by Karen Harper
Primary documents relating to William Shakespeare’s life are few and far between, so much of what we know about his life is more legendary than based in historical fact. However, church records have shown that in November of 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior; only a few days before, a marriage license had been granted to Shakespeare to marry an Anne Whateley. Karen Harper’s novel Mistress Shakespeare proposes that this Anne Whateley was a real woman (not an alternative spelling of ‘Hathaway’ as some scholars have claimed) and Shakespeare’s muse, a secret first wife kept from his side by family politics and a pregnant Miss Hathaway. But true love can never be denied, and no matter how many times he disappoints her Anne Whateley eventually takes William back again.
Anne Whateley is fiercely independent, running her own business in London and constantly on the lookout for improving her business ventures. Yet she does not seem out of place in a world ruled by Queen Elizabeth, affectionately referred to as Glorianna by Mistress Whateley. That was a relief; too often historical fiction will feature women who are just too modern to mesh with their surroundings, and the narrative feels contrived and false. Not so in Mistress Shakespeare.
Throughout the books are scattered bits and pieces of Shakespeare lore, and references are made to his plays and contemporaries. While the story can certainly be read by a Shakespeare a novice, the more you know about the man and his work, the more you’ll get out of the reading. It’s a very detailed book, with a lot of attention to the tense political climate and intrigues carried out within the theatre. Mistress Shakespeare is entertaining and a fun ‘What-if?’ addition to tales of William Shakespeare.