Anthony Burgess’ novel provides a rich, deeply imaginative picture of the inner world of William Shakespeare. From the subtitle, “A Story of Shakespeare’s Love-Life,” one anticipates an attempt to resolve those various Shakespearean mysteries—Who was the narcissistic “young man” of the sonnets? Who was the Dark Lady? What was the relationship between the three?—and from Burgess’ dedication of his “farewell lecture” (this novel) to those students “who complained that Shakespeare had nothing to give to the East,” one finds even richer speculation on man in a mystic, fatal Eastern strain. The novel begins on a Good Friday in the late 1570’s. The stripling Will Shakespeare wanders Stratford, delivering gloves for his father, contemplating his destiny, and playing with language in his mind—metaphors, conceits, puns, all come tumbling forth. While the structure of the novel follows the known events of Shakespeare’s life, Burgess’ emphasis is on the intimate intertwining of Shakespeare’s love life and his creative, generative powers.
Perhaps the most significant love encounter in young Will’s life is that which leads him, unwilling, into early marriage. After an evening’s drunken frivolity on a May night, he awakes to find himself embraced by a strange older woman, the Anne whose male relatives will force him to marry. In Will’s parlance: “He was in a manner tricked, coney-caught, a court-dor to a cozening cotquean. So are all men, first gulls, later horned gulls, and so will ever be all men, amen.” Anne’s “Arden” looks, her gingery hair, milk-white skin, and sharp...
(The entire section is 663 words.)