Discussion Questions – ‘Shakespeare’s Mistress’ by Karen Harper


'Shakespeare's Mistress' by Karen Harper (2009)
‘Shakespeare’s Mistress’ by Karen Harper (2009)
  1. What early hints do you see that the boy Shakespeare will become the writing genius? What sorts of traits do you see that indicate particular talents or tendencies?
  • The boy was very imaginative and determined to live life to the full with his friends – these experiences have given him something to draw on.
  • The boy Shakespeare seems to have wanted experiences – he led the others in the group astray, into trouble, or doing things they wouldn’t otherwise have done.
  • Shakespeare seems very determined and ambitious – he doesn’t want to stay at home with a family, he wants more out of life.
  • Traits like being charismatic lend themselves to actors and public speakers, whereas being bookish and hard-working are more academic traits, and being adventurous and a bit of a daredevil lends itself to travel, where imagination lends itself to writing and art.
  1. Over the years, some Shakespeare critics and scholars have argued that it would be impossible for a boy with Shakespeare’s small-town grammar-school background to write the brilliant plays he did with all their diversity and depth. Do you think such a mind could come from a rural background?
  • Good writing comes from experience and imagination – being able to use your experiences and develop them with imagination into a storyline.
  • You also need to understand people and emotions and, according to what Shakespeare and his family undergo in this story, it is certainly believable that he had experiences he could draw on.
  • I don’t think background necessarily precludes being successful, even in the 16th century, where background was more important than it is today.
  • Wolsey was the son of a butcher and Cromwell the son of a blacksmith, and they were two of the most powerful men in the realm – it also depends on luck and knowing the right people.
  1. Although Will and Anne Whateley are in love from their early days, they disagree on many things. Do you think this weakens or strengthens their relationship? Can two strong-minded people who disagree on key issues really get along over the years? In love relationships, do opposites really attract?
  • Some disagreements can strengthen a relationship because constant agreement can be boring and disagreements mean you’re comfortable expressing feelings to that person.
  • I think opposites do attract but don’t always last as you need something in common in order to fully engage and talk to each other.
  • Strong-minded people can get along over the years, and often the big clashes result in passionate reconciliations which can make up for the negative parts.
  • Opposites do attract because people like what they see as the exotic and unusual rather than that which is familiar to them.

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Book Review – Nicholas Bracewell Series by Edward Marston


Edward Marston 'The Queen's Head'
Edward Marston ‘The Queen’s Head’

This series is based around a troop of actors in Elizabethan London called Westfield’s Men. They begin life as a troop based at a pub, which gives the first book its name ‘The Queen’s Head’. The books give an insight into what the life of actors in Elizabethan London could have been like, both the sharers who had a financial stake in the company and the hired men who hoped that they would continue to have a job.

The main character is the book-holder (a bit like a modern stage manager) called Nicholas Bracewell. Other characters include lead actor Lawrence Firethorn, playwright Edmund Hoode, clown Barnaby Gill, and other members of the company including Owen Elias, George Dart and Nicholas’s love interest, Anne Hendrik. The characters are gradually developed over the course of the books, and we find out more about each of them.

You would think that being constantly in London would get boring, but there are some books that take them on tours of England, and even abroad. I don’t think that these are as good in some ways, but they offer relief from London, for example, ‘The Fair Maid of Bohemia’.

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