The Secret Life of William Shakespeare
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.