06 February 2011

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard

By Richard B. Wright
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Is it possible for England's most famous playwright to have an illegitimate daughter? According to an elderly housekeeper at Easton House in Oxfordshire, it is. Aerlene
Ward, now old and feeble, tells her story to Charlotte Easton who has promised to record every word. But will Charlotte believe Aerlene's tale - as told to Aerlene by her own mother, Elizabeth - or mock her for making up such a story? As Aerlene dictates the story of her life to Charlotte, Charlotte raises an interesting point when she asks if the stories being related really happened.

Aerlene's reply:

"...In relating anything we only approach the truth; we are never exactly there. Moreover, does not another truth besides the factual lurk in any account of events? A truth far more important?...Is the reader not entitled to a little more, even if it is not exactly what happened? And is it not also possible that out of that imagined conversation, a truth beyond the factual might emerge?..."
Excellent piece of writing by Wright, indicative not only of the truth of the matter at hand in this book, but of any book written.

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard is a little confusing as it is told by both Aerlene and Elizabeth, so some time-shifting is involved. To add to the confusion, Aerlene is nicknamed Linny and Elizabeth is nicknamed Lizzy, and their stories are quite similar. However, trying to figure out if Shakespeare really did have an affair with Elizabeth is more than enough to keep the reader interested.

Wright interestingly inserts characters who give their opinion of Shakespeare's plays to Aerlene who, being a woman, cannot see the plays performed. Also of interest is the fact Aerlene can read (as most women of the day could not) and has managed to obtain copies of Shakespeare's plays, thus elevating him to hero status in her mind.

Wright has written a beautiful novel that provided fodder for much discussion at my book club meeting. While we all enjoyed the book, we had different views on whether we thought Shakespeare was actually Aerlene's father. I wasn't convinced, but most others were. We thought Wright wrote in a convincing female voice; however, many thought the language wasn't "period" enough. We agreed that the male characters in Wright's book were more sympathetic than the female characters, with much discussion centering around Aerlene's Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah.

Richard B. Wright has written a wonderful piece of historical fiction. It's an interesting, well-written piece about a topic many have discussed before and many will again: Did Will Shakespeare leave behind a bastard?