was out that I was the Jack—or Jill—of all trades at the Globe.

Yet things from the queen's wardrobe? It was said she had morethan two thousand gowns, so I supposed she could spare a few. TheShakespeare and Burbage company had performed before the courtboth at Whitehall and Richmond, but after the catastrophe of theEssex Rebellion, three days ago, Her Grace was donating personalpieces to them? Surely, she had heard that they had staged Will'sRichard II, a play some whispered had intentionally incited the rebellionagainst her throne.

I'd told Will—another of our arguments—that promoting thattragedy at that time could be not only foolhardy but fatal, so thankthe good Lord the Virgin Queen valued her favorite plays and players.The promised garments must be an olive branch extended tothem. At least this would prove to Will once and for all somethingelse I'd argued for years. Elizabeth Tudor was a magnanimousmonarch, not one who should be dethroned or dispatched beforeGod Himself took the sixty-seven-year-old ruler from this life."One moment," I told the boy. "I must fetch my cloak, for thewind blows chill."

And blows ill, I thought, as I put away the pages of As You Like It,so-called a comedy, for it was larded with serious stuff. Will and I hadbeen feuding over what was love, and I was looking at a copy of hisrole as Jaques, the part he'd written for himself. Like this character,Will had been "Monsieur Melancholy" lately and, looking closer atJaques' lines, I'd been appalled by what I'd found. And though Willand I were not speaking right now, I meant to take it up with him too.More than once he'd stripped our tortured love bare for all London tosee, devil take the man, and he meant to do it again in this play!

"We're off straightaway then," the lad called over his shoulder asI followed him out the door into the courtyard. I lived in the largeBlackfriars precinct, but it was still a goodly walk to the Wardrobe.Ever since I'd set foot in London eighteen years before, I'd loved thisarea and Will did too. When we were young and even more foolishthan we were now at thirty-six years of age, Blackfriars was our fantasticalplace. We'd oft pretended we owned a fine brick mansion setlike a jewel in green velvet gardens among homes of the queen'snoblemen and gentry.

And to think that Gloriana herself had dined at Blackfriars earlierthis year in the Earl of Worcester's house! She'd been met at the riverand carried up the hill on a palanquin, I recalled with a sigh. AtBlackfriars too the queen's noble cousin, the Lord Chamberlain, theplayers' patron, lived in elegant style in Hunsdon House. Maybe, Ithought, his lordship had put in a good word for Will and his menin this Essex mess, so the queen had decided not only to forgive thembut to reward them.

Still hieing myself along apace with the boy down the public streetedging the area, I had to watch where I stepped to avoid the reekycentral gutter and the occasional pan of slop thrown from upperwindows. Others were abroad, but the streets still seemed greatlyforsaken in the wake of the ruined rebellion. The half-timbered facadesand their thatched brows frowned down on us, making thenarrow streets even more oppressive.

We entered through the eastern gatehouse I so admired. As ever,I craned my neck to savor the venerable grandeur of its three stories.Its diamond-paned windows gazed like winking eyes over the citywith fine views of mansions and their great privy gardens, old BridewellPalace across the Fleet to the west, the city walls and even thebustling Thames.

Will and I had once found the gatehouse's lower door ajar. Holdinghands, we'd tiptoed up the twisting stairs. Standing stripped ofgoods, the rooms were being whitewashed for new owners. Suchnarrow but elegant, sunny chambers!

"Next time 'tis offered, I'll buy it for you," Will had promisedgrandly, though he had but three pounds to his name after sendingmoney back to Stratford.

"Says you, the dreamer, my marvelous maker of fine fictions," I'dretorted. But our lovemaking had been very real, and I yet treasuredthe memory. Nor, I told myself, would I forget this one, for I'd neverbeen inside the vast structure that housed the queen's wardrobe, thatwhich was not of immediate need and kept at Whitehall Palace.

