There is no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding Shakespeare. Usually the most pondered is the question of whether he really wrote his plays. But, in Mistress Shakespeare the myth that Will had a wife prior to marrying his well known wife Anne Hathaway was explored. Anne Whately was a girl of Will’s age who grew up with him in Stratford-Upon-Avon. According to the author, they married in secret just before Anne Hathaway’s family forced Will to marry her to legitimize the baby she was carrying.
I expected the story to be one of love, passion, and secret liaisons, but it really wasn’t. The relationship between Anne W. and Will didn’t really develop in a realistic way even though there were several things that happened between them that could have been the basis for the fatal love of Romeo and Juliet. They were initially kept apart by their funding families, and Anne’s middle name was Rosaline (the woman whom Romeo is smitten with at the start of the play). They bonded over significant events but then suddenly Anne W. was crazy about Will without many interactions. I found it to be unbelievable.
Much of the novel was spent focused on the political climate of England as it related to the plays being written and performed. The author really understood the rivalry between Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare, and the theater owners. I would say that the plot was focused more on the status of the two theaters, the decisions of their owners, and the players who brought the plays to life on the stage, rather than the love affair between Anne W. and Will.
Later, once Will became an established playwright and spent more time with Anne W. in London, their relationship got more attention, but it still wasn’t enough for me. I needed more information on how Anne was feeling about everything. Anne’s role was one of business partner and someone who encouraged him to write more than it was as lover. I wanted so much more from this novel.