In March 1616, William Shakespeare is dying. He summons his lawyer, Francis Collins, to take down the final version of his will. In the course of a long day and evening, Collins sits by Shakespeare’s bedside, scribbling, amending, and consuming large quantities of Shakespeare’s best food and drink. While Shakespeare makes his final depositions, he tells Collins the memories of his life. Shakespeare speaks in modern idiom, which is fair enough – an authentic Shakespearean voice would be wearying and probably unreadable.
That was not what made this book disappointing for me. It strikes all the clichés in life-of-Shakespeare novels, such as that he had a hostile relationship with his wife Anne Hathaway, for which there is no evidence. It repeats the canard that the bequest of only his second-best bed to her was a gesture of contempt, when in fact this was standard practice for a widow. It makes almost no mention of Shakespeare the ruthless businessman, for which there is plenty of documentary evidence. It repeats the libel that Shakespeare’s daughters were illiterate.
More seriously, important issues are evaded. Shakespeare’s experience as a country schoolmaster is mentioned, but we hear no more about it. We are told that his father encouraged him in Catholicism and that an attempt was made to recruit him as an underground Catholic agent, but this too is dropped. At his first sight of London, Shakespeare is horrified by the filth and squalor, as if that would have surprised an Elizabethan.
Add to this an overblown and pretentious writing style, and I can only suggest that if you want a fictional biography of Shakespeare, you should look up Anthony Burgess’ Nothing Like the Sun instead.