This debut novel draws on the theory that the real author of William Shakespeare’s plays was Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.
William Shaxper, an ambitious merchant from Stratford, is looking to make his fortune and escape an unhappy home life when he discovers Oxford’s (as de Vere is referred to in the text) theater and the world of acting. Oxford, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth who, due to his status as a nobleman, is forbidden to publish under his own name, invites Shaxper to perform a role that goes well beyond the stage. Oxford’s plays are published as the work of Shake-speare, and Shaxper presents himself to the public as the playwright. For decades, the two men find the relationship beneficial, as Shaxper gains the prominence he seeks, and Oxford continues to do the work he loves without landing in prison. Court politics, much of it involving the question of royal succession and the illegitimate child of Oxford and Queen Elizabeth, serves as a backdrop to the literary intrigue and ultimately proves to be Oxford’s undoing, leading to the plays’ authorship remaining permanently behind the now-famous pseudonym. Drawing heavily on the work of Oxfordian scholars, Kline fictionalizes her interpretation of the evidence and is able to create a plausible story on a topic about which historians can only speculate. Although the plot is complex, particularly the web of relationships surrounding Queen Elizabeth, the story is easy to follow, and Kline keeps the pages turning. The writing can be uneven, though, with an excess of adverbs in the early chapters and a number of awkward phrases: “He sat down to listen and visualized the manuscripts drifting closer.” But overall, the result is a thoroughly researched, convincing interpretation of one of the major theories of Shakespeare authorship that is likely to keep readers engaged.
A lively interpretation of Shakespeare authorship that will win Oxfordian approval and may even convince Stratfordians to suspend disbelief and enjoy it.