The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare, an actor, poet, playwright, and lover. The novel covers Shakespeare’s life from his youth to near his death and shows the growth of his darkening view of life. This changing attitude results mainly from his encounters with various loves throughout his life. Young Will abandons his plans to marry true love Anne Whateley—they had even taken out a license—when he is forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway, eight years his senior. To support his growing family, he later leaves his home in Stratford and travels to London, where he eventually becomes the lover of his patron, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton. Shakespeare’s passion for this younger man inspires two narrative poems and, more directly, a succession of love sonnets, but the continuation and completion of his sonnet cycle results from his obsession with the exotic Dark Lady, who accepts Shakespeare’s attentions and money but who also becomes Southampton’s lover. Infected by her with the syphilis that eventually kills him, Shakespeare wonders, while back in Stratford during his declining years, whether Southampton may have initially transmitted the disease to her.

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife. Anne’s English features, with straight, carroty hair and a narrow brow, contrast with the dark, golden appearance of Shakespeare’s later lover, the Dark Lady. They also belie Anne’s lusty, experienced background. She revels with a drunken Shakespeare in a wood one May night. After their forced wedding, he is unsure that their daughter is really his. The marriage...

(The entire section is 675 words.)