by Jude Morgan
I just realised that I never posted my review of this book, which I finished reading on 14th July 2012.
I finished this book some days ago but couldn’t write a review right away, I needed time to think through the conflicted feelings I was left with when I turned the last page. The writing definitely deserves five stars, it is rich and lush and lavish, dense with metaphor; it took me a long time to read, I could only digest it in small bites. The story on the other hand, is odd. It’s not really about Shakespeare at all; Jude Morgan doesn’t seem to ever get to grips with him as a character. Will’s father, his brothers, his wife, all come off the page with far more life than Will himself, who seems a colourless, emotionally dead person, which – unless he put absolutely everything of himself on to the page and left nothing behind for his day to day life – seems unlikely to have been the case. It’s as if Jude Morgan couldn’t find Shakespeare, at least, not find enough to build a character of substance around the few facts we have (and in which case, why choose to write about him?) Ben Jonson gets almost as much page-time, the two lives run parallel through the tale (and why not bill this as a life of two men, because that is what this is). Jonson comes across with much more vigour, Marlowe with more colour, Shakey himself is the least interesting, least vibrant, least engaging character in the book. The relationship with Anne, his wife, is one of the best parts of this tale but even here, Jude doesn’t seem to truly get to grips with the story. Marital discord, infidelity, the part long separations play in the life of a marriage – these are all there, but there’s no real depth to the emotions. `My second-best bed’ doesn’t appear and there’s no apparent reason given here for the famously mighty snub. At the end of this tale, Will and Anne seem to have reached an accord for their future. And then the story stops – not at the end of Will’s short life, not even when he decides to quit the theatre and return to Stratford, but at the end of his affair with his Dark Lady.
This is not a bad book, not at all! The writing is (as always with Jude Morgan) sublime, and there are interesting takes on what might have been Will Shakespeare’s life, but I can’t help but feel that the title is wrong; this is not a book about Shakespeare’s secret life, but about his domestic situation (the writing features very little) and pretty much all of it on the surface, there’s little hidden. It could as easily be titled Shakespeare and Co, because it is far more about those around Shakespeare than the bard himself.
It is, for all that, a wonderful book, the language is worth 5 plus stars and well-worthy of your time for that alone.