Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper
Those studying Elizabethan times have discovered something odd in the historical records. William Shakespeare has two entries in the marriage registry on two consecutive days: on November 27, 1582 to Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton and on November 28, 1582 to Anne Hathaway of Stratford. The general consensus has been that Anne Whateley and Anne Hathaway are the same person and the odd registry entries are the result of a careless clerk. In “Mistress Shakespeare,” however, Karen Harper posits that Shakespeare’s two Annes were not the same woman, and that Anne Whateley was his true love and secret wife.
Harper’s Anne Whateley was a completely delightful and strong woman, without seeming completely out of her own time period. I found her relationship with Shakespeare to be very realistic as well. When he was forced to marry Anne Hathaway the day after his secretive ceremony with Anne, she was realistically and understandable furious and hurt. Her ability to eventually at least partially forgive him and their complicated life seemed completely natural. I also loved the political aspects of the book, including the complication of the Shakespeare family’s Catholicism in Elizabeth’s England.
Not only did I really enjoy this book, but so did one of my coworkers. She saw it on my desk the day I got it and asked if she might borrow it when I was finished with it. Within a week, we had both finished it. Generally I like my historical fiction to be about real people: kings, queens, playwrights. This, however, worked perfectly for me and provided great insight into the world of Elizabethan England outside of the court.