I'd adored Elizabeth of England from the first moment I'd seenher, gorgeously gowned, on a white horse, when I was but eleven andshe'd come to visit her favorite, the Earl of Leicester, near my homein Warwickshire.

The boy led me round the corner into an alcove hidden from thestreet. He knocked thrice upon it.

"Do you serve Her Majesty?" I asked while we waited.

"I serve those who serve her," he said only.

I meant to question him further, but the door creaked open andan old woman with face wrinkles like cobwebs stood there with hersleeves rolled up. She wore a broadcloth apron as if she were tendinga kitchen. "Follow me," she said, not waiting for introduction orcomment. The boy did not enter with us but closed the door behindme. It thudded nearly as loud as the beating of my heart, which Itold myself was only from our quick pace and my excitement to seethis place.

"Farthingales here. Watch your head," the old woman muttered.I trailed her through a narrow alleyway of swinging metal hoops,like lonely bird cages, over which the queen's elaborate kirtles andpetticoats would be draped. We plunged down an alley of sweetsmellingsleeves arranged by color, though the limited lantern lightmade the rich tawny, ruby and ivory hues all seem dusky. Bonedbodices came next, then an aisle of fur-edged capes and robes. Of asudden, the sweet scent of lime and lavender from the garmentschanged to some sharp smell that made me sneeze.

"Camphor to keep out moths," my guide said.

I jammed a finger under my nose to halt a torrent of sneezes. Themaze deepened: swags of green and white Tudor bunting lined theway, then dusty, draped flags and battle banners. Suddenly, my stomachclenched with foreboding. Why would not the garments to begiven me simply be ready at the door? We seemed to have passedfrom attire to military materials. As we rounded the next corner, myworst fears leaped at me from the shadows.

Within a dimly lit grotto of garments, behind a small portabletable sat a man simply but finely attired all in black; his amber eyesshone flatly, like an adder's. It took me but a moment to realize Iknew him—that is, I knew who he was. I had glimpsed him at courtthe time the players had taken me with them. His hunchback formwas unmistakable. For months, the whole city had talked of naughtbut the bloodless battles between this man and the Earl of Essex. Ifhe was here to see me—or I to see him—I dreaded to know why.

Robert Cecil, the Earl of Salisbury, the queen's closest councillorand chief secretary, was the avowed enemy of Elizabeth's former favoredcourtier, Robert Devereaux, Lord Essex, and his compatriotthe Earl of Southampton, the men who had led the rebellion againsther. It was through Cecil that the two earls had been arrested andrightly so. It was through Cecil that Will's patron, the Earl of Southampton,was being held prisoner in the Tower under the same terriblecharges as his friend Essex.

"That is all," Cecil spoke to the woman, who scurried away.I remembered to curtsy. I was pleased it was quite a steady onebecause my legs were starting to shake. I saw we were not alone; twomen—guards or secretaries?—sat at another table off to my left side.Had I been snared in a trap baited with the promise of royal garmentsonly to be summoned to an inquisition?

"I do indeed have the pieces of cast-off wardrobe for the playersyou were promised, Mistress Whateley," Cecil said as if he'd read mymind. "I do not speak untruths or half-truths, and I pray you will noteither. I must inform you that, since Her Majesty much enjoys thetalents of the Globe's players, I can only hope they will be able toremain at large to put the royal items to good use as costumes in theirdramas."

After that initial assault, I could scarce catch my air. The memoryof my dear, doomed girlhood friend Kat leaped into my mind's eye,for I felt like that—trapped, floating face up, exposed, bereft of help,hope or even breath.

"Fetch a seat for Mistress Whateley, Thompson," Cecil said, anda man jumped to obey. It was some sort of folding camp stool. Iperched poised on the edge, telling myself to sit erect and to showcalm and confidence no matter what befell. Oh, yes, I could be aplayer too. And I was not such a country maid that I did not knowthis was to be a war of wits, and that this one the rabble called RobertusDiabolus—Robert the Devil—had the upper hand.

