'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 21 January 2021

Review: The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman

Inconceivable!  Somehow, I had not yet read this and that is just weird for several reasons: it’s a Jackie French historical fiction, it’s about William Shakespeare and it’s Jackie French *grin*. So of course, it went onto my holiday reading list which is not always about new releases.  

I absolutely loved it to bits. Part history, part humour, part conjecture on Shakespeare’s life and times this is one that would appeal not only to your lovers of historical fiction, Jackie’s other Shakespearean-themed novels but as a ‘read around your topic’ for students with the Bard on their reading list.

The great writer has retired very comfortably, with wealth and social status, to his home in Stratford where the humdrum of domesticity and a life far removed from London and his acclaim often plagues him. 

To alleviate the tedium William takes up his pen again to write a diary for his own pleasure. 

In it he not only chronicles the day-to-day doings of his household but reflects on his past and the often-tumultuous events that shaped his life.

From his humble origins as the son, and later apprentice, of his father, the master glover and would-be gentleman whose business sense is severely lacking to his first and greatest love, Judyth, to his joining a troupe of players and the beginnings of his stellar career to the vicissitudes of a life of leisurely, but often boring, retirement.

Readers will not only be fascinated by the insights into Shakespeare’s personal history but also by the revelations of life in 17th century England, woven into the fabric of the narrative in that always skilful way Jackie has with her work.

There are moments of real levity with the Bard’s pithy commentary on family and acquaintances and the ongoing battle of wills between himself and his unmarried daughter but also glimpses of tragedy with the death of his only son Hamnet as well as his true love, Judyth. Cunningly threaded throughout are excerpts from both poetry and plays with the purported origins or inspirations for these – not all of them from Shakespeare’s own fertile imagination. Naturally no work about Shakespeare, whether fact or fiction, would be without the inevitable questioning about the details of his life or indeed, his death but it goes without saying that Jackie’s research is extensive and exhaustive and that drawing conclusions depends on this.

Published to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this is a book which will both entertain and inform readers of all ages from around 12 upwards.  Teaching notes are available from the publisher here.

Title: The Diary of William Shakespeare, Gentleman
Author: Jackie French
Publisher: Harper Collins, $16.99  
Publication Date: 25 July 2016
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781460750575
For ages: 12+
Type: Middle Grade Fiction