Shakespeare’s Mistress by Karen Harper

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “When Queen Elizabeth’s men come looking for William Shakespeare – a rumoured Catholic in a time of Catholic-Protestant intrigue and insurrection – they first question a beautiful, dark-haired woman who seems to know the playwright exceedingly well. Too well. She is Anne Whateley, born in Temple Grafton, a small town just up the river from Stratford-upon-Avon. And as parish records show – were anyone to look for them – Anne Whateley was wed to one William Shakespeare in a small country church just days before he married Anne Hathaway, the woman the world regards as his lawful wife…”

REVIEW: As mentioned before, I do enjoy a good historical novel, particularly those set in the Tudor era. I was looking forward to reading a fictional take on Shakespeare – I have only ever read biographies of him before, and was intrigued to see how Harper would portray him. The Shakespeare of this novel is misguided, ambitious, tempestuous and sometimes selfish; but he is also loving, considerate and regarded as a genius by many of the other characters in the novel, including his mistress, Anne Whateley. I had no idea about the records that show a betrothal to Anne Whateley just days before Shakespeare promised himself to the pregnant Anne Hathaway, and I liked the way Harper linked two of the Shakespeare mysteries by making Anne not only the mysterious Mistress Whateley, but also the ‘Dark Lady’ of some of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets. Anne is bold and likeable, though we know little about her so much of her life story is undoubted artistic licence. However, we soon grow to care about Anne and Will, particularly in regards to the outcome of their often stormy relationship, and about many of the other characters too, such as Jennet and Father Berowne. My main problem with the novel was that I would have liked to hear more about the plays themselves. Although several of the plays were mentioned, few of them were described in any detail, while some were not mentioned at all. It would have been interesting to read a book that dealt more with how Shakespeare’s life and his political/religious views affected his plays. I would have also liked to hear more about Anne’s life after Shakespeare’s death, as I felt that the ending was rather abrupt. However, I did enjoy reading the book and fans of Shakespeare, like myself, are likely to find it very enjoyable.

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