I tried to buck myself up: however much at odds Will and I werenow, had I not been so close to him and the players that I was wellarmed with clever turns of phrase? I knew how to listen well for cuesbefore responding. Yet this was the man who had inherited Sir FrancisWalsingham's dreaded web of intelligencers, who had broughtdown the lofty likes of Essex and Southampton and had made mincemeatof lesser men and women like Will's kin.

"Thank you for your consideration, my lord," I said before hecould speak again. The words, too many, I warrant, tumbled from mymouth. "For the seat, I mean, but I am also grateful for the gift ofHer Majesty's cast-off garments to the Lord Chamberlain's Men, notonly for them but for myself—to be able to merely care for them. Weall honor our queen."

"Do we all?" he parried. "Mistress, I need straight answers fromyou. I have not hauled in the players themselves—yet—because Icannot abide prevarications or histrionics offstage. I have it on goodauthority you are forthright and have spoken your mind to the Globe'sactors. And I will have you speak plainly here."

"Of course, my lord, but I cannot see why we must meet in sucha place, away from others—"

"I did not think," he interrupted, "knowing Will Shakespeare asintimately as you do, a covert meeting was something new to you."My insides lurched. He knew about me and Will. How much didhe know, from how far back? He must be punning upon the wordknowing in the biblical sense and be aware that Will and I had metsecretly off and on for years. And worse, that I had been questionedonce before by someone from Her Majesty's government about whereWill Shakespeare's loyalties lay.

I fought to compose my features. Our eyes met and held. His facewas not uncomely, but he was so misshapen in bodily form it was saidthe queen called him her Pygmy. I knew of nicknames that couldsting, for I was of half-Italian blood and had oft been called Gypsyor Egyptian.

Cecil's enemies called him simply the Hunchback, and duringthe rebellion, someone had scrawled on his front door, in a nearquote from Will's description of the hunchback King Richard III,HERE LIES THE TOAD! I well knew that playwrights had been imprisoned,tortured and killed for slanders stuck on doors in London."Let me speak plain, mistress," he said when I did not flinch underhis gaze and did not respond again. "It is well known that Shakespeareand his fellow players performed The Tragedy of King RichardII, at the behest of the Earl of Essex and his dear friend-in-armsSouthampton, just before the recent rebellion. I am certain I need nottell such a devoted friend of the playwright that scenes are in thatdrama that advocate the overthrow of a sitting monarch by a favoriteof the English crowds."

"It's just a play, my lord, employing the past and hardly predictingthe future." I saw where he was going now but had no notion of howbest to navigate the dangers. "Indeed, the Lord Chamberlain's Menwere paid a goodly sum for performing it," I continued. "They hadno political statement to make, but simply needed the money, fortypieces of silver, so—"

"It should have been thirty pieces of silver!" he exploded, smackinghis palm on his table, making it jump and shudder. "They are Judases,as much favor as Her Grace has shown them! And, yes, mistress, Ihear you repeat the name of the Lord Chamberlain, as they bear thequeen's cousin's name as patron. But," he said thrusting up both handswhen he saw me ready to protest, "I know Will Shakespeare's breadis buttered on the other side too, for he's been cozy with Southamptonfor years, and the Shakespeare family has a convoluted, questionablepast as Catholics and rebels!"

I was dumbfounded. He knew about Will's beginnings, familyconnections, his life from the earliest days. Then he could ruin Willwith this—ruin me too.

"All I can tell you of my Warwickshire friend Will Shakespeare inall this," I said, fighting again to control my voice, "is that he praysthat your lordship and Her Gracious Majesty will spare the life ofhis friend and sponsor the Earl of Southampton. He merely did afavor for him and for the needed money. He meant no politicalstatement."

I was lying and I felt myself begin a fiery blush from the tip of myears to my throat. I could only pray that the tawny hue of my skinhid that. And here I was fighting for Will when I could have strangledhim with my bare hands but three days ago.

