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Shakespeare's Mistress - Karen Harper

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Paperback: 448 pages / Publisher: Ebury Press / Published: 10 Nov 2011

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      23.04.2013 18:40
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      An entertaining read about those involved in late Tudor theatre,

      == The 2 Annes ==

      The author's inspiration for this story came from surviving records showing that, in the local Book of Marriage Bonds, William Shakespeare became engaged to two women within two days, one Anne Hathaway of Stratford, Worcester, and the day before, Anne Whateley of the nearby village of Temple Grafton.

      This book tells the story from Anne Whately's point of view.

      == Locations ==

      I liked the way the plot easily flowed from countryside to town, and the lives of ordinary working folk to court life. This is aided by the work of Anne Whateley in the courier business, and Shakespeare's work with travelling players, whose entertainment is appreciated by those in all walks of life.

      Anne Hathaway stays in Stratford-upon-Avon, but could Anne Whateley have been his London wife and Dark Lady of his sonnets?

      Life in London could at first sight seem much more fun, but with The Plague a recurring feature of town life, I think I would have preferred countryside living. Of course, the rich had the best of both worlds, with at least one home in each location.

      == Characterisation ==

      The wide range of characters shows the author's skill in bringing them to life.

      I admired Anne Whately. Although realistically far from perfect, I believe her many good characteristics, including loyalty to friends, and determination to make the best of her opportunities, make her a good role model.

      The two main playwrights in the tale, Shakespeare and Marlow, I suppose were products of their time. I found their characters interesting rather than likeable.

      Although only occasionally appearing in the novel, the all-hearing through his contacts, ruthless Robert Cecil, Chief Minister and Spymaster, is always a personality individuals may have to reckon with. Amongst other concerns, he is ever watchful for any political messages being spread by the contents of plays, adverse to the status quo.

      While this is an adult book, with occasional lusty scenes, this could be a good way of enticing reluctant students, of say over 13 years, to finding Shakespeare more interesting. Boys would have the macho Shakespeare, and clever but very unconventional Marlow, to identify with. Girls hopefully would see qualities in Anne Whately that are definitely relevant in our modern world.

      == Fact or Fiction ==

      There is plenty of information, in the form of author's notes, to indicate which parts of the book are factual, and which are there for illustrative and/or entertainment purposes.

      As regards the title of the book, in Tudor times, the term "Mistress" was used as we would use Mrs or wife, as well as for a lover.

      == Writing Style ==

      The book is an easy to read way of finding out about life in Elizabethan times. It also cleverly introduces the reader to a few lines of Shakespeare's that complement the plot.

      There are romantic parts to this book, but they are far outweighed by the practical and political problems of the time.

      This is how the author's main character introduces the work.
      "The rendering of my thoughts, emotions and experiences is part comedy and part tragedy as well as history, for life is such a mingling. And so, I write this report of the woman born Anne Rosaline Whateley, she who both detested and adored a man named William Shakespeare."

      == The Author ==

      The American author, Karen Harper, has taught English at University and High School levels.

      Since seeing all the historical inaccuracies in The Tudors, produced originally for US consumption, I am very suspicious of American authors. I am still not tempted to read her series of books of Elizabeth I Mysteries. Portraying this Queen as a kind of Tudor Miss Marple seems far too far-fetched to interest me.

      However, based on her treatment of Shakespeare's England, I may read more of her historical fiction books, but will read any author's notes and reviews first.

      Her extensive website at www.karenharperauthor.com shows that she has written many contemporary novels as well.

      RECOMMENDATION

      I think that this would appeal to a wide range of readers.

      I believe that readers only need to be interested in ONE of the following areas to like this book. If, like me, you LIKE ALL of them, you should LOVE IT!

      - girl power - how a young woman is determined to be independent in a man's world.

      - Tudor lifestyles from ordinary working class to court life.

      - the Tudor theatrical scene (including the politics behind their running, and actors/playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlow).

      CONCLUSION

      In my opinion, this is a great entertaining way to get some background knowledge of the lives of those involved in late Tudor theatre. I believe it would be much more appealing to most readers than text books.

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