The Secret Life of William Shakespeare

Written by Jude Morgan
Review by Ilysa Magnus

We know little of the glovemaker’s son from Stratford. We know he was married at age 18 to Anne Hathaway, a woman six years his senior, and had a child shortly after the marriage. He lost a child to the plague. We know he was a great playwright – perhaps the greatest of all time – having left Stratford to become a player and ultimately a play-maker in London. .He became wealthy and respected, had a sponsor and wrote sonnets about a Dark Lady who, to this day, is suspected of being any number of women. Morgan has his own theory.

Morgan crafts a tour de force in this novel, one which often demands some patience from the reader – who will be rewarded with painfully beautiful prose. We see a struggling and self-questioning Will; an aching and lonely Anne, an obnoxiously glorious Marlowe, a self-righteous and brilliant Ben Jonson. The players are all brilliant. The plays are secondary. We do not see Will struggling with his words, which seem to spring full-blown. Obviously there are those who are jealous of his talent.

Written in the tone and rhythm of Shakespearean prose – in Will’s voice, in Anne’s head, in Ben Jonson’s banter with Will, in Marlowe’s pushing the limits of Will’s patience – Morgan nails the times and personalities. Peopled with well-known actors and aspiring playwrights, this is more than well-worth the read and the time.

In retrospect, I am left wondering what part of Will’s life is here revealed to us as “secret” – is it his unspoken homosexuality? His inability to truly love? The effect of his father’s denial of love to him and his to his father? I believe that each reader may decipher that secret for himself or herself as Morgan reveals it.