Much Ado About Love
As early as 1769 there have been those that argue that an actor from Stratford-upon-Avon, with no University education, could not possibly have written the wondrous plays attributed to William Shakespeare. People have offered such alternatives as: Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and even Queen Elizabeth I. In this book, Malia Martin speculates about an alternate history in which Shakespeare is a woman.
Sir Ian Terrance, an agent of Queen Elizabeth, has been ordered to find the playwright Shakespeare. Some references in his recent play worry the Queen. Ian questions many and hears of an actor from Stratford that seems to fit the bill, until it’s revealed the man’s name is Shagspeare. A chance meeting allows him to follow Shakespeare home. When he goes to arrest Shakespeare and take him to the Tower of London, Ian makes the discovery that Shakespeare is really a woman. Not sure what to do with her, Ian takes her to his home. When she sneezes (for it is a unique sneeze), Ian realizes her true identity: she is Olivia Tudor, the child he was supposed to have murdered seventeen years earlier. Realizing that he will share the same fate as Olivia when he turns her over to the queen, he decides to keep her hidden until he can see to his mother and sister’s safety, and discover if Olivia is truly plotting against the queen.
Although I tried very much to like Ian and Olivia, their behavior and constant arguing got on my nerves nearly as much as they bothered each other, begging the question: how and why did they fall in love anyway? Ian’s chauvinistic attitude went over the top. He didn’t do much to inspire loving feelings in Olivia (or the reader, for that matter); he kidnapped her, tied her up, hid her in a hole in the ground with rats, told people she was deranged, and never gave her an ounce of trust. As bad as Ian was, Olivia wasn’t much better. She constantly yelled at Ian, belittled him, and every time she ran away from him they ended up in deeper trouble. Again, I’m left to ask: why did these two fall in love?
While the lead characters were wanting, it’s clear the author has done her homework into the life and world of William Shakespeare. The dates in the book are accurate for the plays mentioned and for the players to be present. She weaves a plausible explanation for how Olivia came to be Shakespeare and how the playwright came to be known as an actor from Stratford. The quotes from Shakespeare’s works at the beginning of each chapter fit well and were a nice touch. Martin also interwove lines from plays into Olivia and Ian’s bickering so seamlessly you’d almost miss it.
In the movie Shakespeare in Love, Shakespeare took inspiration from his life for the play Romeo and Juliet. In this book, he/she gathered the plot for the tale Much Ado About Nothing from what was happening around her. This led to the silly subplot with Ian’s sister Andromeda and Sir Richard as the inspiration for Hero and Claudio. While the plot device worked for Shakespeare in Love, it seemed forced and unoriginal in this story. That said, the book is quickly paced and light enough for an afternoon’s read. Had the characters been more likable, it would’ve been a fun look at an alternate version of history. Instead it was a chore to get through because I just wanted to shake both characters. If you’re looking for a romantic comedy, I recommend sticking with the original Shakespeare and read Much Ado About Nothing instead.