Mistress Shakespeare

Written by Karen Harper
Review by Michael I. Shoop

Basing her premise on a marriage bond found in Worcester, England, author Harper has fashioned an intriguing and plausible story about William Shakespeare and Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton, who may have been his (first) wife.

The two grew up together and were close until a tragedy and their families separated them. Several years later, they reunite, become lovers, and marry in secrecy. When Will is forced under pressure to marry the older, pregnant Anne Hathaway, their plans of a life together in the theatre and playwriting are thwarted. The hurt and angry Anne Whateley flees to London to run her deceased father’s carrier business. The lively, pretty and smart Anne manages to fend off other suitors, survive plague, fire, betrayal, and heartache, and become Will’s earnest promoter on his eventual arrival to pursue his theatrical ambitions. Constantly drawn together, their relationship, while never completely satisfying for either, becomes special to both.

The narrative abounds with genuine period details, witty dialogue, and intertwined references to Shakespeare’s works. Spanning over fifty years of Elizabethan and Jacobean history, Anne and Will’s tale is engagingly told and provides an enjoyable glimpse of a Shakespeare torn between two wives and lives.