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.
One thought on “Review : ‘The Lost Letters of William Shakespeare: The Undiscovered Diary of His Strange Eventful Life and Loves’ by Terry Tamminen”
Fascinating – I must put this on my to-read list!