I was originally planning to list these books with my Tudor and Elizabethan recommendations before discovering that I had read enough of them to form a category all of their own! Some of the books below are about William Shakespeare and feature the man himself as a character; others are inspired by aspects of his life or work. Feel free to leave a comment with any additional recommendations.
Books about Shakespeare
This is a fictional account of Shakespeare’s life. As I mentioned in my review, it’s a novel ‘not just about Shakespeare the playwright but also about Shakespeare the man’. Much of the story is written from the point of view of his wife, Anne Hathaway, while other characters include fellow playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. Jude Morgan has a distinctive writing style and an impressive eye for detail, both of which make this a fascinating and entertaining read.
In The Tutor, Andrea Chapin comes up with an interesting theory to explain how Shakespeare spent one of his ‘lost years’ and creates a fictional romance for him with a young widow who inspires his poem, Venus and Adonis. The portrayal of a Catholic family living in Elizabethan England was my favourite aspect of this novel.
The story of Aemilia Bassano, one of the first women in England to have a book of poetry published and one of several women sometimes believed to be the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I had mixed feelings about this book – I felt that there was too much focus on Aemilia’s various love affairs, particularly in the first half of the novel, but I loved the vivid portrayal of Elizabethan England.
This novel is based around the idea that Shakespeare may have secretly married a woman called Anne Whateley just days before marrying Anne Hathaway. There is no real evidence that Anne Whateley ever existed but in Shakespeare’s Mistress, Karen Harper imagines her life and her relationship with Shakespeare, suggesting that she was another possible ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets.
Books inspired by Shakespeare’s work
A retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There are some differences – Maxwell’s story is set in 15th century Florence and her Romeo and Juliet encounter real historical figures of the period. I can’t say that I loved this book as I found it a bit too light and the villain too stereotypical, but I did like the Renaissance Italy setting.
Narrated by William’s brother, Richard Shakespeare, this entertaining novel takes us into the world of London theatre at the end of the 16th century. We follow Richard and the Lord Chamberlain’s Men as they rehearse Shakespeare’s latest play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In this novel, Marina Fiorato explores the relationship between two of Shakespeare’s characters, Beatrice and Benedick, and creates an imaginary sequence of events leading to their reunion at the beginning of Much Ado About Nothing. I enjoyed this book and loved the way various Shakespearean characters and storylines were woven into the plot, interacting with real historical characters and events.
Dunnett’s only standalone historical novel is based around the idea that Macbeth, the historical King of Alba, and Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, were one and the same. King Hereafter is the result of a huge amount of research and although there are some references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth this is not a retelling of the play. As with all of Dunnett’s novels the writing is excellent and I can’t recommend this book highly enough!
Another novel inspired by the historical Macbeth, the narrative alternates between Macbeth’s wife Cora (usually known as Gruoch), and Sibyll (usually known as Suthen), the wife of King Duncan. It’s an interesting novel and not badly written, but spoiled by some historical inaccuracies and the decision to modernise the 11th century names.
This novel takes as a starting point the prophecy made by the three witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Macbeth’s friend, Banquo: “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” We then follow the stories of Banquo’s son, Fleance, and grandson, Walter, and discover whether or not the prophecy will eventually be fulfilled. The Shakespearean references are actually few and far between, but the novel does take us on a fascinating journey through the history of the 11th century.
The Star-Cross’d series by David Blixt:
This excellent series set in 14th century Italy follows the story of Pietro Alaghieri (son of the poet Dante) and the della Scala family who rule the city of Verona. Characters from Shakespeare’s plays are woven into the plot, particularly those from Romeo and Juliet. The first two books in the series lay the foundation, providing the history behind the Capulet/Montague feud.