(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare’s Love-Life, Anthony Burgess freely imagines the sexual exploits and love life of William Shakespeare. The protagonist, identified as WS throughout the novel, is seduced and forced into marriage with Anne Hathaway by her pregnancy. WS does not believe the child is his, and this establishes some of the themes of the novel: sexual infidelity, manipulation, and coercion. WS’s relationship with his wife is not a happy one, and, despite the birth of twins, whom WS does claim as his own, he goes to London to work and live, rarely returning home to his wife and children, who live with WS’s parents and siblings.

Away from home, WS becomes involved with his beautiful male sponsor, the earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesly, to whom “Venus and Adonis” and the sonnets are dedicated. Like WS’s wife, Southampton is also unfaithful to WS, which forces WS to seek the love of his “dark lady” in the arms of Fatimah, a beauty whom WS describes as neither black nor white, but “gold.” Fatimah, greatly interested in WS’s friends and acquaintances, eventually has an affair with Wriothesly. When WS discovers her infidelity, he returns to Stratford, only to find himself cuckolded by his own brother. WS returns to London. After a time, he takes Fatimah back. From her, WS contracts syphilis, which Fatimah contracted from Wriothesly. According to Burgess, this disease affects WS’s worldview, leading, by...

(The entire section is 560 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Bergonzi, Bernard. The Situation of the Novel, 1970.

Burgess, Anthony. “Genesis and Headache,” in Afterwords: Novelists on Their Novels, 1968. Edited by Thomas McCormack.

Coale, Samuel. Anthony Burgess, 1981.

DeVitis, A. A. Anthony Burgess, 1972.