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Mistress Shakespeare Hardcover – February 5, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

On November 27, 1582, the Worcester archives show a grant for a marriage license for one Anne Whateley and her groom, Wm Shaxpere. Yet several days later, William Shakespeare married a pregnant Anne Hathaway. Harper's slack latest takes this mystery as its subject, imagining Anne Whateley as Shakespeare's only true love. Friends from childhood driven apart by their families' antipathy, Will and Anne rediscover each other as they come of age, and the young lovers plan to wed in spite of their families' disapproval. When Will is forced into marriage with Anne Hathaway, Anne Whateley flees to London and throws herself into her family's business, but the two reunite when Will arrives in London, and Anne becomes his tireless promoter. The novel's chief pleasures derive from the easy intersection of Shakespeare's work, the history of Elizabethan England and the life that the author imagines Shakespeare might have had. Though the Bard's language infuses the story with life, the emotions underlying the lovers' ruptures and reunions feel repetitive, and because there is never any question about how the romance plays out, the central narrative feels flat. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Among the many mysteries of Shakespeare’s life is a marriage license issued to him and one Anne Whateley shortly before he wed Anne Hathaway. Harper spins this mystery into a novel about Shakespeare’s true love, the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. In Harper’s telling, Anne Whateley and Shakespeare are childhood friends, but after the Hathaway marriage, Whateley goes to London and makes a life for herself as a businesswoman. When the playwright embarks on his London phase, she is there, engaged in Will’s world and helping to advance his career. Harper, who writes a mystery series featuring Elizabeth I as a sleuth, knows her period well, and it shows, sometimes in the form of awkward expository dialogue but more often in sure handling of the details of politics, theater, and daily life, including some harrowing passages featuring childbirth and the plague. Though Shakespeare himself remains a cipher, Anne is an appealing and spirited heroine, and her tale will be enjoyed by historical-fiction fans. --Mary Ellen Quinn

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (February 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0399155457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0399155451
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,434,240 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karen Harper is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of romantic suspense and historical novels. A native Ohioan, she and her husband divide their time between Ohio and Florida. Karen is a former high school English teacher and English-and-writing instructor for the Ohio State University. (Go Bucks!) Yes, the Harpers are avid Ohio State football fans, but they have a serious side too. They were on the 10-year committee which revamped the main library on campus. The Ohio State Library houses her author collection in Rare Books and Manuscripts.

The Harpers love to travel, and Karen often uses her favorite places as settings for her novels. She's recently written books set in Tudor England and Amish country Ohio. Her latest bestselling trilogy set in Appalachia is THE COLD CREEK NOVELS. These are SHATTERED SECRETS, FORBIDDEN GROUND and BROKEN BONDS. These bring her published books over 60 in a 30-year writing career.

Karen belongs to several writer's organizations, including International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America and The Historical Novel Society. She appreciates hearing from readers on her website at www.KarenHarperAuthor.com--and she answers!

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"The rendering of my thoughts, emotions and experiences is part comedy and part tragedy as well as history, for life is such a mingling. And so, I write this report of the woman born Anne Rosaline Whateley, she who both detested and adored a man named William Shakespeare."

Now comes the tale of the great bard of Avon, wonderfully humanized and told from a woman's viewpoint. Anne Whateley, William Shakespeare's first --- and secret --- wife, pens her story in five acts. More than a love story, it is a romantic chronicling of the writer's career, his greatest love and his forced, loveless marriage.

As youths in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Anne Whateley and Will Shakespeare were great friends. She had a talent with words such that she could inspire the poet even when he was a mere lad. The two sparred with each other by dueling with couplets, striving to outdo the other with their cleverness. They spent many happy days romping around the English countryside as children. Intrigued in the way of carefree young people, they slaked their curiosity by experiencing their world to the fullest.

But as they grew, so did their desires, and they found themselves almost unwittingly becoming lovers. Driven not by lust but by something much larger, they forever hungered for each other, feeling wretched in the times they were apart. Some people are simply meant for each other, and so it was with Anne Whateley and Will Shakespeare. But their happiness was not to be so simple, for another Stratford girl, Anne Hathaway, laid claim to Will as the father of her child. There was nothing to be done but for Will to marry her.