"Both earls' coming trials will decide all that," Cecil said, "but wecan hardly claim that poets and playwrights are above such politicalfrays, can we? Praying we forgive Southampton, that's what he's beenup to, eh? More like, London's favorite playwright has been writingsomething else to stir up sedition. Ben Jonson went to the Marshalseaprison five years ago for a slanderous play," he went on, jabbing afinger at me like a scolding schoolmaster. "Thomas Kyd was questionedunder extreme duress and, sadly, died soon after. ChristopherMarlowe—"

"Was supposedly accidentally stabbed in a tavern brawl," I daredto interrupt. My Italian blood was up; I could not help myself. Atleast he seemed not to know of my past with Southampton or Marloweeither. "And," I plunged on, "it was said Marlowe was an informerfor Sir Francis Walsingham, so I'm not sure what it behoovesone to be an informer, as it's whispered his demise could have beenan assassination and not an accident!"

"Ah," he said, and his mouth crimped in either annoyanceor amusement. "The beauty does have hidden fangs as well as aclever brain."

We stared at each other in a stalemate but hardly, I thought, atruce. Air from an unseen source shifted a battle banner behind hishead. One of Jaques' lines from As You Like It leaped through mymind to taunt me: "The worst fault you have is to be in love."With a shudder up my spine, I realized then what I said in thenext few moments could save Will or damn him to torture, imprisonmentor even death.

"But tell me," Cecil said, leaning on his elbows and steepling hislong-fingered hands before his mouth, "before we go on, exactly whatis William Shakespeare to you? Here you are, an exotic woman, atempting vixen, when he has a wife and family back in Stratford-Upon-the-Avon. Tell me true, Mistress Anne Whateley, what is theman to you?"

That, I thought, was the question. For nearly two decades, sinceeven before the day he'd publicly, legally wed Anne Hathaway, I'd notonly loved but loathed William Shakespeare to the very breadth anddepth of my being. What was he to me and I to him? God's truth, inmy pierced and patched heart, I, Anne Rosaline Whateley, was aboveall else, the first Mistress Shakespeare, Will's other wife.


I would not have anyone believe I am untutored nor ignorantof how one's life's story is commonly constructed. I admit theprevious scene of dialogue with Robert Cecil in London is nottruly a prologue, for much of what I will write next camebefore. After all, an old adage says, "What's past is prologue."But you see, that confrontation with Cecil caused me tosearch my soul to record my life. What, indeed, am I to Willand to others? What and who am I to myself?

Having inspired characters in Will's plays and workedclosely with him in many ways—ah, both of us love to rhyme—I have decided to arrange the events of my story as if it were afive-act play, that is, divided into the major parts of my life andstory. As Will wrote for a play last year, "All the world's a stageand all the men and women merely players." And since I havethe London playhouses and their people in my blood as fiercelyas does he, I shall relate my narrative in such a pattern.

This tale will reveal not only my life but Will's, so entwinedare our plots, so to speak. Sometimes I fear his rivals will consignhis work to oblivion, or that theatrical tastes may shift yetagain and judge him of no account, or that plague or the pratingPuritans will shut down the playhouses permanently. If so,I pray this account will let others know him and his work evenbetter—and justify my part in his life too.

The rendering of my thoughts, emotions and experiences ispart comedy and part tragedy as well as history, for life is sucha mingling. And so, I write this report of the woman bornAnne Rosaline Whateley, she who both detested and adored aman named William Shakespeare.


Excerpted from "Mistress Shakespeare"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Karen Harper.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Mistress Shakespeare 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
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!

Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on February 16, 2009
harstan More than 1 year ago
Anne Whatley and William Shakespeare have been friends since childhood. On 27 November 1582 a marriage license in Latin between Anne Whateley and Wm Shaxpere is issued in nearby Worcester, England. However, their respective families object to their relationship. A few days later William Shakespeare and pregnant Anne Hathaway wed.

