Burgess develops the character of William Shakespeare primarily through the use of language associated with Shakespeare himself, a technique that enhances the verisimilitude of this remarkable novel. Young Will’s thoughts and speeches use the language of Venus and Adonis (1593), the early comedies, and Romeo and Juliet (1595-1596) to illustrate a youth’s dreams of love and recognition. Next, as Shakespeare strides toward success, Burgess uses the metaphors and coinages of power and confidence so prevalent in the plays of history and imperial theme, the feliciter audax of those victorious years. Following Shakespeare’s bitterest disappointments—his son Hamnet’s death, his wife’s infidelity, his own failures in love and health—again his language changes: “So I started a play on Troilus and Cressida in disgust that man should be born in baseness and nastiness and my sickness found me a new language for its expression—jerking harsh words, a delirium of coinages and grotesque fusions.” At the last comes the language of redemption or, failing that, ennoblement of man’s suffering. The gentler language encompasses the themes of The Tempest (1611).
As Burgess chronicles Shakespeare’s life, he imaginatively solves cruxes along the way. Shakespeare’s actions and reactions seem logical in terms of the “proof” in the plays and poems themselves. It is easy to accept the presence of “Greasy Joan” in the Shakespeare kitchen or recognize the jealous ravings when Shakespeare discovers another man in his wife’s arms. This incident, too, helps...
(The entire section is 653 words.)