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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 January 2013
Another well-researched biographical novel by this author, who now moves from the 19th century ("Passion", about the Romantic poets; "Symphony" about Berlioz; see my Amazon reviews) to the 16th and early 17th. This means a change of language (not Elizabethan except for the occasional archaic words) and of style (actually more modern, more staccato, more mannered than in the other two, modishly using the historic present a great deal, and with - surely - unhistorical swearwords like b....r and f.....g. Many happy similes, though.)

The first part of the book is about young Shakespeare wooing Anne Hathaway; a loving marriage was hastened by her becoming pregnant. The reactions of their respective families are very well done, as indeed is the their household setting.

Already the young man is enthralled by players who come to Stratford, and we have rather more about the relationship between the players than I found really interesting. But eventually, after a struggle within himself and with his family, Will joins them in London and on tour. Whenever he returns later to be with his family for a while, he has to cope with his sour and resentful father.

In London he has a hard time of it in the beginning. He is thrilled by Marlow's writing; but when he gets to know his hero, their relationship is very edgy. He is an only moderately good actor, but he begins writing his own scripts. When he comes to Richard III, Morgan begins to convey something of the creative process as Shakespeare works with Burbage on the play and as the chronicling of the Henry IV plays turns into the absorbing portrayal of character.

In due course, and with the help of his patron, the young Earl of Southampton, he becomes prosperous enough to buy a house of his own in Bishopsgate and at last, after some persuasion, he brings his wife and three children to join him there. But poor Stratford Anne is a fish out of water in London, and can stand it for only a season. That chapter is headed 1595/1596. Those dates are not Shakespeare's famous "lost years" (1585 to 1592); and as I can find no reference elsewhere to Anne and her children having moved to London, I take it that this is part of the "Secret Life" that Morgan has invented. But it is well invented: I found it the first chapter that is really involving. There was already a gulf between Mary and Will because he spent so much of his time in London; but the (real) tragedy that occurs at the end of the chapter deepens it further, and Mary's unhappiness is always very well and touchingly described.

Another invention is Morgan's presentation of the famous "Dark Lady" of the sonnets: she is not one of the several women we find in the speculations of other scholars. Though Shakespeare's love for Anne had gone cold, he did not want to cheat on her. But the hold the Dark Lady had over the normally self-controlled Shakespeare is well done. There is also a delicate portrayal of Shakespeare's feelings for the pretty Matthew Hollingbery, one of the boy actors who plays women's parts in the company. I think he is another invention - the part he plays in the imagination of the Dark Lady and of Mary and in the moving climax at the end of the book certainly is very much the kind of untangling with which Shakespeare ends some of his comedies, though with an emotional complexity that the comedies rarely have.

In parallel with Shakespeare's story is that of Ben Jonson, escaping from brick-laying to become an intellectual playwright himself, eight years Shakespeare's junior. It is more than half-way through the book that they meet and become friends. Jonson, unlike the self-contained Shakespeare, will be in frequent hot water, ready to quarrel with everyone except with Shakespeare. And a similar great sorrow befalls both men.

Morgan vividly brings out the difference between crowded, bustling, unruly, foetid, pestilential Elizabethan London and the fresher air of the fields outside it and of country townlets like Stratford.

I found the first half of the book disappointing, the plot lacking in drive and vitality, and I was set to give it a poor rating. But in the second half I really began to feel for the characters and what they go through.
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on 2 October 2017
Everyone who encounters Shakespeare tries, it seems to me, to find some sensational new facts about a life, much of which is surrounded by mystery. This book, with one large exception, seems to do the opposite and explore the emotional side of largely accepted facts. I enjoyed this difference and also the mixing in of Shakespeare's contemporaries, and particularly "rare Ben Jonson" who I recall got his final wish to be buried upright!
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on 16 September 2012
I'm almost half way through The Secret Life of William Shakespeare, and already I know I will be bereft when I finish it. I've never read a book that makes me feel the way this one does, and I've read so many hundreds of books...And I've certainly never written a review of a book before I've even finished reading it.

My review could never compare with the beauty of Jude Morgan's work, so all I'll say is that this book fills up my heart. The words make me want to bathe in them. I want to read books like this forever.

If you love and value the English word and you want to be carried off into another time; if you want to feel that every line is a piece of poetry, this is the book to read.