To escape from the reminders of her broken heart Anne flees to London. She occupies her mind with the family business. When Will comes to town, they meet up with both still attracted to one another, but he is a married man. Still Anne becomes Will¿s ardent advocate of his work and though their departures are sweet sorrows their reunions are passionate.

This is an intriguing biographical fiction that indirectly looks at Shakespeare¿s life through Anne Whatley¿s lens by combining fact and what if fiction. The story line provides a focus on the Elizabethan Era especially from the viewpoint of artists and their patrons. Although the romantic plot lacks suspense as there is only so much poetic license an author can take to fill gaps and reach the known end, fans will enjoy this solid glimpse into Shakespeare in love.

Harriet Klausner
picardyrose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh, Will, you heartbreaker.
DevourerOfBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Those studying Elizabethan times have discovered something odd in the historical records. William Shakespeare has two entries in the marriage registry on two consecutive days: on November 27, 1582 to Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton and on November 28, 1582 to Anne Hathaway of Stratford. The general consensus has been that Anne Whateley and Anne Hathaway are the same person and the odd registry entries are the result of a careless clerk. In ¿Mistress Shakespeare,¿ however, Karen Harper posits that Shakespeare¿s two Annes were not the same woman, and that Anne Whateley was his true love and secret wife. Harper¿s Anne Whateley was a completely delightful and strong woman, without seeming completely out of her own time period. I found her relationship with Shakespeare to be very realistic as well. When he was forced to marry Anne Hathaway the day after his secretive ceremony with Anne, she was realistically and understandable furious and hurt. Her ability to eventually at least partially forgive him and their complicated life seemed completely natural. I also loved the political aspects of the book, including the complication of the Shakespeare family¿s Catholicism in Elizabeth¿s England.Not only did I really enjoy this book, but so did one of my coworkers. She saw it on my desk the day I got it and asked if she might borrow it when I was finished with it. Within a week, we had both finished it. Generally I like my historical fiction to be about real people: kings, queens, playwrights. This, however, worked perfectly for me and provided great insight into the world of Elizabethan England outside of the court.
lisalouhoo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There are two different records filed within days of each other showing William Shakespeare's marriage. One of the records lists a marriage to an Anne Whateley, and the other to an Anne Hathaway. Anne Hathaway is known to be Shakespeare's wife, and the mother of his children, but the reason for the other record remains a mystery. Is it a misspelling, a misprint, or some other mistake? In Mistress Shakespeare Karen Harper puts forth a very convincing theory that Shakespeare actually had another woman, Anne Whateley, whom he married first, and then, upon finding Anne Hathaway pregnant, the first marriage was kept a secret. Mistress Shakespeare is told through the eyes of the first, and unrecognized, Anne. From her meeting of Will near their homes as young teens, through his rise to fame and fortune, Anne is there. A very strong woman character, limited but not daunted by the restrictions put on women in her time, Anne pushes her way through life with incredible passion and compassion. William Shakespeare is her love and life, and much of the book covers his life, but Anne herself is not eclipsed by him, and feels just as real as does her non-fictional husband.This book was very well written and researched. Especially enjoyable were the refrences to Shakespeare's sonnets and lines from his plays, and how they fit into that time in Shakespeare's life. So many things came to life for me while reading this book: the English countryside; London in all of its darkness and brilliance; the hardships of the times including sickening infant mortality rates, early old age, religious persecution, and the black plague. I very much appreciate historical fiction which does not idealize the past, or figures from history. Karen Harper manages a compelling novel, full of easily digestible and realistic history.
TrishNYC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
