October 26, 2012 7:16 pm

The Bard behind the curtains

An absorbing historical novel that enjoyably reinvents the few familiar facts about the playwright

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, by Jude Morgan, Headline Review, RRP£7.99, 445 pages

 

After marrying Anne Hathaway at 18 and disappointing his mercantile father by turning down a glove-making apprenticeship, William Shakespeare decamps from Stratford to London with a band of travelling players. Desultory bit parts and conversations in The Mermaid tavern eventually lead to success and wealth as a playwright.

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How Shakespeare made that transition is the chief interest of Jude Morgan’s absorbing historical novel, which enjoyably reinvents the few familiar facts of the Bard’s life. Anne Hathaway’s slightly paranoid pursuit of her husband’s probable infidelities makes her one of the more interesting characters – but witty cameos from Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd and other Elizabethan luminaries ensure a rich and entertaining cast.

There are informative passages on Shakespeare’s historical debts and the craft of writing, but it is Morgan’s fluent dialogue and the intriguing relationships that keep the pace up.

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