Review : ‘The Lost Letters of William Shakespeare: The Undiscovered Diary of His Strange Eventful Life and Loves’ by Terry Tamminen

I was provided with a complimentary e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Lost Letters of William Shakespeare: The Undiscovered Diary of His Strange Eventful Life and Loves by [Tamminen, Terry]

This is a fascinating project.

I perhaps should announce an interest up front, in that I am a Shakespeare fan – I have even performed in a few myself as an amateur. And not only of the plays but also of his life and times.

How you receive this book may depend on whether you believe that these are lost letters, written by Shakespeare. Other reviewers say that they don’t care if the letters are genuine or not, and have found this book a way into Shakespeare and his language – and that is something that can only be applauded. Which I do.

The book is well written, with a few odd spellings perhaps unavoidable when an American takes on Elizabethan English. Either Shakespeare or his editor, Tamminen, is very fond of commas, which bespatter some of the longer sentences to the point where one has negotiate stepping stones of phrases and sub-clauses.

The preamble to the book, dealing with how the lost letters came into the author’s possession, is very interesting and gambols along. The illustrations, glossary and dramatis personae of Shakespeare’s life are a helpful support to the letters.

Of the letters themselves, much is promised and, indeed, much is delivered. There are 16 letters, each prefaced, engagingly, by Tamminen. All the letters are long. To the extent that this is a book of 546 pages. One wonders where on earth Shakespeare found the time and writing perquisites to write at such length. Lack of television was, presumably, key… This reviewer found some of the material (whisper it soft) a little dull. There is no plot of course – no beginning, middle and end. This is not a novel. Nor is it a play (which is how we are most used to experiencing Shakespeare). Life happens and is relayed to Shakespeare’s ‘coz’, and thence to us, in these 16 epistles. As Elizabethan English never uses a short phrase where a long one will serve, it is perhaps unsurprising that there could be longeurs.

This is a first tranche of the letter cache: more volumes are promised. What is in this book covers three years between 1586 and 1589: Shakespeare has written a few sonnets but has not yet written a play, although he has doctored several.

To escape problems at home in Stratford, he joins a band of travelling actors (‘Leicester’s Men) as their Jack of all trades and over the course of these early letters becomes interested in acting as a profession for himself. He discusses the times: amongst other things the necessity to be seen to espouse the right religion and the prevalence of plague in town and countryside. A wild scheme to make money and pay off his father’s debts is a running thread through the letters. He falls in love and berates himself for cheating on his wife and children. There is an intriguing revelation about why he married Anne Hathaway.

The letters add to what is known of Shakespeare’s life, filling in a number of the well-publicised gaps in his life story, and prefiguring material in sonnets and plays to come when Shakespeare hits his writing stride.

Is it true? Read it and make up your own mind.


Published by Judi Moore

Hi there, I hope you find something to interest you here. In December 2017 I published my fourth book – ‘Wonders will never cease’. It’s a satirical campus novel set in the fictional Ariel University in 1985. If you enjoyed Tom Sharpe’s Porterhouse novels, Willy Russell’s ‘Educating Rita’, David Lodge’s campus novels or Malcolm Bradbury’s ‘The History Man’ back in the day, you may enjoy revisiting the ivory towers of 1980s’ academe thirty years on. See what you think. “It is December, 1985. The year is winding gently towards its close until Fergus Girvan, a Classicist at Ariel University, finds his research has been stolen by the man who is also seeking to steal his daughter. But which man is, actually, the more unscrupulous of the two? And is there hope for either of them?” In the autumn of 2015 I published a volume of short fiction: 'Ice Cold Passion and other stories'. I am also the author of novella 'Little Mouse', a shortish piece of historical fiction which I published in 2014 and, a sequel to it, 'Is death really necessary?', my eco thriller set in the near future and which, confusingly, I published in 2009. All the books are available from all good online bookshops and FeedARead on paper, and as e-books on Kindle. On a semi-regular basis, and about a month after the event, I post here reviews which I do for Big Al & Pals, the premier reviewer of indie books, based in the States. My interests tend to thrillers, SF, magic realism and other quirky stuff. On this blog are also posted the reviews I did for Leighton Buzzard Music Club over some five years up to the end of 2015. LBMC present annual seasons of eight monthly chamber music concerts at the Library Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, Bucks. They select young musicians just beginning to make their name - and the concerts are usually magnificent. I was very proud to be associated with them. I review other music, books, theatre and exhibitions which I've particularly enjoyed. BTW - it says the link to Facebook is broken. I dispute that. Click it and see, why not?

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