On November 27th 1582 a marriage license was taken out between a Wm Shaxpere and Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton. On November 28th 1582 there was also a marriage certificate taken out between Willm Shagspere and Anne Hathaway of Stratford. Was this an honest mistake or did Shakespeare marry two different women named Anne back to back? Most scholars believe that this was a simple error but the author disagrees and believes that there were indeed two Annes. Mistress Shakespeare is Anne Whateley's fictionalized memoir of her life with the poet. According to this account, she was Will's true wife who he married as an expression of their love. Unfortunately for the young lovers, Shakespeare had gotten another woman pregnant, Anne Hathaway, and is basically forced into an emergency marriage to a woman he does not love. The lovers, after a brief period of estrangement, reunite in London where Anne Whateley is basically his London wife and Anne Hathaway is his country wife. Anne Whateley serves as his muse, his great source of support and saves him from many a royal intrigue. They are a good deal of the time happy but their happiness is sometimes marred by Will's jealousy in believing that Anne is unfaithful with other men. With Anne's help, Shakespeare constructs some of the best plays and poems that have continued to delight audiences till present day. The author is obviously a well of information on Shakespeare and his time and aptly conveys that into the book. The minor caveat to this is that it sometimes seem like too much information and if you are not a Shakespeare aficionado you may find this tedious after awhile. Rich and vivid descriptions of the early Globe theater and the many playhouses where Shakespeare plied his trade abound and delight. You are drawn into a world of drama and secret plots with one of the best stories being the removal of an entire playhouse brick by brick across the river due to a dispute with a land owner. A plague epidemic in London is vividly depicted and transports the reader to the decay and death that overtook the city as the disease raged.I enjoyed reading this book but I find that I was not as captivated by the story as I thought I would be. I have read many historical fiction novels and was able to connect and be thrilled by them. Even the much maligned Phillippa Gregory manages to pen many historical fiction books that are page turners(even if they are historically inaccurate). Maybe the author had too little to go on in order to craft this tale and the idea that Shakespeare may have married two Annes back to back was not enough to craft a fully captivating story. All in all it was a good read.
smileydq on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this retelling of the story of Shakespeare in love, though I'm not sure what (if any) historical truths the novel actually contains. I have always been fascinated, though, by the mysteries surrounding much of Shakespeare's life -- though his writing is so widely studied and appreciated, details of his life story are murky and patchy at best.Harper's book is primarily a love story, chronicling the lifelong see-saw of feelings between Anne Whately and Will Shakespeare. Anne is a strong and independent woman -- it's a little disappointing, then, that she so completely devotes herself to a man whose affections come and go with the ever-changing political and social scene. Shakespeare is presented as a flawed man with a burgeoning genius talent, a man who never quite understands how his writing and behavior have affected the two women in his life.Harper's writing is entertaining and for the most part well-crafted - the only times I felt the story floundered occurred when the characters slipped into poorly executed period speak. Because these moments stunted the narrative, I'm giving the book 3.5 stars, but I definitely recommend it for anyone who enjoys Elizabethan history.
ForeignCircus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I know little about the actual historical basis for this novel, but certainly enjoyed this take on Shakespeare in love. Ann Whateley is a strong woman in the cast of Elizabeth I herself, and her independence and creativity serve as Shakespeare's inspiration for many of his works. I was less delighted with her willingness to accept the poor behavior meted out by her true love, though the author did do a good job capturing the duality of Anne's feelings of love and hate. Will Shakespeare is presented as a flawed man first, undeniable genius second. His efforts to write while earning enough to support his growing family are complicated by the complex political situation that thrives on suspicion and uncertainty. In the end, Shakespeare chooses to live in London and to write with his love, but he never really seems to acknowledge the harm he has done to both of the women in his life.At heart, this novel is a love story, and it succeeds as such. Unfortunately, Harper falls into the trap of attempting quasi-period speech and her efforts fall flat. I found that when the characters lapsed into period language, the entire momentum of the narrative came to a halt. If it hadn't been for the language, I would have gone 4 stars, but as it is can only give this novel 3.5 stars.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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, the only other Harper novel I've read.
