Mistress Shakespeare – Karen Harper

Title: Mistress Shakespeare
Author: Karen Harper
ISBN: 0399155457
Pages: 384
Release Date: February 5, 2009
Challenge: Pub Challenge 2009, Countdown Challenge
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5

From the publisher’s website:

In Mistress Shakespeare, Elizabethan beauty Anne Whateley reveals intimate details of her dangerous, daring life and her great love, William Shakespeare. As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton is betrothed to Will just days before he is forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway of Shottery. The clandestine Whateley/Shakespeare match is a meeting of hearts and heads that no one—not even Queen Elizabeth or her spymasters—can destroy. From rural Stratford-upon- Avon to teeming London, the passionate pair struggles to stay solvent and remain safe from Elizabeth I’s campaign to hunt down secret Catholics, of whom Shakespeare is rumored to be a part. Often at odds, always in love, the couple sells Will’s first plays and, as he climbs to theatrical power in Elizabeth’s England, they fend off fierce competition from rival London dramatists, ones as treacherous as they are talented. Persecution and plague, insurrection and inferno, friends and foes, even executions of those they hold dear, bring Anne’s heartrending story to life. Spanning half a century of Elizabethan and Jacobean history and sweeping from the lowest reaches of society to the royal court, this richly textured novel tells the real story of Shakespeare in love.

I found the premise of Mistress Shakespeare very interesting, even moreso by the fact that, as the author explains in the Afterword, it seems to be based in fact. First of all, it is well known that William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway did not have a happy marriage. He spent most of his time in London, writing and acting in his plays. Harper surmises the reason is because he was actually betrothed and in love with another woman, Anne Whateley. Historical records actually support this claim; the Worcestershire Records Office shows that on the day before he was wed to Anne Hathaway, William Shakespeare was issued a marriage license to marry someone named “Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton.”

Harper takes this small piece of information that most historians have dismissed as a clerical error and fleshes it out into the story of an independent and strong woman named Anne Whateley. Anne is a great character; she is feisty and funny and incredibly stubborn. She doesn’t believe that Elizabethan England is a man’s world; she takes her inspiration from the queen herself and proves that savvy and smart independent women can make it in the world. Her love story with Will is turbulent and stormy, but it is clear why these two love one another.

The book itself is full of rich, historical details about the time period. Harper obviously did careful research into Shakepeare’s life; there seem to be a lot of in jokes that only someone well acquainted with him would appreciate. In order to fully grasp the book, it is necessary to have knowledge of Shakespeare’s plays; otherwise many of the references contained within the book will not make much sense.

Mistress Shakespeare is a must for any fans of Shakespeare, and would be enjoyable for any fan of historical fiction. I definitely recommend it.


  1. I haven’t read much about Elizabethan England, but that does sound like a good one.

  2. I saw another review of this today. I’d really love to read this one. Hey, I keep meaning to email you—I’m trying to figure out that whole stumbling thing without much success so far. How do you stumble a review and where does it go when you do? I am a member of stumble—still trying to figure it out though. lol

  3. I was so excited when I saw this one was coming out! In fact, I’m even more excited after reading your review. I’m torn again between breaking down and buying the hardcover, or trying to sit on my hands, wade through the rest of my giant TBR stack and wait for the paperback… though I did break down already and buy 3 Willows. 🙂 Great review. I’ll probably succumb and grab this one… no self-control!

  4. I read this and LOVED it! Thanks for the review.

  5. I don’t exactly have a lot of money right now, but I think this may be one I have to scrounge up the money to buy. I was really excited when I first learned about it, and I’ve only gotten more excited from reading the reviews of it so far.

  6. this is another book that looks great.

  7. I love Shakespearean England-this sounds good.

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