Heartbroken, Anne Whateley moved from Stratford to London, where she could try to mend her emotions.
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Format: Hardcover
I know little about the actual historical basis for this novel, but certainly enjoyed this take on Shakespeare in love. Ann Whateley is a strong woman in the cast of Elizabeth I herself, and her independence and creativity serve as Shakespeare's inspiration for many of his works. I was less delighted with her willingness to accept the poor behavior meted out by her true love, though the author did do a good job capturing the duality of Anne's feelings of love and hate.

Will Shakespeare is presented as a flawed man first, undeniable genius second. His efforts to write while earning enough to support his growing family are complicated by the complex political situation that thrives on suspicion and uncertainty. In the end, Shakespeare chooses to live in London and to write with his love, but he never really seems to acknowledge the harm he has done to both of the women in his life.

At heart, this novel is a love story, and it succeeds as such. Unfortunately, Harper falls into the trap of attempting quasi-period speech and her efforts fall flat. I found that when the characters lapsed into period language, the entire momentum of the narrative came to a halt. If it hadn't been for the language, I would have gone 4 stars, but as it is can only give this novel 3.5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Actually, it had started out brilliantly. As someone who has a prolonged and protracted relationship with The Bard, I was constantly pleasantly surprised in so many instances by what Ms Harper was getting right, how dead-on her instincts were in this piece of gutsy speculative historical fiction. The premise made me grin. Her evocation of life in Stratford had me nodding my head. In fact, almost everything based in their (Anne Whateley's and Shakespeare's) hometown was lovingly related, and with just the right amount of indulgence.

And then the story moved to London.


If I had to be harsh...and I do, because if you're going to set the bar as high as Ms Harper did here, with Shakespeare (maybe the only way to raise the bar would be to write the secret married life of Jesus), then you better be prepared to take your lumps...I'd say that there are a handful of areas where she fell down. Stumbled...then fell down quite without any grace...and then crawled.

The first would be her tendency to spoon-feed. There are simply too many instances where she provides what amounts to 'exposition-through-dialogue'. And they all made me wince. Seriously; if your readership is aware of the backstory, you don't need to spoon-feed. And if they're not- Well, it's doubtful they're going to be reading it. (Of course, I could be way off-base, and be ignoring the notion that there's a sub-genre thing going on here, a smarmy, hug-yourself-til-it-hurts, historical-romantical-chicklitical genre... OK; now I'm getting mean. I apologize.) I've always felt that it's best to execute at as high a level as possible; those for whom the piece is written will be thankful, and those who have to strain to keep up will be rewarded in the end in unexpected ways.
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Format: Paperback
The conceit of "Shakespeare's Mistress" is that Shakespeare was married to Anne Whateley the day before he was married to Anne Hathaway, and Anne W remained the love of his life, with an affair (if you can have an affair with your "wife") continued in London where the same Anne was also the famed "dark lady" of his sonnets. There is some basis for this theory in that the parish records do show a mysterious entry into the register for just such a contract the day before the Hathaway marriage but although the author claims this is "faction", it's very much at the fiction end of that scale and is really a "what if?" piece.

It starts off reasonably well - well it starts off on a bad foot in fact because the book is written as a first person narrative by Anne W and she displays an idiosyncratic misunderstanding of the term "comedy" when related to Elizabethan drama in the prologue, but putting that aside, the early part in Stratford is entertaining enough in a sort of Tudor romance kind of way. A couple of allusions are rather laid on with a trowel, like the death of a mutual friend in what is clearly the forerunner to the Ophelia drowning in Hamlet scene, although also idiosyncratically it owes more to the Millais painting than the play itself, but it sweeps along in an enjoyable enough manner if you don't take it too seriously.

Then Anne W heads off to London and, rather like Anne H would have felt, I wished she hadn't. The book then starts down a long and slippery slope to ridicule. If that sounds a bit strong, then mayhap you're right. OK - now hopefully some of you have just gone "mayhap? Who uses that word?" That's part of the problem. Karen Harper does.
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