Saturday, November 27, 2010

REVIEW: The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan

Anne Shakespeare has lived a long life. On her deathbed she receives a long awaited package containing the collected works of her late husband, William Shakespeare. As she and her granddaughter thumb through the volume Anne makes a startling revelation: William Shakespeare did not write all of his famous plays. Well if he didn’t who did? She did.

And so the author sets us up for the telling of Anne’s story beginning with her girlhood in Shottery where she grows into a young woman and at the age of 26, has a fateful meeting with an 18 year old William Shakespeare that will develop into her first love affair. When Anne becomes pregnant, William is forced to marry her. The union produces three children. Anne is grudgingly tolerated by her in-laws and the love between her and William cools. When Queen Elizabeth journeys through the area on one of her progresses Will, who has never given up on his dreams of becoming an actor, tells Anne that he has met with a troupe that has offered him a spot and will be moving on to London without her.

After waiting many months for Will to return, Anne leaves Stratford and tracks him down only to discover he has not met with the level of success as an actor that his letters indicated. Anne resolves to stay in London with Will who passes her off as his sister in order to maintain him image among the actors. Realizing he is no good, Will finally gives up on acting and turns to writing plays achieving moderate success. Anne assists him by making legible copies of his work but soon takes to making minor corrections and then graduates to assisting him with the writing. Soon she is writing plays on her own, some of which are better than Will’s but in order for them to be taken seriously they must be passed off as his. Secret Confessions tells the “true” story behind each Shakespeare play and details Anne’s life as Will’s “sister” in London and her desperate longing to have the real love from him that she always craves.

Shakespeare’s plays written by his wife? Say what?! I imagine that is what a reader is thinking upon first reading the premise of his book. Then Arliss Ryan introduces us to Anne-a highly intelligent, strong voiced and conflicted woman whom you can totally relate to. She loves Will but is never sure if her feelings are returned. She knows she is a talented writer and wants credit for her work but also knows that the plays will suffer once she is revealed as author. She feels guilt for choosing a life in London with Will over mothering her children back in Stratford. As we follow her thought processes and feelings as she delves deeper into every play, it becomes entirely plausible to see how Anne could have penned the famous works. As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet? Those “were” written by Anne. The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar and the Sonnets? Those were all Will Shakespeare. Richard II and Henry V? Well, that was both of them.

And what about the man himself? Will is arrogant, ambitious and although you can tell he has affection for Anne, consideration for her thoughts and feelings are only given in passing. We do however, get glimpses of a man passionate about his craft and worried about being a failure, especially after his writing ability deserts him for a time. The story belongs entirely to Anne though and we are also treated to the inner workings of the theatre and life as actors/playwrights during this time as a back drop.

I loved following along with Anne on her journey and seriously did not want this book to end. The only way I can see someone not enjoying this book is if they refuse to entertain the notion that someone other than William Shakespeare wrote the plays, even if the idea is entirely fictional or if they are put off by a less favorable characterization of the Bard. I personally do not believe that Anne Hathaway had a hand in his plays but this story was intriguing enough to explore the idea anyway. Hey, anything is possible I suppose.

This book is from my own personal library


  1. An interesting premise! Another one for the TBR pile :-)

  2. I have had this book for a few months -- the author was signing books at the local bookstore and I thought she was quite interesting. I haven't read this book yet, though, but I've been looking forward to it.

  3. I've seen this book around and thought it sounded interesting. This review makes me want to read it even more.

  4. I have wanted to read this one for awhile.

  5. Arliss Ryan travels frequently and is happy to do book signings and speak at book clubs anywhere she goes. She's incredibly passionate about literature and history, and she has information on her website at

  6. Thanks for the review! This one sounds so interesting. I have not read much fiction on Shakespeare, but I think I must do so for this one!