By creating a character that is, as the title states, William Shakespeare’s dog, author Leon Rooke establishes a key relationship between the pet and the playwright. The era in which the novel is set is crucial to the entire work because Shakespeare’s plays are deeply concerned with the massive social, cultural, and political changes that were occurring during the author’s lifetime. During Queen Elizabeth I’s reign over England, or the Elizabethan Era, the rifts that had opened in English society under her father, King Henry VIII, grew even larger. In many respects the political differences, which Shakespeare often writes about in disguised form as related to other places and times, were manifestations of broader philosophical differences. Not only had the Catholic Church lost its grip on England when Henry had the Anglican Church established, but secular perspectives were also gaining ground.
The novel takes place in William’s youth in Stratford before he moved to London. His dog, named Hooker, is his constant companion and the two can converse with each other. Hooker engages William in philosophical discussions about secular and spiritual worldviews, with the dog showing more religious inclination. The reader also learns about the period’s social norms regarding gender relations through the novel’s discussion of William’s marriage to Anne Hathaway.