akreese on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mistress Shakespeare is a lovely historical romance based on the real-life historic wedding records of William Shakespeare. One record states that he is to marry Anne Whately while the other shows a marriage to Anne Hathaway. This story is based on the assumption that these are two different ladies - one that Will loves, the other that he is forced to marry.Quotes from Shakespeare's plays appear throughout the story of Anne and Will's forbidden love, sometimes as they say them in love or in jest to one another. The author also uses the story to show the people on which some of Shakespeare's characters could have been based, and how he worked the names of his friends and relatives into the plays.I liked that Anne Whately was written as a strong and intelligent woman who was Shakespeare's partner in all aspects of his life. She was his friend, his lover and his helper in writing - copying down the plays while he composed.The only issue I had with this book was what seemed to me a misuse of the word "wherefore" which should mean "why" or "for which reason," but is commonly wrongly defined as "where." I don't know why, but the misuse of this word is a pet-peeve of mine.Here is the quote from Mistress Shakespeare:"O Will, Will, wherefore art thou, Will?""I have been lost, my love, lost in despair of my loss, but I hope now I can go on." page 287*To me it seems like Anne is asking where Will has been, and then he answers that he has been lost in despair. It doesn't make sense to me that he would give the same answer if she had been asking "Why are you Will?" in the sense that it was used in Romeo and Juliet. I could be wrong here, but this was my interpretation of this section.Aside from that one very small annoyance, I really liked this book. I am a fan of Shakespeare's works, and am familiar with his plays, and I think that added a lot to my enjoyment of the book, but you don't have to be an expert on Shakespeare to understand what's going on. I think that anyone who likes Shakespeare's works or historical fiction will enjoy this book.
MsDollie More than 1 year ago
Excellent historical fiction; fantastic reading. Karen Harper's Mistress Shakespeare kept me spellbound .... start to finish. I can recommend everything I have read by Ms. Harper but absolutely do not pass this one up. As accurate as history can be when written about contemporaneously, full of period detail but not superfluously, exceptional character and story development; one not to be missed by historical fiction readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful and intriging, cant wait to start my next Karen Harper novel
MELKI More than 1 year ago
What could've been a smoldering story of love, betrayal, religious and political strife in Elizabethan England just turned out to be a tepid book on the "wronged" mistress of William Shakespeare. Making Anne Hathaway an awful wife didn't endear me to "talented" and beautiful Anne Whateley. The glamorization of adultery, by painting the wife with hideous colors and by trying to convince us that the other woman is more deserving, has never worked for me. And I found it particularly irksome in this novel. It's not such a bad book, but it's not good either. Get it if it's on sale and you'll pay less than you would for a magazine. That's why I didn't regret buying it because it was really cheap.
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BethTikkun More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly loved this book. I've read lots of historical fiction and it goes without saying that some authors are better than others in creating a plausible and exciting story around a few known facts. It's my first reading of this authors work and with so few reviews i knew i was taking a risk but bought it anyway because i love reading stories about this period in history and more importantly, it was on the bargain page and I have no regrets! Mistress Shakespear has not only inspired me to read other books by her it has inspired me to dig up my Shakespear plays and try again to read them. The love story she imagines between Will and Anne is believable in that it was at times romantic and loving and at other times frustrating and impossible. The pacing is good there is plenty of suspense and i just loved it! I read it three days despite having to work. If I'd started it Sunday morning I'd have easily finished it by dinnertime.
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cheekyNcharming More than 1 year ago
Wanted to love this book as I love Shakespeare's works and anything describing Elizabethian times. And historical fiction usually intrigues me. i.e., Even if the writing is not the best, I'll still finish usually finish a historical fiction novel because I want to know how the author envisioned this "filling in" of the blanks or "alternate" universe. However, other than a few "gems" of insight every so often, I couldn't get into this particular story, even though the premise is one I usually love, and ended up putting it down in favor of another on my e-bookshelf. Maybe I'll try to finish it later....
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vikgik More than 1 year ago
I would suggest this read before you start to read his works..I would think you would enjoy and understand his style and art form allot easier than just jumping into "Shakespeare".. Very good book and very enjoyable...