I like to think of myself as a Shakespearean. I am not – at least not in the academic sense of the word. But I am in the very personal because I love his work. Not all of his works equally, though. As many others I did not doubt that the man William Shakespeare was very much like he is portrayed in Shakespeare in Love – a man desperate to write something good, a man driven by his muse, by his talent. An actor and a playwright. A lady’s man, a gent’s man. I did not doubt that he existed or that he was the one who wrote the plays.
That was then, this is now. I came across Carrell’s book a couple of years ago when these things were still all crystal clear to me. I am not usually a fan of crime stories but the synopsis on the book cover intrigued me and I read this book. My look on Shakespeare was never the same afterward.
Carrell tells the story of Kate Stanley who is to direct Hamlet at the new Globe Theatre in London. An old friend, Rosalind Howard, asks for Kate’s help but is soon after murdered in a Shakespearean fashion. She is only the first of several victims while Kate tries to work her way through a maze of clues toward something of unimaginable value: a manuscript of a lost play by William Shakespeare.
Cardenio is the name of the play and it tells the story of one of the minor characters of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But it is also a saucy piece of gossipy history that a powerful family of Shakespeare’s time did not want to come to light again. But there is another factor to be taken into account: the identity of the writer himself. Who was Shakespeare?
Carrell, herself a Shakespeare scholar of some repute, relates the theories of academics and fans of the bard who wrote Shakespeare’s plays. We learn about the Earl of Oxford, Edward DeVere, who is the most likely candidate for authorship, of Delia Bacon who was convinced that Fransic Bacon was the one who wrote Shakespeare’s plays, and of an alliance of several people – including the actor Shakespeare himself – who came together to create the bard.
Mix all this with murder in the most gruesome Shakespearean fashion and you have a fascinating read, a lecture on Shakespearean academic theories and a search that spans two continents and several landmarks on the Shakespearean map. We may not know who really wrote the plays that bear Shakespeare’s name but it is a hell of a lot of fun to speculate.