Monday, February 16, 2015

The Other Shakespeare, by Lea Rachel

The Other Shakespeare
Writer's Design Press, ISBN 9780990861607, January 2015

Judith Shakespeare is the older sister of William, and she loves leading her siblings in plays and pageants that she writes herself. As long as it's just a diversion during their free hours, no one minds. But Judith is growing up, and things start to get more complicated.

When she's sent off to London for an apprenticeship in the Mountjoy household, she expects to miss her siblings and their plays, but instead finds that she loves the liveliness and variety of London. And she discovers the wealth of professional theater available, befriending the players of the Leicester's Men theater troupe.

We see Judith developing new ambitions, and growing as a writer, as she writes early drafts of plays that the English-speaking world is now happily very familiar with. Unfortunately, it's still the 16th century, and there is little room for women to step outside their assigned role. To the extent that it might be possible, it would take a less invincibly naïve than Judith.

This is a fascinating look at an alternative answer to "who wrote Shakespeare's plays?", as well as the lives of women in 16th century England. [Note: William Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare's plays. The determination to find other, more acceptable answers, such as the Earl of Oxford or Christopher Marlowe, are grounded mostly in classism.] Judith is a likable, engaging character, and her frustrations are real, even if sometimes I want to sit her down and give her a strong lecture. I like that she gets to see some of the forces behind her mother's difficult attitude, but also that that doesn't become a magic moment that changes everything.

All in all, an interesting and enjoyable book. Recommended.