Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Book Review: Loving Will Shakespeare by Caroleyn Meyer

'Agnes Hathaway longs for love- but she’s well past the proper marrying age and still stuck living with her brothers, sisters and nagging stepmother in a crowded cottage. Her best friend has a family of her own, and even Will Shakespeare, the neighbour who always made her laugh, is away indefinitely. There seems to be no end to her misery.

Then, suddenly, Will is back. No longer a cute boy who entertains Anne with silly pranks, he is tall and handsome, and his innocent flirtations are taking a serious turn. Although he is much younger than she is Anne can’t get him out of her mind. Could Will be the man for her?'

My review and thoughts

 My Summary

On the very first page, there is a letter from Will to his wife Anne in 1611, which serves as a springboard and introduction for the story.
When Anne’s mother dies from a plague that sweeps her countryside village, her life takes a turn for the worse when her father decides to marry again despite Anne believing that she, her father and siblings and father can survive alone. In a Cinderella like way, her ‘evil stepmother’ Jone is verbally abusive and treats Anne badly. Growing up, Anne tries to escape the misery of her home life with her comforting best friend and various secret suitors. However, the person that makes Anne laugh the most is young Will Shakespeare who she has known since he was born. Entertained by his boyish pranks and attempts at gallantry and court manners, life is brighter when he is at his home in the village. As life moves quickly on, Anne seems to be left behind as her friends get married whilst she stays trapped at home. Sailing past the proper marrying age, Anne becomes desperate and lonelier than ever, having to cope with nightmare marriage threats from her stepmother and the prospect of being a destitute old maid. However, when Will Shakespeare returns home to learn the glove making trade from his father, Anne is drawn to him and he seems to return her growing love for the now not so little Will. Their blossoming passion for each other makes Anne feel cared for and cherished, which is something that she lacked before. The only problem is that Anne is eight years older than him and their love is frowned upon by some people in the village and that the two have different dreams. Will wants to playact and write scripts for London’s theatres whilst Anne longs for a cosy cottage where she can bring a family up with Will in a loving and happy environment. Are Will and Anne too different to be happy together?

Why I wanted to read the book

I have read a few of Caroleyn Meyer’s books before such as Beware, Princess Elizabeth and Mary, Bloody Mary. These were so well written and the character’s emotions were portrayed cleverly so that it made me feel that I knew the thoughts and feelings of famous historical young women at different times of their life so they were not just flat characters in a history book. I also liked the way that they opened doors to thinking about if the way we see the character is a misunderstanding and they were a different person to what historical events make them out to be.

So, when I saw her book about Shakespeare as a boy/young man, I wanted to find out more about the famous play writer whose work I have studied at school but whose life I didn’t know much about. Also, when looking up about his wife, I was intrigued to find out why Shakespeare spent most of his marriage away from his wife and children in London and also only left his second best bed to his wife. Was this a private joke or a symbol that his wife was second best? No one will ever know for sure but I wanted to see an interpretation of Will and Anne's story.

 Writing, Characters and Flaws

I thought that Caroleyn Meyer’s descriptive writing painted a clear picture of what life was like for a young women in a Tudor village who wants to escape the social restraints of her time to live her own way and escape from her miserable home.

I could relate to Anne, who was a feisty young girl woman throughout the book and I admire her for what she endured with courage.

Meanwhile, Will was the type of young man that many young girls could fall in love with, kind, humorous, a master poet and love letter writer, gallant and (according to Anne’s descriptions), handsome. However, as the story was told in the first person by Anne, Shakespeare's thoughts, feelings were very hazy and unclear.

However, I felt that at some points in the book even the main characters were a bit flat and lifeless (apart from Anne, who was consistently real)  and some of the minor characters were not described enough to imagine what they looked like..

I enjoyed the bittersweet romance between Will and Anne that grew from childhood friendship but felt that although the book was based on a good idea,  as it spanned over nearly all of Anne’s life it turned into a bit of an account of everything that happened in her life with one short chapter covering a month to a couple of years. Once the romance between Will and her started to blossom, the pace picked up a bit and it became more interesting but I felt that the end of the book, which the whole book had been building up to in anticipation of a happy ending was slightly rushed.

 Meyer’s vivid writing kept the story alive and interesting with imaginative events happening in Anne’s life even though she did not have much historical information about her character. She managed to create an engaging 'he loves me, he loves me not' tale with Elizabethan themes flowing through.

If you are looking for lots of detail about young Will Shakespeare, then you will be disappointed by this book but if reading about the struggles and thoughts of a rebellious yet kind-hearted young ‘yeomans daughter’ living in rural Elizabethan England appeals to you, then you will enjoy this book despite some of its flaws.

Here is a link to an interesting blog post on Becky's Book Reviews comparing this and another book with a completely different take on the characters and events that was published around the same time.


  1. I've read Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer and I agree. She portrays the characters very good. I think I may have to find this book and read it!

  2. I <3 Mary. Bloody Mary and yes, I think that Meyer is the best ya hf writer re the characters.
    If you enjoyed MBM then I think that you will definitely enjoy this too :)
    Let me know what you think if you do read it!


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