Simply stunning.
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on 8 October 2016
Excellent condition
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on 3 March 2016
Excellent price and service - thank you.
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on 4 August 2015
Have not finished reading it yet, but am enjoying it. There is a good mix of fact and fiction.
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on 25 May 2012
I can never fault Jude Morgan, and the Secret Life of William Shakespeare is masterful storytelling.
Disillusioned with life as a glove-maker's son in Stratford, and constant quarrels with his father; Will sets off for London (leaving behind his complex, beautiful, dutiful wife Anne and three young children) - as a player with the Queen's Men.
After initial struggles, things start to take off for Will as soon as he realises that a quill in his hand is far mightier than any prop-sword, and begins to write his first plays...
Will's story is cleverly interwoven with that of his wife, and of Ben Jonson, along with a dash of Marlowe and Burbage, and an assortment of finely-drawn supporting characters and backdrops.
You don't have to be a massive Shakespeare fan to appreciate this superbly entertaining book; the prose is intensely lyrical and readable.
As a study of a uniquely brilliant mind during a multifaceted period of history, it will grip you. As the story of an ordinary man struggling to realise his potential, it is as relevant today as ever.
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on 29 May 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I got introduced to Jude Morgan through the very wonderful The Taste of Sorrow and was swept up by his ability to write what I suppose must be called 'fictional biography'. In that earlier book, he had clearly steeped himself intensely in the writings of the Bronte Sisters, and also in the known biography of their family, and had produced an astonishingly beautifully written, creative piece, true to their literature and what we know of their lives, but rounded by the imagination of a superb narrative and empathetic imagination. I felt my understanding of the books and the lives had been enriched.

In that earlier book, we were dealing with a more nearly modern world, where facts can be checked, less than 200 years ago. This time, Morgan has freer range with creative imagination, as the facts of Shakespeare's life are far fewer, though the canon of work by which the man is also revealed, is much larger. And it seems to me that what Morgan has so clearly done is to say 'by their works, you shall know them', and has steeped himself in the work, to reveal an idea of Shakespeare the man. Which seems enormously right and proper.

For me, this was an utterly successful book. I have spent the past few days letting the reading settle, really wishing I could meet Shakespeare, but with a wry smile, as of course I can, by re-reading the works. Morgan, a beautiful writer, does well with these fictional biographies of other beautiful writers. Phrases from the plays and poems are scattered, very naturally, within the text.

He has even made an acute and creative leap to make a virtue out of the fact that we know very little of the man. Other more defined historical characters trot through the pages, Jonson, Marlowe, Kyd, Dekker et al - but it is Jonson, musing about his friendship with Will, who is given this thought

''How if indeterminacy is Will's essence? But it can't be- because if he is nothing, how can he be what he so magnificently is?''

Shakespeare the actor; Shakespeare the writer. Both acts which if properly done, require a kind of negation of the self and the ego, so though invention must come from the actor or the writer's sense of self, there must be a supreme and non-judgemental ability to get inside other - however virtuous or vicious that other - and inhabit them from within themselves, not from a sense of the actor or the writer commenting on their creation.

Magnificent book, Mr Morgan. Not least also for the literary criticism element - but from showing how Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe et al as people, give rise to who they are, as writers. Morgan illuminates the men by their writing, and it is the writing which illuminates the men. He (Morgan)has a brilliant almost psychoanalytical understanding of human complexity, and how to allow each person to show their story.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 January 2017
An extraordinarily rich, vivid novel, almost Shakespearean in style, which takes the reader from Will at 18 - son of a Stratford glover, fascinated by the strolling players who visit the town, falling for 'older woman' Anne Hathaway, through the next twenty years of his life.
By necessity imagining much, the author describes his relationships - with his siblings, his disapproving father, the wife who is effectively abandoned for long periods as he takes up the acting profession, and Shakespeare's mysterious 'Dark Lady'. Fellow writers and players are brought to life, the jealousy, the drink and casual violence, the aspirations to knowledge and the hints of homosexuality. But Will himself remains a rather vague and unknowable character:

"Follow the dark young player called Will when he leaves the Shoreditch tavern a little later.
Follow his rapid progress through the baffling noonday London streets, where breath is always on your face and human life is collision. Follow him precisely - the trail of his body-shape through the crowds - and you find that you touch no one; that somehow without slackening pace, he ripples and sidles and at every moment presents a slender fencer's breathed-in profile and reaches his destination as free of contact as if he had walked there across a gleaned field."

Written in the voices of Will, Anne and Ben Jonson, I was bowled over by this novel, though it's dense, verbose, poetic, and you need to read it slowly and savour it.
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As historical novels go, this is a good one, well written and the author gets the dialogue pitched right without plagues of thees and thous, verilies or forsooths.

It is, of course, fiction. We know too little of Shakespeare's life to make an entertaining story without embroidery or speculation.

As someone who is fascinated by the mind behind the body of work created, who if given one chance to go back in time would be in the Globe before you could say "Mermaid Tavern", I was slightly disappointed in this book since its not about the secret life of William Shakespeare, this was really the secret life of Ann Hathaway and a somewhat uninvolving love story. We don't learn much about what was going on in William's head - its all observations upon William the chameleon from those who knew him best.

However, it is beautifully done. I found the beginning in Stratford a bit slow, but things really get going when Will finds his way into the players and finally gets to London. But this is still not "a man, who thinks and lies and bleeds" - Jonson is a more vivid character than Will in this book. And the episode with the dark lady did nothing for me in terms of plot or character development other than as a device to move Ann's actions on to the end.

Will is an absence at the heart of his own story and if this was the author's intention then he succeeded.

For those who do want a book about William Shakespeare and what he might have been like as a man - this is the best Shakespeare imagining that I've found Will
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